Monday, December 31, 2012

Thomas Friedman’s Battery is Flat

The British call a dead battery a flat battery.  Thomas Friedman claimed the earth was flat.  When it comes to thermodynamics Thomas Friedman of the New York Times is flat out wrong.  He opined in September 2010 in an article “Their Moon Shot Or Ours” that the Chinese were going to beat us in getting  to the moon by proliferating  electric cars on the road.  In the article Thomas also loved CODA and he thought Shai Agassi was the coming of the E messiah.   I quote Mr. Friedman:
The electric car industry is pivotal for three reasons, argues Shai Agassi, the C.E.O. of Better Place, a global electric car company that next year will begin operating national electric car networks in Israel and Denmark. First, the auto industry was the foundation for America’s manufacturing middle class. Second, the country that replaces gasoline-powered vehicles with electric-powered vehicles — in an age of steadily rising oil prices and steadily falling battery prices — will have a huge cost advantage and independence from imported oil. Third, electric cars are full of power electronics and software. “Think of the applications industry that will be spun out from electric cars,” says Agassi. It will be the iPhone on steroids.”
The Coda, 14,000 of which will be on the road in California over the next year and can travel 100 miles on one overnight charge, is a combination of Chinese-made batteries and complex American-system electronics — all final-assembled in Oakland (price: $37,000). It is a win-win start-up for both countries.“

Thomas Friedman the futurist was flat out wrong.  His world may have been flat but he hit a flat F note when opining about the future of electric cars.  Sadly his employer the New York Times continues to hype the gangrene green crowd.  I have blogged that they hyped the stock of Kior.  They love the Bloom Box.  They worship Al Gore.  They kiss the ring of John Doerr and they still think Steven Chu is Stevie Wonderful.

Fast forward to today, we now know the US leads the word in plug in cars with a miserable 54,000 such crappy expensive and subsidized vehicles sold in 2012.  The Chinese market won’t even reach 50,000 of plug in vehicles a year of sales till 2015.  We also know that CADA is Coda Blue and that Shai Agassi is now Very Shy Agassi and radio silent after he was fired from Project Better Place. 

You may ask who had it right in September 2010?  Of course yours truly the Green Machine who studied thermodynamics at Iowa State had it right.   To assert my claim of getting it right I quote the following from my archives:

February 2010 Outside Witness Testimony To The US Senate - “Conclusion: Lithium batteries are and will remain best suited for items as small as a cell phone and as large as a bicycle. The cost relative to performance or these batteries will likely not improve by much in the coming decade. Although some standard hybrid vehicles may use lithium batteries with low capacity, plug in vehicles with larger than 10 mile range of travel on batteries will likely not proliferate. Given the likely scenario that plug in passenger cars and trucks based on lithium battery technology will not reduce US consumption of gasoline and diesel fuel in large measure, I am asking the subcommittee to limit the funds that the US government will appropriate for research and development of this technology.”

March 2010 A123 will never make it – “Of course neither A 123 nor Tesla has positive gross margin. But they promise investors they will bring down costs by increasing the volume they produce and bring down costs by the learning rate. I have explained at length in my letter to the US Senate that the learning rate will be painfully slow. What this means is A 123, Tesla, Fisker, and other want to be plugged in vehicle car companies will simply loose the money investors and our government (we the people) gives them.”

December 2010 after watching Shai Agassi on Charlie Rose – “If one set of lithium ion batteries for a plug in vehicle is not a dumb enough idea some guys have come up with the brainwave that multiple sets of lithium ion batteries should be used for a plug in vehicle. Why the need for multiple sets of batteries? So that one can pull up to a service station that has a robot that quickly extracts the on board battery pack and replaces it with a freshly charged pack. Forget that the first battery pack was unaffordable we can quickly change out that unaffordable pack for the next doubly unaffordable pack.”

January 2011 Coda will be Coda Blue – “To be fair and balanced the Republicans are also cleaning up on the clean energy boondoggle. Hank the take us to the tank Paulson who let us slide into deep recession and his team at Coda will soon be importing their battery car from China. They hired an ex GM guy as CEO. My prognostication is the Codas will all be painted blue and we will soon use Coda Blue as the hospital code for calling AAA to resuscitate cars with dead batteries that have a flat voltage line at zero.”

