Zoltek: High in Fiber, Low in Valuation

by Debra Fiakas CFA   The Stohr DSR has an all carbon fiber body (Photo credit: Rhots/Wikimedia Commons)   Zoltek Companies (ZOLT:  Nasdaq) is in the business of fibers, mostly carbon fibers.  Plain, simple fibers may not seem very impressive.  However, Zoltek’s carbon fibers are in wide demand for renewable energy applications such as wind turbines blades and deep sea oil and gas wells.  After two years swimming in red ink, Zoltek has managed to bring sales back up to 2008 levels.  The company earned $22.9 million in...

ePower’s Series Hybrid Electric Drive – Unmatched Fuel Economy for Heavy Trucks

John Petersen Over the last couple weeks there’s been a lot of message board chatter about ePower Engine Systems, a transportation technology company that has selected the PbC® battery from Axion Power International (AXPW) for its series hybrid electric drivetrain for over-the-road freight haulers who drive heavy Class 8 tractors. Since I introduced ePower to Axion and have tracked their progress for a couple years, I called ePower’s CEO Andy Claypole to ask his permission to share what I’ve learned about ePower’s hybrid electric drivetrain. After a series of phone calls and e-mails, Andy graciously...

Axion Power – A Battery Manufacturer Charging Forward

John Petersen Last week Debra Fiakas of Crystal Equity Research published an article titled "No Battery Producer Left Behind" that was based on old information about the relationship between Exide Technologies (XIDE) and Axion Power International (AXPW) and reached several erroneous conclusions. Since I'm a former Axion director, the stock is my biggest holding and I follow the company like a hawk, Tom Konrad asked me to clarify the record and present a high level overview of Axion's business history, stock market dynamics and technical accomplishments over the last four years. Since Tom's request is a...

Maxwell Beats Earnings, But Scares Investors with Guidance

Tom Konrad CFA The 2013 Lamborghini Aventador will incorporate Maxwell ultracapcitors. (Photo credit: Autoviva.com via Flickr  ) The headline was good: Maxwell Technologies, Inc. (NASD:MXWL) beat analysts’ third quarter (Q3 2012) earnings estimates by 10 cents on improved cost control and revenues in-line with analyst expectations (up 7%).  The good news stopped there, however, and investors are in a panic this morning (the stock is down $1.48 to $6.13 as I write) about some worrying comments made in the earnings call (transcript here.) Worries About the Chinese Hybrid Bus Market Revenue growth has...

BYD Stalled Despite Japanese Carmakers’ Woes in China

Doug Young BYD's G3 at the Shenzen High -Tech Fair in 2009.  BYD needs more exciting new products to thrive despite Chinese buyers spurning Japanese auto brands. Photo credit: Brücke-Osteuropa. The prognosis isn't looking good for Japanese car brands in China, with Honda (Tokyo: 7267) becoming the latest predictor that the gloom plaguing Japan's big 3 automakers could last into next spring and perhaps even longer. That looks like bad news for not only Honda, Toyota (Tokyo: 7203) and Nissan (Tokyo: 7201), but also their Chinese...

Energy Storage: Q-2 2012 Review and Analysis

John Petersen While I jumped the gun last week and published my third quarter outlook for the energy storage and vehicle electrification sectors early, it's worthwhile to take a look back and see how my tracking list of companies performed over the last quarter and examine the past to see what the tea leaves in the bottom of the cup portend for the coming quarter. So without further delay I'll present my price performance table for the second quarter that ended on Friday. Q-2 was a dreadful quarter for Maxwell Technologies (MXWL) and ZBB Energy...

Energy Storage: Q3 2012 Winners and Losers

John Petersen I usually write a quarterly recap to summarize what happened in the energy storage and vehicle electrification sectors, but Q2 was a tough enough period that I don't see much sense in dwelling on the bloodletting. So instead of focusing on the past, I'll offer a quick summary table with lots of red ink and turn my attention to Q3, which is shaping up as a time of bright opportunity for some companies and profound risk for others. I expect three companies in my tracking group to perform very well in Q3 –...

Micro-hybrids And The Multi-Billion Dollar Battery Battle

John Petersen Last week the stock of A123 Systems (AONE) soared 52% in a day after it announced that an enhanced chemistry would improve the cold and hot weather performance of its LiFePO4 batteries, reduce the need for ancillary temperature control systems and make them more competitive in a rapidly evolving micro-hybrid battery market that's dominated by lead-acid battery manufacturers like Johnson Controls (JCI) and Exide Technologies (XIDE). Investors seem to understand that micro-hybrids will generate several billion dollars of incremental annual revenue for battery manufacturers by 2015, but they haven't quite figured out who the winners will...

