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Thursday, April 28, 2005

Intel & AMD Look to New Materials

This past week I was in Ottawa where I gave a talk to a group of chip designers about nanotechnology. While much of my talk focused on the future applications of carbon nanotubes, nanowires, quantum dots and nanolithography, I also urged them not to lose focus on how materials science can be employed to improve their existing products.

As two recent examples, I cited Intel and AMD. Last month, Intel announced that it partnered with Qinetiq to produce a new nanomaterial called indium antimonide that company officials claimed could increase transistor speed three-fold with no corresponding increase in the use of power! An Intel official then went on to say that the material is just "one example of several new materials that Intel will continue to investigate in order to ensure Moore's Law extends well beyond the next decade."

And just last week, in a remarkably candid interview, Tom Sonderman, an executive at AMD, said "For a long time the industry just focused on making things smaller. But the new thrust is adding more and more exotic materials to extend the life of semiconductors ... in the end it's all about moving electrons faster and by adding different materials you can accomplish similar things without necessarily having to make them smaller."

These are important developments for investors to consider because they suggest that the two companies can continue to improve performance (which customers expect) without having to invest the billions of dollars necessary to build next generation fabrication facilities.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Quantum Wires: From Space to the Plains?

Earlier today it was announced that Rice University was slated to receive an $11 million grant from NASA to produce a one-meter long prototype "quantum wire" power cable for the space agency by 2009. NASA is interested in such a device because not only can quantum wires conduct electricity 10 times faster than cooper; more importantly -- at least from NASA's perspective -- is that they weigh about one-sixth as much.

The reason this is important is because today it costs approximately $10,000 to launch one pound of material into space. And with cooper wires expected to contribute close to 25% of the weight of the space craft in the future, the development of a low-weight alternative has the potential to save NASA a lot of money.

The announcement, however, is interesting for another reason. One of the companies Rice University will be partnering with is Houston-based Carbon Nanotechnologies. This is the company that was founded by Nobel-Prize winning chemist, Richard Smalley.

In the past, Smalley has spoken of the long-term potential of "quantum wires." These wires -- which would be constructed out of carbon nanotubes and be only abut one centimeter in diameter -- can theoretically transmit 1 terawatt of energy. More specifically, Smalley has spoken publicly of how these "quantum wires" might someday replace the wires that line today's archaic and inefficient electrical utility transmission system.

Obviously, 2009 is still a few years off and it is a stretch to go from producing a one-meter "quantum wire" to a quantum wire that stretches from, say, a massive solar farm in the American southwest to towns and cities all across America ... but it is not an impossibility.

The bottom-line is that this is an exciting grant because it has both mid-term potential for NASA, as well as long-term potential for transforming the energy industry.

Jack Uldrich

Friday, April 22, 2005

On Wisconsin!

As a resident of Minnesota, I have a natural aversion to most things coming out of Wisconsin--notably Green Bay Packer fans. (I make a big exception, however, for cheese and beer--especially the latter.) I also make an exception for the extraordinary leadership state leaders--especially Bill Ihlenfeldt, president of the Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC)--have demonstrated on pushing the topic of nanotechnology to the forefront of the state's educational and economic development agenda.

In January of 2004, I gave a talk on nanotechnology at CVTC. Within a month, Bill had hired me to take look at the economic development opportunities for the state in nanotechnology. In the meantime, he was also organizing the creation of a two-year degree program at CVTC. Less than 8 months later the program was up and operational! In the educational world, where change often occurs at a glacial pace, the accomplishment was notable for its speed alone. Today, less than a year after connocting the idea, the program already has a waiting list of students and appears poised to grow bigger and better in the years ahead.

Yesterday, Bill met with the Governor of Wisconsin, Jim Doyle. He is now pushing an even larger nanotech initiative. I have every reason to believe he'll be successful and, as a Minnesotan, I'll admit I'm jealous. I have tried to capture the attention of MInnesota's state leaders to little effect.

Bill's actions demonstrate that what is needed are champions. If you feel your state is lagging behind in nanotech, don't wait for someone else to lead the charge--just pick up the mantle like Bill Ilhenfeldt did. It's amazing what can get done when people do.

(Note: Today, I had an article published in Small Times talking about the need for states to focus on nanotechnology education. I encourage you to read it here).

Jack Uldrich

Related Links:
Nanotechnology as an Economic Development Tool

Thursday, April 21, 2005

IBM Motley Fool Article

Dear Readers,

I had another article published in today's Motley Fool. You can read it here. I still intend to blog regularly but on days when I have articles published elsewhere I intend to post them here .... hope you understand.

All the best,

Jack

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

More on FEI

Today, the Motley Fool recently published a piece I wrote about FEI. I encourage you to read it here. One of the competitors I didn't mention in the article was Imago. To understand more about this company, I courage to review the piece I did on them a few weeks ago.

