Ethanol Deathwatch: Let’s Have a Conference!

Oh biofuels, how far you’ve come. From a ho-hum fuel additive to the next best hope for getting off petroleum and the inspiration for a place called Biotown USA to…the subject of a conference on bankruptcies and acquisitions. As biofuel maker POET’s spokesperson, Nathan Schock, put it on Twitter this afternoon: “Ouch.”

The organizers for the 2009 Ethanol Bankruptcies & Acquisitions Conference are still searching for an advisory board, exhibitors, sponsors, speakers and attendees, according to the event web site. But hey, for just $1,050, you can join the fun in Houston, Texas, for two days of presentations on turnarounds, plant valuations, “the new buyers,” and perhaps most importantly for those once employed by companies like Pacific Ethanol (s PEIX), Nova Biosource, VeraSun (s vse), Panda Ethanol, Renewable Agricultural Energy and Changing World Technologies, enjoy what conference organizers are calling “significant opportunities for networking.”

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Credit Crunch Killing Ethanol Plant Plans

We worried last week that the credit crunch would hurt cleantech, and especially ethanol. Now this week there are two more additions to our ethanol death watch map, Visions Fuels in Iowa and Oklahoma Sustainable Energy, embedded below. In both cases the financial crisis on Wall Street was blamed for drying up investments.

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The capital-intensive business of ethanol production is getting hit hard as project financing slows to a trickle, and we expect to add more pins to our map. This could be the end for Vision Fuels, which announced today it had to cancel its Des Moines plant and lose a nearly $1 million deposit. Vision Fuels had originally planned on building three plants but abandoned plans for the two other plants in July.

Unfortunately, it’s not as if the developers who moved earlier and got funding before the collapse are fairing much better. Record corn prices and tumbling oil prices are squeezing already thin margins for grain-ethanol producers. Citigroup thinks three-quarters of all U.S. ethanol plants are at risk of closing.

In a separate twist, nepotism, conflict-of-interest laws and Missouri state politics have stalled incentives for an ethanol plant in Missouri.

Ethanol Deathwatch: POET Cancels Plant Plans

Record high oil prices aren’t enough to keep ethanol plants from getting the ax. POET Energy, an ethanol plant developer, has canceled plans for a plant in Glenville, Minn. (hat tip Greentech Media) POET says it pulled the plug on the plant due to permitting problems.

We’ve added the company’s recent cancellation to our Biofuels Deathwatch map.

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In December Pacific Ethanol (PEIX) said it was suspending the building of its Imperial Valley plant near Calipatria, Calif., “until market conditions improve.” And that month news came out that the plans for ethanol plants from Panda Ethanol and Renewable Agricultural Energy wouldn’t see the light of day, either. Earlier in October, BioFuel Energy Corp. (BIOF) and VeraSun (VSE) both said they would suspend construction of ethanol facilities as well.

With so much public scrutiny on the environmental effects of corn-based ethanol, the permitting process will likely not get any easier. And even companies that are building plants to produce non-food-based cellulosic ethanol will have to go through rigorous permitting processes. In addition to permitting issues, mounting construction costs are putting the squeeze on the margins of corn-based ethanol producers, leading companies to make tough choices — like cutting back on planned plants.

Is it Time For a Portable Dumb Terminal?

The dedicated web worker can do pretty much anything within the confines of a web browser these days: send and receive email, create and share documents, chat via various messenger services, update task lists and calendars, even (thanks to sites like Heroku or Bungee Connect) create entire applications. We can also, thanks to laptops and mobile phones and EVDO and WiFi and a batch of other technologies, work just about anywhere. But for me at least there’s a disconnect between the growing use of online applications and the technology that I’m using to access them on the road.

Thoughts on the HP 2133 UMPC

The rumors and photo flying around of the rumored HP sub-notebook, the 2133 if they are to be believed, have captured the attention of a lot of people.  Not since the first rumors started appearing back when about the Asus EEE PC have so many gotten excited about such a small notebook.  I have been soaking up everything I hear about the HP, which isn’t much, and have been giving a lot of thought about this (so far) imaginary device.  Here are my thoughts on it for what it’s worth.  If only HP would give us some real facts to work with then all this speculation could end.


