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How Risky Bets Like Startup EEStor Lure Political Backers

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Public officials might be well advised to steer clear of controversy, but when it comes to energy storage startup EEStor, its investor Zenn Motor — and the companies’ bold claims about the disruptive potential of EEStor’s ultracapacitor technology — a couple of Congressmen are plowing right ahead.

Representatives John Carter of Texas and Mark Schauer of Michigan, who have lent their support to EEStor and Zenn in recent months, are the latest example of how some politicians have rushed to align themselves with clean energy ventures whether or not the technology and business models are proven. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger hailed solar thermal startup Ausra as “one of the best companies in the world,” for example, before the startup laid off staff and was forced to dramatically scale back its ambitions. The trick to currying this favor? Promising to create green jobs.

Rep. Schauer, as we noted this week, has written to the Department of Energy supporting Zenn’s bid for government aid in building a facility in Michigan to work on commercializing electric vehicles with EEStor’s devices. And Rep. Carter, after touring EEStor’s headquarters this summer, said, “It’s exciting that we have a Central Texas company this close to revolutionizing transportation as we know it in America,” in a statement sent to the Barium Titanate blog. According to the statement, he’d seen energy storage technology at the facility that “can dramatically change” the auto industry and economy as a whole when deployed at mass scale.

We should note that the Barium Titanate blog is run anonymously by someone who says they have a “small speculative investment” in Zenn Motor, and we’ve reached out to Carter’s office for confirmation of the report (we’ll update when we hear back). Seeing any solid evidence of EEStor’s claim would put Carter in a pretty unique position.

Toronto-based investment bank and research firm Jacob Securities, which visited EEStor’s facility around the same time that Carter did (if not on the same tour), came away with a somewhat more skeptical assessment. “After all,” the analysts write in a report released to investors this week (PDF), “no one has seen a commercial prototype. We certainly didn’t.”

Carter and Schauer’s support for EEStor and Zenn’s work makes sense in that, if the companies can actually deliver on their claims, it could bring jobs and business to their Congressional districts. But the danger with this kind of early promotion is that political support for unproven technologies can have consequences long after hope for a technology has proven to be either false or simply unrealistic. In some cases overhyping a company that falls short can cause skepticism and distrust in an industry that could otherwise be quite promising.

That’s part of what we’re seeing unravel with biofuels now. As the Wall Street Journal noted in an extensive report last week, the U.S. government provided $3.25 billion in subsidies and other support for biofuels including ethanol in 2007  — more than the amount offered for any other energy source. The long list of problems with first-gen ethanol includes the fact that feedstocks divert land from food crops and may result in more greenhouse gas emissions over their total lifecycle than they prevent as an alternative to petroleum fuels — solid reasons for politicians to keep the corn ethanol industry at arm’s length. Yet as the WSJ’s Ann Davis and Russell Gold write, new stimulus funding is expected to increase government support for biofuels, including ethanol.

Avoiding all risky and unproven technologies, however, would mean simply preserving the status quo — not an appealing option when it comes to energy sources, technology and climate change. But why not call a spade a spade? That’s what the Department of Energy has done with its ARPA-E (Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy) program, which is designed for “high-risk” and “transformational” energy technologies.

It was too early for anyone to really know if Ausra would become “one of the best companies in the world” when Schwarzenegger called it that, and in hindsight it was premature for Congress to invest billions of dollars boosting ethanol. Today it’s too early to know whether EEStor will clear the high hurdles on the way to, as Carter put it, “revolutionizing transportation as we know it in America.”

23 Responses to “How Risky Bets Like Startup EEStor Lure Political Backers”

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  2. ConcernedAboutLies

    Another year of BS about EESCAM has been completed with no reveal of the EESSU courtesy of Dick Weir, Tom Weir, Ian Clifford and Baghead also know as the blogger with the bag over his head, b, eestorblog.

    The BS has been going on since 2004 with Dick Weir:

    “A number of major companies have said they would issue a purchase order quickly if specs are met.
    The company is currently seeking equity investment of $3.5 million. A business plan is available.” Wed, 05 May 2004

  3. Carl Nelson

    Hey Stephen B you wrote
    “I would say wait a month. If a functional prototype is independently tested, then we have a whole different story.”
    — 6:47 AM on September 5, 2009

    We waited over TWO months. What story do we have now?
    The same BS story of EESTOr/Zenn, wait till end of year, wait till next year, and the scam continues.

  4. Westfield

    People spend too much time trying to understand the EEStor/Zenn bashers. They are either disgruntled ex- employees, paid bashers or psychopaths or ?

    For reference->

    psychopath (plural psychopaths)

    1. A person with a personality disorder indicated by a pattern of lying, exploitativeness, heedlessness, arrogance, sexual promiscuity, low self-control, and lack of empathy and remorse. Such an individual may be especially prone to violent and criminal offenses.
    2. A person diagnosed with antisocial or dissocial personality disorder.
    3. A person who has no moral conscience.
    4. Popular A person who perpetrates especially gruesome or bizarre violent acts.

    Unfortunately, the Internet doesn’t tag psychopathic behavior so it can be filtered. One of the downsides of the Internet is that we have to share it with people who have severe behavior disorders.

