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An Oil for Utilities. It’s Superfine!

Michael Kanellos: January 7, 2009, 3:30 PM
Superfine. No, it's not a lost album classic from the late Rick James. It's the brand name of a recycled oil for transformers produced by England's Hydrodec. The company signed a deal with Consolidated Edison, New York's mega-utility, this week under which ConEd will deliver 450,00 gallons of spent transformer fuel to Hydrodec a year. In turn, Hydrodec will turn the spent oil into Superfine (I just can't get enough of that name) and then sell it to transformer manufacturers. Recycling essentially will obviate the need to dig up new fossil fuels. It should also cut down on pollution. Now, used transformer oil is sold to the secondary market. These new customers take it and burn it. Old transformer oil is not the cleanest fuel in the world. It contains Polychlorinated biphenyls and dioxin. You might as well burn plastic to keep warm. "We’re seeing strong demand for our Superfine oil,??? said John Cowan, President of Hydrodec North America in a prepared statement. Other companies looking at getting oil or other valuables from industrial garbage: Lehigh Technologies (recycling old tires), Hewlett-Packard and Electronic Recyclers (recycling old PCs) and 212 Resources (oil and water from waste streams from refineries).

Solar Maker Odersun Gets New CEO

Michael Kanellos: January 7, 2009, 11:59 AM
Odersun, the German maker of flexible copper indium disulphide (CIS) solar cells, has named Hein van der Zeeuw CEO. He replaces Ramin Lavae Mokhtari, who helped guide the company from the R&D phase to early manufacturing. Under Mokhtari, Odersun raised a $60 million B round in early 2008 from Virgin Green Fund, PCG Clean Energy & Technology Fund, AGF Private Equity, Doughty Hanson Technology Ventures, and Advanced Technology & Materials. It also received ~$30 million in German government funding. The money was largely used to erect a 30-megawatt-a-year factory. The idea is that van der Zeeuw will now beef up mass manufacturing and sales. Before Odersun, he was part of the management team at NXP Semiconductor, the chip spin off from Philips. Odersun's roll-to-roll manufacturing process uses long reels of copper tape and can be packaged in flexible or rigid formats. So far, they company has made small amounts of cells for solar backpacks. Reel-to-reel manufacturing costs far less, say proponents, that the traditional cook-etch-and cut techniques used for crystalline solar cells adopted from the chip industry. Copper indium disulphide solar cells are close relatives to copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) and copper indium selenide. "They are very close cousins," said Sorin Grana, a solar analyst with Prometheus Institute. He writes thin-film research reports for Greentech Media.

A Clunker for Quercus: Odyne Suspends Operations

Michael Kanellos: January 7, 2009, 8:30 AM
You can't win 'em all, particularly when you have so many. Odyne, which wanted to make propulsion systems for hybrid buses and trucks, said late yesterday that it is calling it quits. "Odyne retained Matrix USA, LLC to explore strategic alternatives. These efforts have not been successful. Accordingly, Odyne today announced that, after careful consideration, it has determined to wind-down the operations of the company, terminate substantially all of its employees, discontinue its operating leases, resolve its outstanding liabilities and liquidate its remaining assets," the company said in a statement. The company is one of the 47 we've found so far that have received money from the secretive Quercus Trust. the Trust owned around 8.3 million shares in Odyne, according to SEC filings. Quercus invests in both private and small public companies. The dominant unifying theme is that the companies are almost exclusively focused on green technologies. Many of the companies are also early stage "science experiment" type companies. Graphene Energy wants to make carbon-based ultracapacitors, for instance. The sprawling size of the Quercus portfolio, combined with the fact that the companies cover the gamut of green markets, has raised eyebrows in Silicon Valley. Can a small group of investors really manage that many investments in water, smart grid, biofuels and solar? There are murmurs of skepticism. On the other hand, David Gelbaum (who has made hundreds of millions of dollars) seems to understand the business world pretty well, other VCs have plunked money into many Quercus companies, and I'm not finding Silicon Valley VCs who want to go on record criticizing the group. And I live in abject squalor, so who am I to judge the investment strategies of others. Only time will tell. Hybrid buses are actually a growing market. These sort of buses and trucks can get double the mileage of standard diesel buses. San Francisco already has some plug-in buses on the street and several other cities with emissions controls are looking at buying some. Nonetheless, it's also highly competitive with established players like Volvo competing against startups.

