Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Ah Yes, The Good Old Days (EEStor Meanderings)

I started writing this blog about EEStor in 2007.  If you look at the article counts each year, you can sort of get a feel for how the EEStory has progressed.   In 2007, I published 8 very brief articles which amounted to little more than link consolidation: basically a summary of what was available on the Internet at the time.  EEStor published one press release that year: basically some crap about chemical handling that neither I nor anyone really gave a shit about.  But it was 3rd party verified by Southwest Research Institute.  This press release was where EEStor made it's first prediction about delivering a fully functioning EESU to Zenn, stating that EEStor

 "remains on track to begin shipping production 15 kilowatt-hour Electrical Energy Storage Units (EESU) to ZENN Motor Company in 2007 for use in their electric vehicles. The production EESU for ZENN Motor Company will function to specification in operating environments as sever as negative 20 to plus 65 degrees Celsius, will weigh less than 100 pounds, and will have ability to be recharged in a matter of minutes."
What a crazy ass prediction that turned out to be but it did build excitement all over the world and caused major media neworks like CNN to take notice.  The story was gold but no one was covering it in the depth that people wanted. There was no central place to gather and contemplate the implications etc.  So I set out to address that obvious need.

By 2008/2009, the EEStor story was heating up and I published 280 articles here (135 in 2008 and 145 in 2009).  (WTF was I thinking?) Readership was pretty hooked on the story.  I noticed from web stats that people not only hit the site but hung around for long periods of time, ie, the site was sticky as it was called back then.   To give readers something to do, I launched some forums in Aug 2008 (based on a ruby on rails app created by Trevor Turk called El Dorado)and resided it at TheEEStory.com.  That site included a blog, chat room, event calendar as well as a place to upload files and headers. During those days,  I was sort of publishing articles in two places: here on this blog you are reading now and there at TheEEStory.com.  There are definitely articles there that you cant find here and vice versa.  Just depended on my mood and the amount of time I was trying to kill.

EEStor delivered two press releases in 2008: one announcing billionaire Mort Topfer was joining the board of directors and another going into some nerdy detail about chemicals, measurements and some guy named Golla who was verifying everything.  While it is certainly true that EEStor's previously
published patent applications caused considerable controversy and skepticism, it is also correct to point out that it was EEStor's press releases that first began to make the story weird.  No one could really figure out what they were about or what they were supposed to be indicating in relation to the underlying basic physics claimed in the patents.  Here's an example passage from the 2008 press release:

EEStor, Inc. has achieved success on one of its most critical technical
milestones and that is the certification of the completeness of the powder
crystallization of the constituents utilized in producing its CMBT powders.
The percent of the constituents crystallized in the CMBT powders ranged
from 99.57% to 100.00% with the average being 99.92%. This level of
crystallization provides the path for the possibility of EEStor, Inc.
providing the published energy storage for present products and major
advancements in energy storage for future products.

The completeness of the powder crystallization!  The completeness!  The result of gems like this were cantankerous debate online on my blog and forums sites.   I actually started to like the debate almost more than the news.   At that stage in the game, after EEStor's patents, press releases and various statements by Zenn, along with Kleiner Perkins and Lockheed being involved, you had to conclude some potentially important signals were being delivered to the world.  The skeptics charge that the underlying physics didn't work seemed ridiculous in the face of a famous venture capital firm financing manufacturing build out.  But the press releases those years, never completely eliminated the basic objection that the technology doesn't work, can't work.  EEStor left it that way: either because they wanted to or had no choice but to do so.  In 2009, EEStor delivered a press release and a correction. This time, the focus was on the parameters of the powders announced in previous years--the suggestion was made that if the permittivity of the powders was certified, then the energy density would be delivered as well.  EEStor said:

The third party certification tests were witnessed by Dr. Edward D. Golla, Ph.D., an independent consultant. The test results were performed on EEStor’s hot pressed dielectric layers produced from both their patented and patent pending Composition Modified Barium-Titanate Powders and their production line. Dr. Edward D. Golla, Ph.D. certificated that EEStor’s hot pressed dielectric layers have met and/or exceeded a relative permittivity of 22,500 over a temperature range of -20 and 65 degrees centigrade.
What was interesting here was the high permittivity and temperature tolerance.  (not time to explain)
Later it was discovered by skeptics that such parameters had been achieved elsewhere in barrier layer type capacitors.  The discussions were pretty heated and yielded little or no certainty if consensus is baked in to your definition of said.

