National Commentary

The Peak Oil Crisis:A Disruptive Technology

Every now and again there comes along a new technology that changes civilization. Gunpowder, steam engines, electricity, internal combustion, nuclear energy, transistors, and the integrated computer circuits readily come to mind.

Looming just over the horizon is the possibility that another such disruptive technology may, and I emphasize may, be in the offing. This technology would be a capacitor with the ability to store large amounts of high-voltage electricity as a static charge in a relatively small and inexpensive device. No chemical reactions – just electrons in and electrons out.

Should such a technology become available, the implications would be immense for the worldwide production and use of energy. Starting with intermittent energy sources such as wind and solar, a cheap and reliable means of storing the electric power would make such sources far more useful. Electricity storage devices stationed along smart power distribution networks could lead to major efficiencies in the distribution of electrical energy; and inexpensive home storage devices could make rooftop solar and wind efficient, competitive with centralized generation of power.

The most immediate impact, however, could be on transportation. If a car or truck could be built at modest cost with a 250 mile all electric range, instantly rechargeable, and a long life, the automobile and petroleum industries would be transformed forever.

This of course all sounds too good to be true and skeptics that large paradigm-changing capacitors can be built abound. Here the matter would rest except for a small firm down in Texas called EEStor that from all indications has been working diligently on the development of a high-voltage, high energy density capacitor for several years.

The firm is universally denounced “secretive” as it does not let outsiders in to watch its progress and only infrequently issues press releases to announce patents or that outside laboratories have confirmed one or another aspect of their technology. This reluctance to let others look over their shoulder during the development of what could be one of the major breakthroughs of 21st century technology has driven many observers to near hysteria. There is even a web site devoted to watching EEStor and parsing every scrap of information that becomes available.

One of the more fascinating aspects of the story is that EEStor has an agreement with a tiny Canadian manufacturer of low-speed neighborhood electric cars called Zenn Motors that gives the Canadians an exclusive license to manufacturer small electric cars powered by EEStor’s capacitor technology and a promise that Zenn will be the first to receive working capacitors. To further confuse skeptics, EEStor has an agreement with Lockheed Martin to handle government sales of the capacitor.

A few weeks ago a lengthy and candid interview with the founder of EEStor, Dick Weir, made its way onto the internet. During the interview, Weir discusses many of the steps and details involved in the development of his new dielectric material, Composition Modified Barium Titanate powder. Weir said EEStor has completed the development of the material and now has a small production line in place to produce the dielectric material which is the key to the device. He further says that pre-production electricity storage devices built to the specifications of Zenn Motors and other customers currently are being fabricated and will be available for testing and certification next month.

Weir’s assertions are to an extent backed up by Ian Clifford, CEO of Zenn Motors which now owns 10 percent of the company, and has access to EEStor’s technology including having had it verified by outside consultants. Clifford says that his firm has already built a vehicle that will mate with the 52 kilowatt hour battery that EEStor is building to Zenn’s specifications. If all goes well, he expects to have the first working battery delivered for installation into a working vehicle, and available for all the world to see, before the end of the year.

In reading through the recent EEStor and Zenn interviews, the stories have a ring of truth. EEStor operates with zero hype, leaving it to Zenn to give the press interviews. The leaked “interview” with EEStor’s CEO was with a Toronto financial consultant that was helping float a stock issue for Zenn and EEStor contains much detail which sounds plausible to those of us not familiar to the chemistry of barium titanate. The information seems to fit and compliment with other information the company has publicly released.

The final and key piece of the story — whether a high-voltage energy storage device has actually been built and shown to work — is still missing. When asked directly, the usually talkative Clifford of Zenn Motors says that is under non-disclosure.

There would seem to be too many reputable people and organizations involved with and certifying milestones in this project for EEStor to be a total fraud. Lockheed Martin has had their scientists examine the project in detail and concluded that “while we cannot guarantee that the technology will work as intended, we see no reason why it won’t.” It is unlikely that EEStor would be making arrangements to take the device to Underwriters Laboratories for electrical certification unless there has been sufficient integration and testing to insure that it actually works.

When and if the EEStor battery works and is publically displayed, the Lithium-ion battery industry and many recently announced automobiles based on them could be in trouble. Unlike lithium which is in limited supply, barium is plentiful and can be mined domestically. If EEStor’s CEO is to be believed, it is relatively easy and inexpensive to build production lines for his device as compared to building lithium batteries.

Even if the technology turns out to be a complete success, it will take many years, and more likely decades, before high density energy storage devices will begin to have a significant impact on the world economy. As an example there are some 1 billion motor vehicles running around on the earth today. Replacing them or even converting them to high density electrify storage is likely to be a daunting challenge in what are likely to be tough economic times.

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