  5. Baghead Brendan, do you actually know the name of Baghead? Why do you call him Brendan?

    I’d say he’s not a pumper if he tips off his audience before Zenn gets dumped the same way he releases his “news” that pumps the price.

  6. All you have to say regarding the John Miller Interview is so what? You must be a paid basher or disgruntled ex-employee. Nothing else explains your vindictive and irrational behavior.

    A pumper doesn’t put the effort into uncovering the top skeptics of EEStor and interviewing them in great detail allowing them to be very precise about why they think it won’t work. You are a complete moron.

    So, how did it go for you Baghead, did Ian call you in the office one day and tell you we won’t be needing you any more? Or maybe it was one of your friends who was fired?

    Don’t worry, you don’t have to confess to being a loser. You’re behavior explains everything.

    You’re no EE-Tom.

  7. Baghead Brendan

    Hey Baker follower of Baghead,
    So what he posted John Miller interview, Baghead still is a pumper for Zenn/EEStor. I am sure you have read the name calling of ee-tom and other skeptics by Baghead? What’s the matter, Baghead cannot deal with facts and it does not look good for EESTor. EE-tom is a gentleman. I would tell Baghead to go fuck himself if he talked to me how he does to EE-tom.

    Did you purchase extra Zenn stock in anticipation of Baghead’s prediction of 9/09/09? He does a good job pumping Zenn a week in advance. Where did Baghead get the information to make his prediction, was he on a conference call with Ian Clifford??? Oh no that was when Baghead was advising Ian Clifford the rewording of the permittivity announcement. Love it, a Baghead giving advice to a CEO of a company who does not know the definition of imminent.

    BTW-yes I am an ex Zenn employee currently working for Moe, Larry, and Curly Ultracapacitors Inc. Moe Howard is paying me 10 million US dollars a month to spread FUD, and Moe told me to tell Baghead he is a KNUCLEHEAD, Nyuk Nyuk Nyuk!!!

  8. Hey, Baghead, you are one creepy guy. If eestorblog is such a pumper, why did he post the single most explicit condemnation of EEStor’s technology, ie, the interview with John Miller that’s cited in the EEStor Wikipedia article?

    I’ve never heard of a pumper doing that. He’s posted at least 2 other interviews with skeptics as well. You never seem to talk about these facts in your strange online campaign. You are a nutball.

    I agree with the other poster, you should be investigated for attempting to manipulate Zenn Motor’s stock price by claiming their busines is a scam. I hope Zenn sues you as quickly as possible.

  9. ConcernedAboutTruth

    Traditionally, it’s always best to investigate a set of facts before explaining what they mean. Politicians aren’t all geniuses. But in this case, to cast a negative light on their work with Zenn/EEStor without any research to back up the conclusion is shoddy journalism.

    If anyone should be investigated, it’s the crazy person who leaves comments all over the internet signing his name as Baghead Brendan. He is actually ESPNY on the yahoo boards and was once Steve321 on TheEEStory. His posts are pure slander and I hope that Zenn Motor Company upholds it’s fiduciary duty to it’s shareholders and takes severe legal action against his many instances of slander against their company. He posts his crap all over the gm-volt forums, the prius forums and basically anywhere Zenn and EEStor are discussed. I really think he should be forced to defend himself against a slander lawsuit and clear stock manipulation practices, especially if it turns out that he is doing all of this for pay, which seems obvious given his crusade. Or maybe he is a disgruntled former employee of Zenn or something because how can you explain his incessant neanderthal postings? What really smells bad about ESPNY is that he puts all of this energy into bashing Zenn everywhere. But he’s never once picked up a phone and performed some original research on his own to validate the various pieces of information that are emerging about EEStor. That’s a clear indication of someone who doesn’t want to know the truth because they have ulterior motives. Look at how much time he puts into bashing Zenn? Why can’t he uncover some facts to support his case if it’s so important to him to reveal them as the frauds he considers them?

    The unanswered question about the politicians getting involved with Zenn is what have they learned about the viability of EEStor? It wouldn’t only take an hour or so to see how controversial Zenn/EEStor is thanks to unstable posters like ESPNY. So why would politicians wade into that type of a controversial situation unless they had information confirming that EEStor is legitimate?

    Last I checked, Ausra was no where near as controversial as EEStor, so for the Governor to make a statement about them doesn’t even come close to the will required to actually support a DOE funding request for Zenn Motor Company. Those are two very, very different degrees of association.

    Looking forward to the follow up stories on the politicians. ESPNY, get a life you complete loser!

  10. Baghead Brendan

    1) How is it a Canadian company which has sold 19 glorified golf carts last quarter, has not one highway powered electric vehicle manufactured, and the CEO does not know definition of “imminent” get a US congresman to write a letter for the company? Rep. Shauer should be investigated . All the communications between Ian Clifford/Zenn, and Rep. Shauer must be made public.
    2)The blogger with the bag over his head, Baghead is nothing but a pumper for Zenn/EEStor. Baghead does not appreciate if you are a skeptic which questions or posts something factual that casts a negative shadow on Zenn/EEStor. His feelings get hurt and a good possibility he will call you a name. Baghead has insider information of Zenn and EEStor which he uses to make himself sound like he is a know it all. He should be investigated to see how much he has profited from pumping Zenn.