Alternate Fuel Vehicles — Cool Monthly Newsletter

I have some small level of input into the creation of Jon Lesage’s newsletter on alternate fuel vehicles; I participate in a monthly conference call with perhaps 7 – 8 other people.  As a consequence, I’m always anxious to see what the overall piece looks like.  Here are a few tidbits from the current edition, along with my comments:

Coda:  Coda Holdings filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after selling just 100 of its all-electric sedans. The filing will allow the Los Angeles company to exit the auto sector and refocus on energy storage, for utilities and building operators to store power.

I’ve been predicting this for some time; that these people staved off bankruptcy this long is a miracle.  As I often wrote, Coda was the worst of all possible worlds.  The incompetence of its executive team was surpassed only by its crowning problem:  the car itself, an overpriced eyesore with who-cares performance, sold by a company that was an incredible long-shot to survive long enough to honor its warranty.  Anyone who thinks they’ll reinvent themselves and make a meaningful contribution to the energy storage world is just a misguided as the first 100 credulous EV customers, not to mention the investors who blew through more than $200 million in this folly.

BYD:  BYD Motors, Inc. unveiled its US eBus plant; the company held the grand opening of its new eBus manufacturing facility in Lancaster, Calif. The facility will be capable of producing 1,000 buses a year at full production.

I’ve often commented that BYD has what it takes to succeed in the electric vehicle space, including an amazing grip on supply chain costs and logistics.  If I’m not mistaken, it’s the single most verticalized company on Earth, bucking the trend of the last 100 years in manufacturing.  Here’s a company that mines its own lithium, builds its own cells, assembles them into battery packs, installs them into the cars it builds, etc.  If anyone can pull off success here, they can.

Biomethane: There’s a lot of opportunity for this very clean vehicle fuel, but it’s still in its early stages. Waste Management is playing a leading role in developing the technology and California Air Resources Board says it’s the cleanest alternative fuel on the market, well-to-wheels – even lower on the list than hydrogen. It comes from landfills, manure, and from natural gas. It’s a big part of natural gas’ potential, (a spokesperson) said, as it can blend in renewables.

Given the trends in the prices of natural gas from fossil sources, I can’t imagine that there is a scenario in which biomethane becomes cost-effective, except in places where remediation is key.  If you have 400,000 tightly confined buffaloes creating 8000 tons of dung per day, and forming one of the single most terrible threats to human health on the planet (which we actually do, in Southern Pakistan), then we have something to talk about — see one of my favorite “Clean Energy Investment Opportunities.”  Otherwise, I don’t see it.

Biofuels: Alan Shaw, chemist and former CEO at Codexis Inc., the first biofuels company that went public on the stock market, has left biofuels for natural gas. Now CEO of Calysta Energy LLC, Shaw is at odds with biofuels companies. He says it’s impossible to economically turn crop waste, wood, and plants like switchgrass into vehicle fuel.

I hate to say it, but I’m afraid he’s right.  I know there are a whole bunch of people with aspirations in this space, and, given extreme and currently unpredicted shortages in fossil fuels, there could be a window of opportunity, but I don’t see this in the long term; as I’ve often noted, the basic chemistry and physics of life on this planet militates away from it.

Jon:  Again, thanks for the opportunity to contribute here, my friend.  I’ve always appreciated your insight, and, in particular, your objectivity on this most interesting and dynamic industry.

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6 comments on “Alternate Fuel Vehicles — Cool Monthly Newsletter
  1. barry says:

    WOW it’s tough to hear you bail on bio fuels. I had such hope for cellulosic ethanol .I guess it’s just a tough reality to swallow

  2. pierre says:

    what is the economic viability of transport fuels that destroy the environent? The environment falls, the economy falls.

  3. Cameron Atwood says:


    What are your thoughts on the current scalable potential of algae fuel?


  4. Marco polo says:

    Hi Craig,

    I’m not always a fan of Jon LeSage’s style of lazy journalism, however I do find some his articles interesting.

    I agree with you about Coda. I am proud to say that I played a small part in ensuring that Coda’s DOE loan application was refused !

    A bad product, from bad people !

    In contrast, the astonishing success of Tesla Motors, should make every American proud.

    Bio-fuels are great ! However, unless exactly the right conditions exist, as in Brazil etc, it impossible to grow reliable amounts of feedstock to accommodate the needs of an industrial nation. On my family estate in the UK, we have installed a bio-mass generator fuelled with farm waste. Very cool and ‘green’, and produced all our electricity needs as well as supplementing our neighbours and some villagers.

    In economic terms, not profitable. (But very satisfying).

    For nearly twenty years, I have been an ardent advocate of the inevitability of oil depletion. However, over the last few months, the astonishing advances in oil extraction technologies have created doubts about the reality of oil depletion.

    Articles like Charles C Mann’s, “What if we never run out of oil ” (, are very thought provoking.

    In addition discoveries the size of the potential NZ oil fields, render all the old presumptions in need of reassessment.

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