Mr. Friedman here is some news for you.  The world is not flat but your battery car is flat, your printed newspaper is flat on its back, Shai Agassi is knocked out flat, and Coda Blue is flat lining.  Perhaps if you had a clue about thermodynamics you could actually play a role in setting energy policy.  Sadly our Department of Entropy mistook flatulence for shale natural gas and our debt is now anything but flat.  Mr. Friedman studied Mediterranean Studies not thermodynamics at Brandies University.  I have no doubt that Humus is a chemical precursor to methane.

What is even more outrageous is the earlier op ed in the NewYork Times from Friedman of December 10, 2008, when Bush was busily trying to save the auto industry.  Friedman starting hyping “Better Place” in this op ed and called the saving of the auto industry as “our bailout of Detroit will be remembered as the equivalent of pouring billions of dollars of taxpayer money into the mail-order-catalogue business on the eve of the birth of eBay. It will be remembered as pouring billions of dollars into the CD music business on the eve of the birth of the iPod and iTunes. It will be remembered as pouring billions of dollars into a book-store chain on the eve of the birth of and the Kindle. It will be remembered as pouring billions of dollars into improving typewriters on the eve of the birth of the PC and the Internet.

Wow I wonder if Friedman voted for Romney???  So much for this guy being a guru!!!

For the record my favorite quote on flattery is “baloney is flattery so thick it cannot be true; blarney is flatter so thin we like it.”   Monsignor Fulton J. Sheen

Peace The Green Machine 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012 Gangrene Awards - Wall Street Journal Finally Gets It

Four years after the green machine first reported how the Silicon Valley VCs were thermodynamic neophytes who hyped pure BS companies, the Wall Street Journal finally reported the story I broke when Obama was just about to take office in his first term as president.

Ian a lifetime friend sent me the WSJ article on Silicon Valley’s Green Energy Mistake.   The article actually takes Al Gore and his partner John Doerr as well as their VC firm Kleiner Perkins to task.  The WSJ should have added old Colin Powell to the list of gangrene elements at KP.  The article should also have addressed the biggest thermodynamic bust in the Valley of the Gangrene Dolls.  He is the ex Kleiner Perkins partner Vinod Khosla who brought us Calera, Range, Amyris, and KIOR.  The article could also have included the VC firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson who brought us Tesla but they are a minor bit part player in the green Astroturf arena. 

The WSJ article was good start for the main street media to finally debunk the myth of the economic and social value the green junk that has been hyped along Sand Hill Road.  I have referred to Sand Hill Road as making Lombard Street in San Franciso look perfectly straight.

Talking of Tesla, John Petersen, has blogged that come December Tesla will again be close to having zero working capital.  We know they were technically insolvent on September 29th 2012 before Goldman Sachs came to their rescue with an equity infusion.  If John Petersen is correct that Tesla actually blew through the money they recently raised it could be an exciting time early next year when their 4th quarter results are made public. 

I really wish John Petersen would opine on Kior the company that is starting up their wood-to-diesel plant in Mississippi.  I rate the probability of success of this plant yielding the claimed quantity of diesel as being less than 10%.   Just as I opined in early 2012 that A 123 would be gone by the end of 2012 I am now opining Kior will be a history major by the end of 2013.  Amyris, Solazyme, Gevo, and Codexys will linger on but will continue to hemorrhage cash.  The whole nonsense story of advanced bio transportation fuels will pretty much be over by year end 2013.

In 2013 I anticipate that the total number of plug in vehicles that will be sold in the US might climb to 120,000 of which 90,000 will still have a primary propulsion system of an internal combustion engine.  The full electric battery vehicle will remain an expensive joke played on the 99% that sells approximately 30,000 units.   I also predict that by the end of 2013 Tesla will ship less than 10,000 of their “low cost” smallest battery Model S that Stevie Chu gave them a half billion dollars to purvey the “people’s electric car”.   Tesla will continue to increase the price of their cars to remain “in business”.