Stop-Start Realities and EV Fantasies

John Petersen Last week Johnson Controls (JCI) released the results of a nationwide survey that found that 97 percent of Americans are ready for micro-hybrids with stop-start idle elimination, the most sensible automotive innovation in years. A micro-hybrid turns the engine off to save fuel and eliminate exhaust emissions when it's stopped in traffic and automatically restarts the engine when necessary. While the overwhelmingly positive consumer response didn't surprise me, JCI's short-term growth forecast for micro-hybrids did. I've been writing about the rapidly evolving micro-hybrid space since 2008 and during that time the market penetration forecasts have...

Report: Electric Cars Cost Less (But watch the assumptions)

Tom Konrad CFA Pike Research just released a report on the Total Cost of Ownership of Alternative  Fuel Vehicles for Fleet Operators.  The report compares the purchase price plus lifetime fuel cost of mid-sized cars available in the US. Although the authors hesitate to declare any alternative fuel the cheapest option, the chart below clearly shows that the “BEV-100″ (Battery-Electric with 100-mile range, a.k.a. the Nissan Leaf) to be the least expensive option even at high electricity prices ($0.14/kwh) and low gas prices ($3/gallon.)  However, the Leaf only has a clear lead when the $7500 tax...

Battery-powered Locomotives – Compellingly Green Economics

John Petersen For the last two years I've been paying increasingly close attention to trailblazing work by Norfolk Southern (NSC) in the field of battery-powered locomotives. My interest was piqued in June of 2010 when Norfolk Southern hired Axion Power International (AXPW.OB) to develop a battery management system that would allow rail locomotives to run on battery power and recharge their batteries through regenerative braking. I believed the decision was positive news for Axion because nobody hires a battery manufacturer to design a BMS for somebody else's product. My enthusiasm was tempered, however, by knowing that an earlier...

Hybrid Locomotives, Vehicle Electrification at Relevant Scale

John Petersen Last month Ricardo PLC (RCDOF.PK) published a report titled "GB Rail Diesel Powertrain Efficiency Improvements" that it prepared for Great Britain's Department for Transport. While most of the fuel efficiency technologies Ricardo evaluated for the report were mechanical systems, its analysis of the fuel efficiency benefits of stop-start and hybrid systems for locomotives offered an intriguing view of a cost-effective vehicle electrification opportunity that can be implemented at relevant scale within a few years. The two types of locomotive systems Ricardo evaluated for the report were simple stop-start idle elimination and full hybridization. The following table...

Compared to what: the low-down on alt energy subsidies

For now, electrics have won a fan base, but bio seems to be doing a better job of advancing the technology, reducing or eliminating tax credits, and giving customers more power of choice when it comes to selecting a car. The reason – bio-based is more affordable, and generally more infrastructure-compatible.

Energy Storage: Q1 2012 Winners and Losers

John Petersen The first quarter of 2012 was the best of times for shareholders of companies that are developing and manufacturing cheap energy storage products like lead-acid batteries, but the worst of times for shareholders of pure-play lithium-ion battery developers. The following table tracks stock price performance in the energy storage and electric vehicle sectors for the first quarter of 2012 and for the twelve months ended March 31st. Long-term readers will notice that the current list is a good deal shorter than it was in March of last year because of my decisions to...

Geneva Motor Show Highlights – The Revenge of the Internal Combustion Engine

John Petersen March is Motor Show time in Geneva and it was fascinating to witness the shift in emphasis away from plug-in vehicles as European automakers highlighted their accomplishments in fuel efficiency technologies like HEVs, micro-hybrids and dual fuel drivetrains that can switch back and forth between gasoline and compressed natural gas. While there were modest displays for Tesla (TSLA), Fisker and other emerging brick-makers, and space was set aside for the obligatory plug-ins that most real manufacturers are toying with, the substantial majority of front-line vehicles at display entrances and halo cars on turntables were HEVs...

Lux Boosts Their Micro-Hybrid Vehicle Forecast to 39,000,000 Cars a Year By 2017

John Petersen A couple days ago Lux Research published a new report titled “Every Last Drop: Micro‐ And Mild Hybrids Drive a Huge Market for Fuel‐Efficient Vehicles” that focuses on rapidly growing markets for micro-hybrid vehicles and their battery systems. During 2011, automakers sold an estimated 5,000,000 micro-hybrids worldwide, mainly in Europe. By 2017, Lux forecasts global micro-hybrid sales of 39,000,000 cars a year and a $6.3 billion annual market for their battery systems, which represents an across the board average of $161 per vehicle compared to an auto industry average of less than $60 per...