There’s a part of me that feels bad when I am sceptical about a potentially great thing. It’s so easy to be a sceptic, and anytime an entrepreneur or innovator proposes a new, potentially game changing thing, legions of lazy sceptics come out of the woodwork denouncing it as hype. Many of these sceptics seem motivated by nothing other than a bitter envy of someone actually working hard to change things, when usually the sceptic has not even tried to change anything, much less succeeded.
But there are times when scepticism is warranted, and EESTOR is one of those examples. For years they have made extraordinary claims about their new ultracapacitor, with very little in the ways of evidence. They have even lured Kleiner Perkins, a top-tier VC, to invest, as well as ZENN, a Canadian manufacturer of neighbourhood Electric Vehicles with aspirations to much more. But in all these years they have demonstrated no physical prototype to anyone’s knowledge. In fact, a colleague of mine visited their offices in Cedar Park, Texas years ago and his request to see anything physical was angrily rebuffed.
All this is preamble to the opportunity I had on Tuesday at the FORTUNE Brainstorm Green conference to directly question Ian Clifford, CEO of Zenn about EESTOR. I took great care to pose the questions as fairly but directly as possible. While I didn’t record it, the paraphrasing below is from my notes and very close to verbatim.
Me: “The specs you just described for EESTOR – $250/kWh, 300 lbs. for 50 kWh, are so good that they fall in the category of ‘too good to be true.’ In fact, if they are true, they will obsolete all other battery technology in the world today. You say you have done due diligence, and that you have invested. How confident are you that EESTOR will deliver a product to the specification promised later this year?”
Mr. Clifford: “Our confidence is shown in our actions- we’ve invested, we’ve since followed up our investment – and the actions of others, like Lockheed Martin.”
Me: Have you ever seen a working prototype of an EESU from EESTOR?
Mr. Clifford: “We don’t comment publicly on that.”
The answer to the first question is a non-answer, but one that is understandable considering the circumstances. Mr. Clifford needs to have plausible deniability and sufficient distance so that he is not fully tarnished by EESTORs continued failure to deliver.
The second answer, however, is just bizarre and not credible in the least. As an investor in the company that claims to have done due diligence, the common expectation would be that he or someone in his company has at least seen a prototype on the bench. I know of no circumstance, regulation or reason why he would feel that he could not disclose such a simple confirmation publicly. In the absence of such a confirmation, I have to conclude that there is no such prototype. This, unfortunately, is not surprising.
A fresh new bizarrely opaque announcement from EESTOR today, trumpeted by ZENN on their website as “EESTOR announces permitivity!” gives some insight as to what is going on here.
The announcement is that EESTOR claims that the material they are producing has been found to have a very high level of “permitivity”, which is one of several things that need to fall into place in a theoretical capacitor that meets the energy storage claims they have been boasting. The announcement says nothing about demonstrating any energy storage nor does it make mention of any prototype energy storage unit. Permitivity, in and of itself, does not suffice to achieve their goals.
But this accomplishment, and the hope that it represents to speculative investors everywhere, is enough to achieve ZENN’s goals – their stock is up 45% today.
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