I also predict that in 2013 the US will produce more shale gas than ever before and that CNG vehicle sales will exceed pure battery vehicle sales.  My wish for 2013 is that Fisker and Bloom are exposed by the Wall Street Journal and that Al Gore is stripped of his ill-deserved Nobel Prize.  I don’t think Big Al will be as vocal in 2013 as he was in 2009 and the world will be a “Better Place” for this reason alone.  Ah in 2013 Better Place will be out of space as I have oft opined.  It is interesting how Shai Agassi become Shy Agassi after he was booted from Better Place.  Charlie Rose did not invite him on his show again to explain the hype and BS Charlie let him pontificate two years back.

The poster child of the gangrene greenwashing of pure junk is Calera.  This was to be the “jewel in the crown” of Khosla’s green portfolio.  The company claimed to sequester CO2 in cement it made from power plant emissions.  Bechtel said it was great, Peabody Coal was an investor, the US Government gave it money.  All the company could do was turn expensive chemicals into less expensive ones,  They added Calcium Chloride and Sodium Hydroxide two expensive chemicals to the stack gas to yield Calcium Carbonate and Salt two much less expensive chemicals.  Had anyone simply looked at the cost of the reagents and the value of the products they would have said “wow we are making sawdust out of a mahogany table”. 

It does not bother me that Vinod Khosla lost his or his friends money but that the US Government gave them a grant for this utter junk that a high school chemistry student knows is making sawdust out of wood is pretty pathetic.   The Stanford professor who founded Calera should come to the green machine for a lesson in chemistry.  Interestingly he is no longer with Calera.  It is also interesting that the founder of Kior is also out of that Khosla controlled company and the founder has dumped more than 320,000 of the shares he owns in the past two months. 

I have to give Sand Hill Road the Green Machine’s Gangrene Award for 2012.  Steve Chu and his Department of Entropy came in a close second, the boys who backed Better Place were third.   Khosla should receive the award on behalf of the Sand Hillians.  Maybe just maybe the fiscal problems in the US will mean an end to the Department of Entropy backing nonsensical green companies and that in the future we all try to make furniture out of wood, lemonade out of lemons, and good paying jobs out of natural gas.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

To all my readers all over the world I wish you all happy holidays and a very happy and healthy new year.  2012 had its awful moments but all in all it was a better year for matters green in the USA.  Our blessing of natural gas helped us lower CO2 emissions in a large manner.  Coal usage in power generation was down around 10% during the year and gas usage was up.  US motorists also used approximately 3.3% less gasoline and we are trending to use even less gasoline going forward.  In 2003 when I wrote my book Hydrogen Hope or Hype the US EIA at the DOE forecast that energy usage would increase by 50% in 25 years now we forecast only a minor increase of approximately 10% till 2040. 

The Chinese have a very different story and energy usage in China is growing rapidly.  No doubt that sometime in the next decade that growth rate of China’s energy consumption will moderate but they, India and other non OECD countries will need a lot more fossil fuels in the coming decades. 

Politically the world endured a pretty dismal year and wars continue to rage.  Governments all over the planet continue to simply rip their people off and feather the nests of their friends and families.  But more people are becoming enlightened and more people are standing up for their rights to freedom and the pursuit of happiness.   The internet and smart hand held devices are now in the hands of common folks everywhere and the ability to instantly communicate what is really happening is now out of the hands of press agencies and in the hands of the people.

The Facebook IPO was a bust and A 123 went bust.  Tesla managed to use connections at Goldman Sachs to raise funds even though the company was technically insolvent on September 29, 2012.  Kior with Condi Rice on their board still claims the ability to make diesel from wood.  Bloom Energy with Colin Powell on their board still claims over 60%efficiency when the data clearly show this is not the case.  Fisker with Al Gore at the wheel still has the State of Delaware paying the power bills to keep their future assembly plant at the ready.  Gore, Powell, and Rice are the poster children of how the “complex” works.   Why should Cyril Ramaphosa in South Africa and the ANC be any different than Colin, Condi, Al and the GOP or the Democrats?   Their common green motto is to "make hay while the sun shines.”

