This report was written on
May 22nd 2005 and published in the Vol9 No3 edition of Electrifying Times
Uploaded to the web on October 15th 2005 with slight editing.
Connecticut, Here We Come!
By Remy Chevalier
Living in CT is hard on an EV buff. There's not much going on. All the EV drag racing is in Oregon and Vegas. Street racing is in San Diego. Sure we have Tour de Sol, but that's just once a year. There's also Altwheels in Mass now. Neither of the two events yet carry the big corporate cache of something like the Michelin Challenge Bibendum, which we are begging to come to the Lime Rock race track where Paul Newman honed his chops.
CT has two things going for it. While patriots moan and groan about outsourcing to Asia, CT still has a solid reputation as both the fuel cell state and the defense state. Both of which are quickly being eroded by outsourcing. So patriots have reason to gripe.
While Bruce Meland (ET's publisher) and other ET staffers bop around the planet to gather the best and latest EV info, I decided, more by necessity than by choice really, to focus my attention instead of what was going on in my own backyard.
Right down the street from me in Norwalk is mPhase, which a few months ago, at a consolidation of military procurement conference organized by Senator Dodd, had a table full of literature bragging about developing the best battery ever... but have yet to return phone calls or emails since. The one time I did get to speak to someone there, I was told: "We only sell lead-acid batteries."
Then there's also Business Communications Inc., housed in a creepy looking building remnant from the asphalt wars, sporting a strange stench of mildew. They gather $3500 reports on state of the art battery and motor technologies, but never return emails or phone calls either. If you can't pay, you can't play, that's their motto.
But there's something else going on here. So I decided to do something about it. I was going to get to the bottom of battery and motor tech in Connecticut. How can a state which had been the world capital of smalls tools and manufacturing, apparently, at least on the surface, decline to such economical lows?
The big military contractors are still all here: GE, Pratt & Whitney, United Technologies, Sikorsky, Electric Boat, etc... supporting thousands of small subsidiaries, many of which make compartmentalized "need to know" basis components for things they've never seen fully assembled.
We're the most powerful nation on earth, we're not going to let China or Russia have the best batteries and motors. But in today's US war economy, this "we" is becoming more predominantly a weapons economy. That's what we do, let's face it, we sell weapons of mass destruction to hundreds of countries around the world under the guise of exporting democracy.
Knowing what I know about military strategy (one of my hobbies as a kid was to study logistics... don't ask) is that you never give anybody a club if you don't have a bigger club to hit them over the head with in case they turn on you. So you can bet your bottom dollar warehouses and hangars all over America are filled with ace in the hole technology the general public knows nothing about, forever fueling the Area 51 myth, which the Pentagon itself nurtures to its fullest advantage since the late 40's.
Ours is a culture of secrecy, where money and power gets you in, but only so far within. If you don't have the clout and the breeding, you'll never crack the code, to use a trendy catch phrase. So what's a poor boy to do?
The whole state of Connecticut right now is clamoring for a renewed spirit of innovation. But innovation can only come from the factory floor. We shipped the factory overseas. Invention on the other hand is a process of careful triage from junior high school science fairs into Universities, where the best and the brightest are whisked away into DARPA black ops laboratories, never to be seen or heard from again.
How do we reunite the two: the civilian and the military world? It won't happen by happenstance. It has to be orchestrated, manipulated, brought out into the open. One thing that's been nagging at US democracy ever since the founding fathers stole this land from the Indians is Native American rights. One might ask, what rights? And rightly so, I mean let's face it, there hasn't been a white treaty worth the paper is was inked on.
But something very strange happened in a basement of a church near the Pequot Library in Southport years ago where all the Connecticut tribal leaders used to meet to burn sage and reminisce about their lost heritage. Bingo - Casino - Eureka! Monaco was a sovereign state, just like the Pequots, so why not us? Today Native Americans earn over $17 billion dollars a year from gambling, fleecing the white man. Sweet revenge!
The trick now is how to align all that cash with their philosophy of earth-based spirituality. The white man still controls the day to day operations of most Native owned casinos. The Indians just get a check in the mail at the end of the month. Some of them are perfectly content with that arrangement, but not all of them.
I'd read Nature's Way, a book written by Ed McGaa, a Sioux, who mentioned hydrogen. I told him about the CT Clean Energy Fund fuel cell summit held at the Mohegan Sun every year. We developed an email relationship. I invited him to speak at the Pequot Museum (not to be confused with the Pequot Library) on March 5th of 2005. There we tried to seed a rEVolution. I followed it up by inviting MIT battery researcher Dr. Donald Sadoway to speak at Yale, to describe how he could boost Lithium-Ion battery efficiency by 600% given half a chance.
Yet something tells me we're just re-inventing the wheel, that the last thing our military wants is for state-of-the-art nanotech batteries to enter the marketplace altering the commercial mainstream. Why else would Duracell never return my calls? Better motors and better batteries would mean lighter, faster vehicles and helicopters; lighter communications gear for soldiers.
So yes, our military wants these things, but they want it for themselves, they don't really want to see any of these new technologies spread into the civilian population. The Pentagon is threatened by the mobile PC market now driving the need for better batteries. Maybe that's why SAIC, the CIA's largest contractor, is behind MobiTV, the first company to provide real time streaming TV into smart phones.
And that's the problem right there. How can we spur a spirit of innovation (I prefer to say invention) if we also aim to control how those innovations are going to be used once the cat is out of the bag? Connecticut and the Pentagon is trying to have its cake and eat it to.
Interestingly, back in 1992 I acted as liaison between the World Technology Institute (now defunct) and citizens environmental organizations for the Defense and the Environment Initiative, the first conference of its kind. It later lead to massive green military procurement at Eco-Expo, last decade's precursor to today's Green Festivals. Sam Nunn and Al Gore created a military technology transfer office, now MDA. The environment had become a matter of national security. Top brass said so at Congressional hearings.
But how to reconcile better motors and better batteries (BMBBs) with issues of national security? If we keep shipping the manufacture of components all over the planet, eventually all these countries will be able to assemble their own finished product, they won't need us anymore, "us" as in "we" Americans. And we'll be left holding an empty bag, already in evidence witnessing the depression surrounding old industrial towns in Connecticut like Bridgeport, Waterbury and even New Haven.
Whether or not myself, Electrifying Times, Ed McGaa, Dr. Sadoway, or a few enlightened members of the CT Technology Council are able to drive the message home is yet to be seen. Having little or no budget to do this has limited my sphere of influence to a small radius of operation. But soon we'll finally have the necessary resources to give the Environmental Library Fund a physical space in Norwalk. Let's see what the future brings...