Jack Uldrich

Related Links:
Imago Scientific

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Altair offers a little -- but not enough

Altair's stock is up nearly 15% on news that it shipped the initial shipment of battery electrode nanomaterials to Advance Battery Technologies. Not surprisingly, Altair does not offer any specifics on the shipment size.

I'll admit that this release is more newsworthy than most Altair press releases, but I don't believe it warrants a 15% increase in its stock price. Now, if ABT actually begins using Altair's nanomaterials in its lithium-ion batteries that WILL be noteworthy.

Forgive, however, if I don't trust Altair; but I feel compelled to remind investors that just two or three years ago the company was making similiar rosy-sounding projections about its NanoCheck technology. To date, nothing has come of the technology. Nor has anything yet been forthcoming from its RenaZorb technology.

I remind my readers: Buyer Beware! (Disclosure: I do not own stock in either Altair or ABT).

Jack Uldrich

Related Links:
Toshiba vs Altair
Altair: Fooling the Fools
Is Altair all Hot Air?

Saturday, April 16, 2005

pSivida Requires Some Patience

Lately, I have received a few emails questioning pSivida's recent poor stock performance. They are excellent questions and I'll admit that I, too, have been surprised by pSivida's 35 percent dive over the past two months.

It is my estimate that some of this is the result of momentum investors who were hoping to make a quick profit after the company was profiled in the Forbes/Wolfe "Nanosphere" and then subsequently added to the Merrill Lynch Nanotech Index; but are now selling because the stock hasn't gained any traction. (I believe this might also account for a portion of StarPharma's poor performance). As for why the stock hasn't increased in price, I believe that many investors, particularly some of the larger institutional investors in the U.S., are taking a completely rational wait-and-see approach. Specifically, they are waiting for pSivida to demonstrate more definitive results from the Phase II trials of its BrachySil.

If the results are favorable or, alternatively, if the company can publicly disclose the "top 5" global pharmaceutical company it is working with, I believe the stock will rapidly appreciate. The stock's appreciation will be even greater if pSivida can announce that it has either met some important milestones for that "top 5" global pharmaceutical company or if it can enter into new partnerships with some other large drug companies. (Full disclose: I own stock in pSivida).

I intend to hold all of my stock in pSivida for the present time and will accumulate more once I see the company has begun to meet some of the above mentioned milestones.

Jack Uldrich

Related Links:
pSivida: Down Under Company has Big Upside Potential
Starpharma "Nano" star on the rise?
Elan Good News for Nanotech Investors?

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Nanotechnology and the Future of the Telecommunications Industry

Yesterday, the IEEE’s Committee on Communications and Infrastructure Policy released a white paper claiming that the development of “Gigabit Networks” should be a national priority. “Failure to act,” the report continued, will “relegate the U.S. telecommunications infrastructure to an inferior competitive position.”

I wholeheartedly agree with this conclusion (along with the committee’s calls for regulatory flexibility) and believe this warning should be heeded not just by national lawmakers but by the nanotechnology community as well. This is for three separate and distinct reasons.

First, as the fields of biotechnology, semiconductor/computer technology, material sciences, chemistry, physics and a host of medical-related market segments all continue to delve further into the nano-sciences, it is obvious that the scientific and technological advances this research will generate will also yield ever vaster amounts of voice, data, image and video information. In turn, this information will need to be converted into bit streams in order to be shared as widely as possible with fellow researchers. Today’s networks (far too many of which still remain at the megabyte-level) are simply too slow to handle this avalanche of information.

Beyond this admittedly parochial concern, the second reason the nanotech community needs to get behind this initiative is because a Gigabyte Network will allow consumers to take advantage of the myriad of promising developments nanotechnology is enabling. For instance, new powerful atomic force microscopes are helping material sciences understand new materials down to the atomic level. To take advantage of these startling developments, new powerful software tools are being developed. However, these software models are so large that only gigabyte networks can transmit them efficiently and effectively. In still other fields, quantum dots are leading to highly detailed medical images, carbon nanotubes are being utilized to produce data storage devices orders of magnitude more powerful than anything on the market; and, of course, carbon nanotubes and nanowires hold great potential for developing ever smaller computers and nanosensors.

These developments are all fine and well but they will only be able to meet their full potential if they can be shared with—and wirelessly connected to—the end user. Only a radically more powerful network can do this. Moreover, bandwidth 5,000 times faster than today’s current bandwidth will unleash a variety of new products and open as-yet-untold markets. (To understand this, just consider how improvements in data storage led to the development of the Ipod and its concomitant markets. Now imagine how continued advances in data storage and super-powerful computers—when coupled with equally powerful advances in bandwidth—will lead to similar new products and markets).