Size.  Looking at the one lonely photo of the 2133 you can make some pretty safe assumptions on the overall size of the beast.  One cool design attribute is how HP has the entire width of the device taken up by the keyboard.  The keyboard goes right up to the edge of the device which is how they can get a near full-sized keyboard into this small notebook.  We can get a feel for the overall size of the device by looking at that screen and bezel.  The screen is reported to be 8.9" diagonal and in the photo it looks to be a wide-screen format.  This would place the screen width at the same size as the Fujitsu P1610/1620 which has the same size screen.  The Fujitsu has a fairly narrow bezel around that screen however and the picture of the HP indicates a good 1 inch bezel around the sides and top of the screen.  This would make the HP a bit wider and taller than the Fujitsu and how they can get a bigger keyboard on the device than the Fujitsu.

Screen.  Speaking about the screen it is interesting that the reports have HP putting a very high-res 1366×768 screen on the 8.9" screen.  The aforementioned Fujitsu runs at 1280×768 on the same size screen and the higher resolution on the HP will make stuff awfully small on the same sized screen.  I don’t think things will be too small to read but they will be awfully tight.  It is good to see a web cam on that photo of the HP and it looks to me like there are very big speakers on each side of the screen.  HP could be aiming this 2133 to be a very portable multimedia powerhouse if those speakers are indeed as they appear in the photo.

Processor.  A report has surfaced today that the HP will have a Via processor but frankly I hope not.  The Via processor is too anemic for a quality sub-notebook like this and while I realize HP’s goal will be to keep the price of this device as low as possible I don’t think they’d go the Via route.  At least I hope they don’t.  What I wouldn’t be surprised to see HP use is a low-cost AMD processor since they’ve been using these in other notebooks for some time.  This processor would give decent performance and still keep the cost much lower than an Intel processor.  Remember you saw that here first about the AMD processor because I believe this is what HP should use.  I hope they have a 2 GB memory option in any event so if they put Vista on the 2133 it will run it decently.

Price.  Rumors have surfaced that this new HP will be priced at the $600 range which may be true.  It’s hard to guess how cheaply HP will be able to sell such a device since it looks like it’s constructed so nicely.  One thing is certain though, the EEE PC has shown us that consumers will jump on a small notebook if the price is cheap enough and frankly $600 may not be.  I think there is something magical about the $400 price range of the Asus and HP better come close or they may have a slow mover on their hands.  The rumors have HP positioning the 2133 as a lifestyle companion device and it better be cheaper than $500 to reach that market.

Software.  HP is in a unique position to put some of their proprietary software on the 2133 and I hope they do so.  They have some good multimedia software they have put on recent notebooks like the tx2000 and this size device would be perfect for that.  To position the 2133 as a companion device I would also like to see them put some real simple sync software so that consumers can keep their documents synchronized with their main computer just by connecting them via USB.  This would cement the intended purpose of such a small notebook and HP would be very wise to make that easy to do out of the box.

All of this is pure speculation as HP is not officially sharing any information about the 2133.  Take if for what it’s worth, which is not much as this point.

Halo 3 Sold, Videoed, Hacked, And Leaked

First it was a grainy video capture of the game’s final cut scene. Now it’s the whole game. A week away from its official release on Sept. 25, Microsoft’s (MSFT) Halo 3 has reportedly been leaked in its entirety onto the Internet, according to Max Console. At this rate, 2009’s Halo movie should be available for download before you finish plugging in your new XBox 360 Elite.

The path to full exposure has been a short one. A shaky, six-minute-long video of the final cut scene from Halo 3 was posted on YouTube last week, revealing the fate of Master Chief. Although the spoiler video was pulled from YouTube when Microsoft claimed copyright infringement, it has since been reposted all over the web. Earlier this week a UK retailer broke the street date, selling “a small number” of real copies of the game. [digg=]
The game can now be found on eBay, going for over $200. Then, sometime last night, copies of the entire game starting appearing on torrent sites. The game’s posting has been credited to the hacking group “Paradogs.”
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A new chip star in the making has a longish piece on Infinera, an optical chip start-up that has developed a break through product that will lower the cost of building and maintaining data networks exponentially.

Infinera’s two chips are part of an entire system it is marketing to networking companies like Cisco Systems and Juniper Networks and telecommunications giants like AT&T. Infinera makes not only the chips but the networking card and software in a compact box that takes up one-tenth the space of a conventional system.

The article is skimpy on details, but still a good introduction. If you want more details, well there is more by yours truly. I had written a big cover story for the real Red Herring back in the day. More recently, I had written about the impact of “micro-opticals” on the future of telecom. (A more indepth look is in here!)

As a passing thought, most of the current Silicon Valley champs – Oracle, Cisco etc were created during deep recession/tech downturn. Infinera is following that same curve.