It’s Not All Rainbows and Unicorns

Darryl Siry: January 7, 2009, 4:00 AM
While the prevailing campaign optimism was that the Obama administration would be able to address all of the country's problems, the reality is that tough trade-offs will need to be made. Many of these trade-offs will, of course, upset supporters who assumed that the new administrations decisions would fall in a direction that favors their personal interests. For example, will Obama stand firm and demand strict concessions from UAW as he catches the problems that the Bush administration punted to him? Or will he avoid alienating his UAW supporters at the expense of a competitive U.S. auto industry? Another example: how will Obama walk the line between broader economic recovery and environmental policy? Some insight into the opposing points of view already existing within the administration can be seen in a New York Times article this week, contrasting the views of Larry Summers and Carol Browner. An excerpt is provided here:
As Mr. Obama seeks to find the right balance between his environmental goals and his plans to revive the economy, he may have to resolve conflicting views among some of his top advisers. While Mr. Summers’s thinking on climate change has evolved over the last decade, his views on the potential risks to the economy of an aggressive effort to limit carbon emissions have not. But he now works for a president-elect who has set ambitious goals for addressing global warming through a government-run cap-and-trade system. It may once again prove to be Mr. Summers’s role to inject a rigorous economist’s reality check into the debate over the scope and speed of an attack on global warming.
The inherent policy trade-offs between economy and environment in the short run, and the increasingly hostile populist environment that inevitably comes with recession, is what prompted me to predict (somewhat provocatively) that in 2009, recession and populism would defeat environmentalism. In truth, the outcome will not be so binary and absolute. The progress made in the past few years in terms of public awareness of environmental issues has created a new status quo, where environmental issues are no longer fringe issues. In the struggle to find the right balance of environmental progress and economic health, which do you think is more important to the average American citizen? Daryl Siry is the former chief marketing officer for Tesla Motors. He now consults on marketing and the automotive industry. You can read more here:

LED Shareholder Derivative Suit Has an IP Twist

Eric Lane: January 7, 2009, 3:30 AM
This is something I haven’t seen before: a shareholder derivative action for patent infringement. BaoLiang Wang (Plaintiff Wang) is a 22 percent shareholder of a small California LED sign maker called Sun LED Sign Supply Inc. (Sun). Last month, Plaintiff Wang sued Sun, two of its directors, Xiao Ping Wang (Defendant Wang) and Wei Rong Fang, as well as JT LED USA (JT), Sunfire LED LLC (Sunfire) and The LED Inc. in federal court in Los Angeles, alleging patent infringement against all defendants and unfair competition against the two directors of Sun. The patent at issue is U.S. Patent No. 7,245,279 (’279 patent), for which Defendant Wang is the named inventor. The ‘279 patent is directed to an easily extendable waterproof LED display array.  Each LED unit comprises a tray-like housing (62) containing a printed circuit board (55).  LED elements (31) are soldered onto the circuit board, and an outer covering (45) is attached to the opening of the housing. A liquid gel provides a watertight seal for the elements on the PCB. Each unit has a positive power source (20) and a negative power source (21). According to the ‘279 patent, a significant advantage of the invention is that each LED display unit has its own waterproof arrangement, so each unit can function separately, allowing LED displays of variable length at low cost. According to the complaint (wang_complaint.pdf), while the application that issued as the ‘279 patent was pending, Defendant Wang assigned the application to Sun, “giving the exclusive right to [Sun] for a period of eight (8) years.???  The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office patent assignments database lists Sun as the assignee of the ‘279 patent. The patent count of the complaint alleges that defendants’ JT-SLS01, JT-SLS02 and JT-SLS03 series products and similar waterproof LED devices infringe the ‘279 patent.  Defendant LED, Inc. is also accused of selling infringing LED modules. Under the unfair competition claim the complaint alleges, on information and belief, that Defendant Wang:
...via false pretense and deceit, executed assignment of the 279 patent to himself on or about 4/23/2007, without proper corporate authority, violating the previous 8-year requirement, and in an attempt to avoid patent infringement liability.
The complaint goes on to accuse Defendant Wang of using the patented technology to conduct his own business, JT LED USA, dba Jia Tang Electronic Company, in violation of Sun’s exclusive right. Plaintiff Wang is asking the court to find defendants liable for patent infringement, to compensate him for his losses and to assess punitive damages on defendants for their alleged fraudulent acts. So it’s a competing director type shareholder suit with an IP twist.  And because the inventor assigned away his rights, we have a situation in which the inventor is accused of infringing his own patent. Eric Lane is a patent attorney and intellectual property lawyer at Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps in San Diego, where he is in the Intellectual Property and Climate Change & Clean Technology practices.  Eric is the founder and author of Green Patent Blog, which provides discussion and analysis of intellectual property law issues in clean technology.