Lastly, leaders in the field of nanotechnology—especially executives at companies like NanoOpto and NeoPhotonics—must step forward and explain how their advances in creating optical components capable of manipulating light via nanoscale structures can not only increase bandwidth and break cost-performance barriers for next-generation fiber optic networks, but also address the FTTP (fiber-to-the-premise) product market. The bottom-line is that the telecommunications executives need to better understand how nanotechnology can help their industry solve some of its most vexing problems.

If the nanotechnology community can do these three things, it will not only create new markets for its own nanotech-enabled products, it will facilitate even more rapid advances in the nanosciences. This, in turn, is likely to continue to fuel advances in the telecommunication industry. It’s a classic win-win situation and it is why the nanotech community should be promoting a Gigabyte Network.

Jack Uldrich

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

A Nanotech Mismatch: Toshiba vs Altair

Last week, Altair announced that Advanced Battery Technologies had licensed the company's nanomaterials for its lithium-ion battery product line. The news resulted in a 15 percent increase in Altair's stock price and an astounding 278 percent increase in Advanced Battery Technologies' stock. (Full disclosure: I do not own stock in either company). The MotleyFool ran an excellent article on this topic (which I strongly encourage my readers to read for themselves) but I'd also like to add my two cents on this news.

As readers of this blog know, I have never been high on Altair -- for reasons which are covered in the related links section below. To summarize, however, I believe the company's only demonstrated proficiency has been in delivering press releases that offer the promise of future benefit without actually delivering anything of real substance. As proof, I would remind my readers that the company has no revenues and it has yet to sell one of its products.

Recently, the company has found some success (which I define here as articifically inflating its stock price) in hyping its lithium ion battery nanomaterials--which company offcials claim will lead to rapid recharge rates and longer shelf lifes for batteries. This might be true but I would like to bring to investor's attention this article about Toshiba's "Nanobattery."

Here's the bottom-line: Toshiba's battery recharges to full capacity in just a few minutes, it has a high-level of storage efficiency, can be recharged up to 1000 times, operates in extreme temperatures, and is effective enough to be used in hybrid automobiles. More improtantly, Toshiba has stated it will be using its new battery in commercial products by 2006.

Investors of Altair must ask themselves this question: Is the company's lithium ion technology so superior to Toshiba's "nanobattery" that it can effectively overcome Toshiba's excellent reputation, its well-known brand name, as well as its marketing and distribution strength?

In my opinion the answer is no and I think this reality will be reflected in a serious drop in Altair's stock price--which today stands at $3.58 a share--in the months ahead.

Jack Uldrich

Related Links:
Altair: Fooling the Fools
Is Altair all Hot Air?

Monday, April 11, 2005

Nanotech’s More Prosaic Pursuits: Processing, Packaging & Paint

Two of my favorite nanotech companies—Konarka and Evident—recently announced an alliance to develop novel nanomaterials. It is the type of announcement that can easily be overlooked in the daily avalanche of press releases streaming forth from nanotech companies. It is my opinion, however, that this one has some legs and should be heeded by company executives in the plastics and food packaging industries.

Konarka is a leading developer of flexible polymer photovoltaic products and Evident is a leading producer of quantum dots. By employing Evident’s new quantum dots, which can reportedly harvest photons outside the visible light spectrum more efficiently, Konarka believes it will be able to develop even more efficient plastic solar cells. And if Konarka can develop plastic packaging that can harvest the ambient light from, say, grocery store lighting, it could enable packaging to power itself on the shelf. This, in turn, could lead to packaging that keeps products fresher a much longer time.

Granted, it might not be the sexiest use of nanotechnology, but it is the kind that could significantly improve a food company’s profits—especially if the technology is coupled with “intelligent” packaging (i.e. packaging that monitors or displays the freshness of food).

I recently came across a somewhat similar press release about a company called, Ecology Coatings, which has developed a “liquid solid” paint that can be applied to protective coatings on everything from automobiles to electronic components. The beauty of the company’s “liquid solids” is that they dry almost immediately and contain no solvents. Again, this might not sound like a thing deal, but it is. First, the coating industry is estimated to be a $20 billion a year industry and because Ecology Coating’s “liquid solids” can paint the same area with only 20 to 30 percent of the amount of regular paint, it suggests that it could lead to very large cost savings. More significantly, because the product contains no solvents, it gives off no hazardous fumes and thus exempts users of the product from some EPA regulations.

If these benefits aren’t enough to make a believer out of you, perhaps the fact that DuPont is licensing the technology from Ecology Coatings will.

The bottom-line is that while these nanotech developments may appear to be prosaic, they will also be quite profitable … and are precisely the type of developments that even executives and managers who have only a short-term focus should be heeding.

Jack Uldrich

Related Links:
Nanotech has arrived
Nanotech and the future of the energy industry
Nanotechnology & the Dow Index of 2025