Friday, August 31, 2012

The Oil Drum | Battery Performance Deficit Disorder

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Kleiner Perkins' Bill Joy Ends Silence About EEStor

Kleiner Perkins' Bill Joy Ends Silence About EEStor

Six years after leading the Kleiner Perkins effort to invest in EEStor, billionaire venture capitalist Bill Joy has finally commented publicly about the investment at the MIT Enterprise Forum of Cambridge this past Thursday evening.  During an open Q&A session, an attendee asked about progress at EEStor and Joy spent about five minutes talking about energy storage in general and offered a few thoughts about EEStor in particular. His comments end speculation about whether or not Kleiner Perkins still has an interest in EEStor.  They do and Bill Joy is still hopeful they will come through but not ready to cease hedging his bets in the energy storage space.

The fireside chat was hosted by Jason Pontin, editor in chief of Technology Review. Below is rough transcript of the exchange on EEStor. (The audio supplied to me was a little rough in places)

Attendee Question:
Since tomorrow is Earth Day and we're here at MIT, it seems like a unique opportunity to ask you about a portfolio company whose lead researcher got his start here at MIT. I'm talking about Carl Nelson & EEStor. I was wondering if you are happy with the progress to date at EEStor and also if everything pans out there, what is your vision for that company?

Bill Joy: 
Well I think. Ok so EEStor is a company that is trying to do a barium titanate giga...I dont know what you call it. It's not hyper super ultra. It's a capacitive energy storage using barium titanate. And it's difficult to do what they are trying to do. And the product isn't out yet. 

But if you look at energy storage you know for...what have we typically done? We pump water uphill and let it run downhill.  People would propose to maybe make an underground cavern and pressurize it and let the gas out something or you do have flow batteries. You start to go into electrochemistry batteries. Flow batteries or you do lithium ion batteries or sodium ion batteries that we talked about.  But ultimately at the end of the day you say, ah,  you know, it's volti, right the voltaic cell. This is old stuff. Kind of violates my rule of not doing something that could have been done in the 19th century. I like to think the future isn't gonna just be electrochemistry that we could have solid state energy storage something that's based on you know maybe early 20th century stuff. It could be a quantum effect or some something that lets us have something which is almost perfectly efficient and has some kind of Moore's law effect to it and be very very durable, high power and  high energy density. 

So you like to have that. And EEStor is an example of something solid state. I always say in investing I prefer solids to liquids and liquids to gases.  And we prefer... semiconductors is our favorite kind of solid.   So... It's just because we can engineer it. When things sit still, we can engineer their structure more and it's more predictable.  And we get access to semiconductor physics which lets us interact with heat and light and all these. There's all of these magical things we can do that came out of say quantum theory.  We're gonna....liquid phase or chemistry, you've got free energy bounds on everything you do and you know, it can get messy. .............reactions and materials fall apart. Whereas a solid state, it is the basis of electronics and it can last basically forever.  And gases, things move around it's hard to have alot of innovations there.  

Energy storage is the same thing. I'd like to see it go from liquid phase chemistry essentially to solid state physics. That would be very desirable. And then you limit cases of energy storage that should be solid state.

Now it is an open question probably whether that...will that transition occur in this decade or the next decade or two decades from now. I'm mean. It's great to have people trying it but it is hard.  And so, when we had this list of 25 grand challenges...when we went out looking for things, we didn't think we would find them all. And if we find investable things that are bred(predicated?) on one of those grand challenges, we don't necessarily expect it to work.  If the list of 25, 10 of them work, that would be a miracle. Because they are set to be very aspirational. So solid state energy storage would be on the list. And that's an example of an investment that is trying to ...with a improvement on an existing technology essentially because barium titanate is used as a material, common material in capacitors. An improvement on the technology to get there through a very you know controversial way of using that material. So.

You can't always predict....things we can't always predict what materials are going to do. You can't do computational level of algebra. We don't have computer simulations with perfect fidelity for any of these things so we have to go try things. One of our sayings is...we prefer things that work in practice to things that work in theory. It's nice if they work in theory but we can always invent the theory afterwards. 
I prefer not to violate the 2nd law of conservation of energy, the standard model. Some things we don't know...any magnetic monopole (?) ....I'm not really interested you know but so we can't always simulate things and we are willing to lose a couple millions dollars to try and see if some effect is plausible or will work ....that we dont have a close form computer simulation. But it's plausible to people trained in the art that it's not.....they can't explain to me on a napkin why it wouldn't work. 

Jason Pontin:  
For what it's worth, every year, Tech Review chooses the 10 technologies we think are most promising to have some kind of a breakthrough in the near future and Solid state was one of them and EEStor is one of the examples we pointed out.

Bill Joy: 
I'd love to find....if someone has another solid state energy's hard enough to invest in another one of those. 