These were the glamor days of the EEStory--attention out the wazzoo and vehement online information warfare.  The Wikipedia article on EEStor became its own battleground. People were gathering together all of the various data points on EEStor such as with GaryB's spreadsheet.  An FAQ was created...a timeline, a video spoof.   The discussion often turned inward--about the discussion itself or the people doing the discussing.  Over time a community began to emerge: representing both pro and con views of EEStor.  Both sides began to get along more or less with occasionally one on one "dust ups" which essentially amounted to two individuals who had finally grown tired enough of each other to just basically declare each other assholes.  It was very entertaining.   Of course, EEStor added to the controversy by predicting again in 2008 and 2009 that they would deliver a pre-production EESU to Zenn.

Ah yes, Zenn Motor Company. Thought I forgot?  That's a story in itself but for the purpose of this article, it is important to point out that Zenn was EEStor's only customer (until another small paper company gave EEStor a million bucks to have license rights to two and three wheeled vehicles).  Zenn basically added to all of the EEStor mystic by frequently commenting on "progress" (pronounced with a long O in Canada).  Everything always seemed to be just around the next corner. But they never got it right--hopes and dreams but never deliveries and proof-- which was embarrassing to them, me and Zenn's investors, EEStor followers but apparently not EEStor.   The dearth of information coming out of Zenn has of course dwindled as missed timelines have taught everyone lessons about predicting EEStor's actions.

So after 2008/2009, my article count started going down.  In 2010, I published 79 articles here and then
in 2011 that dwindled to 42 and then in 2012 it fell to 14 articles.   It's been a long slow boil with information tidbits trickling out. This is actually the first time I've published anything on this blog since August 2012.  It is probably the blog that Dick Weir likes the most as he told me awhile back in an interview.  I think he liked the aesthetics here vs the El Dorado based forums. At some point in 2012 I think, I launched http://theeestory.ning.com to take advantage of Ning's social network features which were far advanced over El Dorado's.  The idea is to make it easy to consolidate content & users from social networks like twitter, facebook and youtube.   If EEStor ever gets its ass in gear, it could be a key place to learn about EEStor.  Oh I know, if you ask Dick Weir they've had their ass in gear the whole time.  Maybe so.

In 2012, despite the let downs, EEStor increased it's press release count to 3 for the year.  Although everyone was burned out, the news was encouraging if perpetually irritating.  So here we are in 2013 and EEStor has claimed that a 3rd party has tested the smallest portion of their technology: the dielectric layer. They say it has properties experts in the field have said, if true, are revolutionary.  Unfortunately, no one had heard of their third party verifier and after the testing, no one was given access to the testers.   Classic EEStor controversy.  One step forward, two steps back.   But people still keep giving them money and many still think eventually they will burp out something that actually works.   Perhaps before the Zenn annual general meeting this month.  I'm not holding my breath.

Overall, the function of the EEStory in anyone's life has been to attack boredom.  To this end, it has served well both skeptic and believer.  But of course, as the years continue to roll by, you gotta wonder what the hell this thing was all about.   The EEStory also has produced some fertile source material for energy storage startups contemplating possible paths forward.  Unless I'm interrupted by actual breaking news, in a future article, I will offer my sense of what energy storage startups like Quantumscape  (or startups in general) can learn from the EEStory.  That is, unless I'm overcome by boredom once again.  Maybe I should just break down and get some tatoos.  NEVER!!!