Pentagon Goes Green With Cree LEDs

Jeff St. John: January 6, 2009, 3:32 PM
The Pentagon — known for such money-saving ventures as the mythical $600 hammer and wildly over-budget weapons development projects — is taking a crack at saving electricity with energy-efficient lighting. Cree Inc. (NDSQ: CREE) said Tuesday that it has a deal to install 4,200 of its light-emitting diode (LED) recessed luminaires in Wedge 5 of the Pentagon. The LEDs are expected to use 22 percent less power than the fluorescent lights they will replace, enough to pay back their extra cost in four years, the company said. LEDs are power-sippers compared to incandescent and fluorescent lights, and they're already in wide use for traffic lights, billboards and other outdoor applications. But their higher costs remain an obstacle in bringing them to indoor lighting. Still, the U.S. Department of Energy says that LED lighting use saved the country about 8.7 trillion watt hours in 2007 (out of a 2001 estimate of 765 trillion watt hours used for lighting across the United States), and that bringing LEDs to wider use in indoor lighting and 11 other untapped markets could save the country 27 gigawatts of power (see DOE Says LEDs Can Shine in 12 Markets). Cree is among the lighting companies eager to buy up promising startups that can serve customers looking for those kinds of potential energy savings. The company has spent $303 million on acquisitions in the last two years, including buying LED Lighting Fixtures for about $77 million in cash and stock in February (see Cree to Buy Firm Founded by Its Former Execs). Philips Lighting is also spending big on fledgling lighting companies — $5.4 billion in acquisitions from 2005 to 2007 — and has launched a line of LED indoor lights. Startups in the LED field include Luminus Devices in Billerica, Mass., which raised $72 million in venture capital in March (see Luminus Closes $72M to Light Up New Applications), and Sunnyvale, Calif.-based BridgeLux, which raised $40 million in April. The Pentagon's move to LEDs would appear to fit in with President-elect Barack Obama's promise to make the federal government more energy-efficient. Obama's campaign called for retrofitting existing federal buildings to make them 25 percent more energy-efficient in the next five years, as well as a promise to make sure all new federal buildings were 40 percent more energy-efficient in the same time frame. The long-term goal is to decrease the government's energy usage by 15 percent by 2015.

Apple Copies Mitsubishi, Skips Zinc in New Notebook

Michael Kanellos: January 6, 2009, 11:21 AM
Well, here's a surprise. A lot of people, including me, thought Apple would adopt the zinc silver batteries from ZPower in its 17-inch notebook. ZPower, after all, is slated to soon announce a notebook win with a major manufacturer. It turns out that Apple has rigged its notebook with a lithium-polymer battery that it designed itself (with probably a good deal of help from battery makers.) Lithium-polymer batteries don't come shaped in cells, like standard batteries. Instead, they are sacks of electronic goo. Lithium-polymer batteries typically don't share the same energy density that lithium-ion cell batteries have, but the amorphous shape allows notebook makers or others to fit battery material into various nooks and crannies. Apple is not the first manufacturer to use lithium-polymer batteries, by the way, so if you are a Mac fan don't get too sweaty yet. Back in 1998, Mitsubishi came out with the Pedion, a super-slim notebook in a metal case and a lithium-polymer battery. Sounds a lot like the new Mac, yes? Apple hopes not. The Pedion was a disasterm -- consumers complained about the outrageously high price and poor functionality. That name also creeped a lot of people out. Hewlett-Packard sold a a model, but under its own brand name. A few other Japanese manufacturers have released lithium-polymer notebooks since. Compaq also had a lithium polymer notebook in its (We are not men. We are D)Evo line of notebooks. They announced it at PC Expo, which is interesting because it's an extinct notebook at a dead conference from a notebook maker that got gobbled up soon a few weeks after the notebook was announced. On the upside, lithium-polymer batteries have improved quite a bit over the past few years. Apple, in fact, claims that its polymer battery can endure 1,000 charge cycles before dropping to 80 percent capacity, a lot better than the 200 to 300 on conventional batteries. Sony has also been one of the big proponents of lithium polymer. Stan Glasgow, who runs Sony Electronics, told me back in late 2006 that notebook makers would likely start adopting polymer batteries. And that ZPower announcement should come soon. CEO Ross Dueber speaks this week at CES.