Yeah Cyril Ramaphosa is the 21st century Cecil John Rhodes.  I wonder if he will bequeath his fortune that students in 2040 can get a Ramaphosa Prize and study at University of South Africa?   My hope for 2013 is that all politicians everywhere attend one freshman level class under the instruction of the green machine.  This class will be Thermodynamics 101.  I think that Hillary will claim she has a concussion and ask for a deferment.  Susan who was a Rhodes Scholar will blame her bad grade on a poorly made video that added entropy to the equation by letting loose free radicals.  In chemistry a free radical has an unpaired electron.  In Benghazi a free radical had an unimpaired RPG.

Best wishes for a happy, healthy, peaceful, and less BS filled 2013.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Plug-In Electric Cars The New York Times Is Seeing Double

The New York Times has got it wrong again.  They claim that plug in electric cars will account for two thirds of one percent of the US new vehicle market in 2012. 

Note after I published this blog I did receive an email from Bradley Berman who wrote the NYT article that he has revised his online article.  Here is what Mr. Berman emailed me
"Mr. Leveen,
Thanks for your email.  You are correct.  The article misstated the share of the new-car market in the United States that plug-in models are expected to reach for 2012. It is about one-third of 1 percent, not two-thirds of one percent.  

In November, the most recent full month in which sales numbers have been reported, the share of the new-car market was about two-thirds of 1 percent. 

The web version of the article has been corrected.

Bradley Berman"
This was claimed in the article titled Make way for kilowatts, A growing Up year for Plug-ins.  Unfortunately  the New York Times is seeing double.  The sales of all plug in vehicles in the USA in 2012 will be around 54,000 units while the whole new vehicle market for the US in 2012 will be approximately  14.5 million units.  By dividing the 54,000 by 14.5 million yields a fraction that is closest to one third of one percent rather than two thirds of one percent.  That is why the NYT is seeing double to put a green spin on what has basically been a flop in the market.

The US is actually the largest market in the world for plug-in vehicles.  The Chinese market for vehicles of all types is a larger market than the US but the sales of plug-in vehicles in China this year will only equal approximately 10,000 vehicles.  Pike Research who is often over optimistic about the market potential of plug-in vehicles now forecasts the Chinese market for plug-ins will only reach 50,000 units in 2015.  Note the total market of plug-ins is the sum of fully electric and plug-in hybrids. 

I performed a bunch of tedious math to extract the following data.  The Federal Government will dole out approximately one third of a billion dollars in tax credits for the 54,000 plug in cars.  I guess the fiscal cliff could be made steeper by 100 billion dollars if all car owners got the same treatment as plug in car owners.  The cumulative quantity of lithium ion batteries in these 54,000 vehicles will approximately equal 960,000 kilowatt hours.   This is the amount of chemical energy in about 30,000 gallons of gasoline.  Of course the batteries will be recharged perhaps some 1,000 times during their lifetime.  Therefore all the recharges of all the batteries over all of their lifetime will equal the chemical energy in 30 million gallons of gasoline or about the amount of gasoline we use in 2 hours. 

I guess two hours of gasoline usage over the lifetime of all of the plug-ins sold in 2012 according to the New York Times is making way for Kilowatts.  Unfortunately for us the New York Times is widely read but poorly written.  The headline should have read “One Third of A Billion Dollars Of Federal Tax Credits to Richer Americans Bought One Third of One Percent of All New Personal Vehicles in 2012.”  The Other 99.67% got screwed.   

Merry Christmas to the 99.67% who are simply too na├»ve to understand that the government of, for, and by the one third of one percent of the people has an energy policy Abe Lincoln would now make this remark about “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him electric power.”

Yes the photo is of Bush and Chaney inspecting a plug-in being charged. The photo is from September 2008 when Rick Wagoner (next to President Bush in the photo) was still leading GM and the Volt had high hopes.  Immediately after the photo was taken the economy dived.  Yes the wire charging the plug-in car looks mighty thin but that was the whole hype of the Volt.