After the fireside chat, Joy answered questions from a small crowd of people for over an hour. 

So, are you still hopeful about EEStor?

Bill Joy:  
Oh yeah. I mean these things are hard so there is always a chance they won't work. But we're very uh......We'll see. I don't know anything that isn't in the press. 

Question:  ....a person team somebody that already may already have a solution that hasn't been discovered, is that something you think is possible?   Like a crowdsouring...somewhere in world that's working....

Bill Joy: 
It doesn't tend to work that way. It proceeds from somebody who has deep expertise in a domain who acquires interdisciplinary collaborators. Thats a better formula. There are no child prodigies in these fields that involve physics and chemistry. 

You really just mentioned Carl Nelson he is like 90 years old an MIT PHD material scientist, who is one of the inventors under EEStor. If you don't have someone like Carl. I mean you ask Carl, tell me something about halfnium. Carl will talk to you for 15 minutes about halfnium. He knows something about every element in the periodic table. He can tell you off the top of his head what its crystal forms are and alot of interesting properties. I mean you have to be intimate with the periodic table to do this kind of stuff.  You have  know... .you really have to have had a career.  With somebody like that, he's probably the oldest founder I ever backed.  But you just have dinner with him and you realize he really understands what he is doing with materials. 

Now what they are proposing to do is wild. And there's lots of reasons in which some of these things could fail to be commercialized. I'm not saying whether it's worked or not and if we've announced it or not, I'm just saying it's hard.  What they're trying to do...obviously, it's took get....since's not easy to do these things. So...but the worthwhile things usually are hard and they always take longer.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Fwd: CCFL Prices Start to Rise

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: "NPD DisplaySearch News" <>
Date: Aug 13, 2012 5:09 AM
Subject: CCFL Prices Start to Rise
To: <>


CCFL Prices Start to Rise

As published in the DisplaySearch Monitor, August 2012

By Jimmy Kim

2011 was a bad year for LED-backlit LCD TVs. In early 2011, every TV maker planned to achieve their revenue goal by increasing LED backlight penetration. But, the price gap between LED-backlit LCD TVs and CCFL-backlit LCD TVs did not decrease as much as expected. Prices for CCFL-backlit LCD TVs dropped as much as prices for LED-backlit LCD TVs. Consumers suffering from the economic crisis prefered low-cost products instead of high-end products. As a result, LED penetration was lower than expected in 2011.

Raw material costs for CCFL exploded in 2011. Rare-earth metals, the main raw material for CCFL phosphors, reached 5-10 times the price in 2010, as shown in the figure below. As a result, the price of phosphor also jumped, rising to about six times the price in 2010.

Prices for Rare Earth Metals and Phosphors for CCFL

CCFL makers knew very well that demand and price were closely related, especially for their products. If the price of CCFL rises the price gap between CCFL backlighting and LED backlighting decreases. This in turn leads to a decrease in CCFL demand (which is very sensitive to price), and eventually, there is a scale-down of CCFL production and a lower utilization rate. Makers cannot help but raise the unit price of CCFL even further to compensate for the lower utilization rate. Therefore, CCFL makers had to hold the CCFL unit price steady to avoid this chain reaction.

Most Japanese CCFL makers had already given up on CCFL business by this point. They were losing cost competitiveness because of the increasing raw material costs and yen exchange rate. Their exit gave the Korean and Chinese CCFL makers an opportunity. They faced no competition from the Japanese. Furthermore, demand for CCFL did not drop as much as expected. As a result, purchase orders for CCFL units went exclusively to Korean and Chinese makers. The large scale production enabled by the concentrated purchase orders helped them hold the CCFL unit price stable, even under the increasing raw materials cost.

During 2012, the market situation grew worse for CCFL makers. TV makers introduced new low-cost direct LED-backlit TVs for the entry TV market segment. They plan to increase their sales allocation to these new products, which will lead to a further decrease in demand for CCFL. As shown in the figure below, CCFL panel shipments are expected to decrease more than 40% Y/Y after Q2'12. In 2011, the decrease was 30% Y/Y. This means that the scale-down and lower utilization rate for CCFL production seems inevitable this year.

CCFL Panel Shipments

CCFL prices for some new models increased in Q2'12. For example, the CCFL price for a 46" model in Q1'12 was $0.92, but in Q2'12, a CCFL of the same specification was $1.2. For a new 40" model, the CCFL price increased from $0.6 to $1.1, though with some changes of specification (the lamp tube diameter changed from 3.4 phi to 4.0 phi, etc.). Regardless, there have been almost no changes in CCFL prices for running models.

The decrease in CCFL demand caused by the low-cost direct backlight TVs has led to a rise of CCFL unit price. This will probably lead to a further decrease in CCFL demand. We also expect that the EOL of CCFL-backlit LCD TVs will be accelerated.

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