Tuesday, March 13, 2018

We Need to Build a Wall (No Not That Wall)

Trump went to California this week to inspect prototypes for the wall he wants to separate the United States from Mexico.  Protesters greeted him with jeers that the wall as ineffective and nothing more than a symbol of racism.  Local politicians, including the mayor of San Diego and the governor of California, took to social and conventional media to voice opposition to immigration hostility that could harm the economy. 
Maybe we do need a wall, just not the wall Trump and his nationalist supporters are planning.
Researchers at Princeton University have postulated the idea of building large underwater walls using sand and boulders to stave off the collapse of glaciers.  It is a radical idea offered to solve the unexpected, but dreadful problem of rising sea levels.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Ushering Fossil Fuels to the Door

Earlier this week Westport Fuel Systems (WPRT:  Nasdaq) announced a technology breakthrough with its high pressure direct injection system for truck engines using natural gas as a fuel.  A new cryogenic pump has been development for high-horsepower applications and integrated into Westport’s fuel system, which has apparently been demonstrated at higher cylinder pressures.  The company apparently plans to load the innovation, which it called Westport HPDI 2.0, into next generation diesel engines. 
Investors interested in renewable energy or focused environmental improvements are probably wondering why this little company outside Vancouver, Canada could be important. 
The uncomfortable truth is that the world’s addiction to fossil fuel will not be beaten easily.  Great swaths of our global economy are highly dependent upon low-cost fuels for transport and power.  The transition to more environmentally-friendly energy sources such as solar or wind cannot happen overnight.  (Indeed, many are still concerned that with all renewable sources piled together, energy production will still fall short of the full force required to eliminate fossil fuels.)  In the meantime, greater efficiency in the use of fossil fuels can make a contribution alleviating the harmful effects of greenhouse gases released by combusting oil, gas and coal.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Graphite's New Best Friend

The rapid adoption of electric vehicles and the shift in electricity production to intermittent sources such as wind and solar, has shined a bright light on electric storage.  Investors have been flocking to battery producers as well as companies with plans to develop the lithium, cobalt and graphite materials needed to build those batteries.  Yet, even with the only graphite asset in the continental U.S. in its control, one graphite developer has had a surprisingly difficult time winning new friends. 
Unique Business Model
In their efforts to raise new capital, management of Alabama Graphite (CSPGF, CSPG) found a lukewarm reception in world capital markets.  Given that other graphite developers had raised capital during 2017, it may be the company’s unique business model that has been the stumbling block.   The market may have had difficulty in digesting AGC’s plans to refine and sell battery grade materials from its Coosa graphite asset in Alabama rather than placing graphite concentrate with distributors like virtually all of its peers.  AGC has developed a proprietary process to upgrade and purify graphite  to finished materials that command superior selling prices in battery markets.  AGC’s Coated Spherical Purified Graphite (CSPG) is for use in lithium ion batteries and Purified Micronized Graphite (PMG) shows promise as a conductivity enhancement material in other battery types.
AGC’s management has argued its stock has been undervalued.  That should have made the stock an interesting target for risk tolerant investors with an interest in materials technology, resource commodities or even renewable energy.  It also made the company susceptible to take over by an acquisitive strategic buyer.  Now mineral resource developer Westwater Resources (WWR:  Nasdaq) has made an all-stock offer that it seems AGC shareholders may not be able to refuse. 

Friday, March 02, 2018

Coal Plant Repurpose

In late February 2017, Duke Energy (DUK:  NYSE) completed the sale of the Walter C. Beckjord coal-fired power plant in Clermont County, Ohio.  American Electric Power (AEP:  NYSE) and Dayton Power & Light were partners in Beckjord, which was originally building in the early 1950s.  In 1972, four oil-fired units were added to Beckjord, bring total nameplate capacity to 1.4 gigawatts.  The power plant operated consistently to 2014, when the economics of coal cause Duke and its partners to decide a shutdown.   
Image result for beckjord power plant image
Commercial Liability Partners, LLC is the lucky buyer of Beckjord.  CLP specializes in unwanted and cast-off commercial property that is unlikely to attract a buyer in the open market.  CLP is multi-talented in decommissioning, site demolition, abatement and remediation.  For example, CLP is turning the Muskingum River Power Plant in Ohio that once belonged to AEP into an industrial park for technology ventures.  The rest will revert to farmland and a wildlife preserve.  CLP deploys a patent-pending remediation solution for coal ash ponds it calls the Sustainable Habitat capping system.