Friday, February 17, 2017

Lesson in China's Coal Clampdown

As part of United Nation’s imposed sanctions on North Korea for its tests of nuclear missiles, China has suspended coal imports from its southern neighbor.  China imports about $1 billion in coal from North Korea each year  -  mere dust in the coal bucket for China but a sizable chunk for North Korea.  According to Trading Economics, the gross domestic product of North Korea was near $16.2 billion in 2015 after hitting a historic high of $17.4 billion in 2014.  Thus China’s coal order represents about 6.2% of North Korea’s entire economy and about 30% of its total exports. 
No matter whether or not there are any doubts in North Korea about the ill advised missile tests, in China the event may have just been the best chance for China to break off from its irascible trade partner in Pyongyang.  China has been attempting a restructure and upgrade of its own domestic coal production, closing mines and consolidating small, inefficient and unsafe mines into larger mining companies. 
Among China’s top mining companies are two which have common shares listed on U.S. stock exchanges.  They provide an interesting contrast to renewable energy companies, which struggle to maintain valuation and win new capital.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Alterra's Deep Well in Iceland

Last week, one of the leaders in a development consortium, Iceland’s largest privately owned energy generator HS Orka hf, announced the completion of a project to prove the merits of deeper geothermal wells.  The project in the Reykjanes Peninsula in southern Iceland reached 4,659 meters depth in January 2017, where temperatures measured 427 degrees Centigrade and fluid pressure was 340 bars.  By all accounts the project was successful, suggesting that deep wells could a cost effective approach to geothermal energy.
The drilling program was mentioned in early December 2015 a recent post “Hot Rocks, Warm Stock,” which touched on the option of investing in a larger company, Statoil (STL: SW or STO:  NYSE), for a stake in geothermal technologies for renewable energy.   Unfortunately, a position in Statoil brings with it the noise of Statoil’s fossil fuel interests.  Fortunately, for the more environmentally-conscious investor, there is an alternative.

Friday, February 10, 2017

BioSolar Building Better Battery

Last month BioSolar (BSRC:  OTC/PK) reported positive test results for its proprietary energy storage technology.  The company is developing an alternative anode material for lithium ion batteries using silicon-carbon materials.  BioSolar’s engineers are targeting dramatic improvement in anode performance and equally impressive reductions in cost.  If they are successful, it could mean longer lithium ion battery life, greater capacity and shorter charging time  -  the dreams of every manufacturer with an electronic product.
Most lithium ion batteries rely on graphite for the battery anode.  However, silicon anodes could offer as much as ten times more capacity as anodes made with graphite.  Unfortunately, silicon has a few downsides that make it unreliable as well as unaffordable.  BioSolar is working to overcome those downsides and make silicon anodes an affordable alternative by using a silicon alloy. 

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Year of the Fire Rooster for Ballard

The year of the Chinese Fire Rooster promises to be especially lucky for Ballard Power Systems (BLDP:  Nasdaq or BLDP:  TXS).  The company just announced an equipment sales agreement with one of China’s leading bus manufacturers to put Ballard fuel cell engines into electric buses.  Zhuhai Yinlong Energy Group will take delivery of ten of Ballard's proprietary FCveloCity-MD fuel cell engines yet in 2017 for installation in Yinlong buses that are destined to traverse the streets of Beijing.  Details on pricing or total contract value were not disclosed.
The order comes at a pivotal time for Ballard Systems.  The company has struggled to penetrate the China bus market  -  a lucrative hot spot driven by dense metropolitan population and the need to clean up choking air pollution.  Ballard managed to eke out $74.6 million in total sales in the twelve months ending September 2016.  Unfortunately, this limited scale is not sufficient to support Ballard’s cost and expense levels.  The net loss in the period was $22 million or $0.14 per share.  The company had to tap the bank account for $22.5 million in cash to support operations.