02.21.10

Dept. of Magic: 60 Minutes

Posted in Phlogiston at 11:44 pm by George Smith

Sunday night, 60 Minutes and Lesley Stahl delivered a blank box, said to be ready to change the world.

This is not so surprising. Everyone in 2010 USA knows the country is overrun by rascals gaming the news for their own benefit.

That’s where John Doerr, the smartest venture capitalist in the world — known for saying really grand things about whatever he’s involved in — comes in.

DD used to see his name all the time in synthetic biology stories, so you already know where this is going.

In other words, if Doerr is involved, you get great-sounding pap that never really delivers.

Here, in a press sheet from another of his favorites:

Biotechnologies, Inc., a privately-held company applying advances in synthetic biology to produce high-value pharmaceuticals, fine chemicals and biofuels, has raised $20 million in a first round of venture funding.

The Series A financing was led by Khosla Ventures, with additional participation from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB), and Texas Pacific Group Ventures (TPGV). The company also announced the appointment of John G. Melo, previously president of US Fuels Operations for BP, as CEO. Also joining the Amyris board at this time are Samir Kaul, general partner, Khosla Ventures; John Doerr, general partner, KPCB; and Geoff Duyk, managing director, TPGV.

Amyris Biotechnologies uses synthetic biology techniques to create new metabolic pathways in industrial microbes to produce novel or rare chemicals. Amyris’ primary project to date has focused on the use of synthetic biology to address supply and cost constraints limiting the use of the anti-malarial drug artemisinin. With the new funding (and CEO), Amyris will work on producing biofuel molecules—ethanol, butanol, or other hydrocarbons.

Greentech could be the largest economic opportunity of the 21st Century. Novel renewable energy sources will be key. John Melo is the perfect CEO to help Amyris innovate and lead in renewable fuels. At BP, he ran a multi-billion fuel operation with early commercial success with ethanol. John’s insights, skills, and relationships are highly complementary to the deep technical talent of the Amyris founders. —John Doerr, KPCB

That was four years ago. Malaria remains stubbornly unlicked by John Doerr and Amyris. The reliable ticket to controlling it is mosquito netting. And green fuel delivered by synthetic biology, ending global warming, is still maddeningly elusive.

But now for 60 Minutes Doerr is pimping a company that makes a fuel cell called “the Bloom Box.”

It was, of course, delivered as a game changer, without ever really explaining how it works.

However, if one looked at transcript, the figures leaking out on the newest magic were not particularly impressive.

“[The man who runs the Bloom Box company, some ex-NASA guy named Bloom] installed [his] boxes [at one company], each one costing $700-800,000,” reported 60 Minutes.

“Four units have been powering a Google datacenter for 18 months,” continued the news program. “They use natural gas, but half as much as would be required for a traditional power plant.”

Still dependent on fossil fuel for electricity. And not even close to being even one order of magnitude better than electricity from a ‘traditional power plant.’

“John Donahoe, eBay’s CEO, says its five boxes were installed nine months ago and have already saved the company more than $100,000 in electricity costs,” continued 60 Minutes.

5 Bloom boxes x $750,000 = $3,750,000

Bloom boxes save eBay $100,000 every nine months.

$3,750,000 / $100,000 = 37.5

37.5 x 9 months = 337.5 months

337.5 months / 12 = 28.12500

The investment in eBay’s magic Bloom boxes will break even in a short 28 years.

Groundbreaking stuff.

“I like to say that the new energy technologies could be the largest economic opportunity of the 21st century,” John Doerr told Lesley Stahl.

“Asked if the Bloom box is intended to get rid of the grid, Doerr told Stahl, ‘The Bloom box is intended to replace the grid … for its customers. It’s cheaper than the grid, it’s cleaner than the grid.'”

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Last week — in the Dept. of Magic

1 Comment

  1. user_hostile said,

    February 25, 2010 at 11:46 am

    Saw the 60 Minutes puff piece. It implied that it had double the efficiency of a other power sources but since never discussed the efficiency of those power sources you can’t really answer the question. Obvious to me, but probably not to most of the audience was it still produced CO2. Nor did they ever list any hard numbers about output energy or power (re: Joules, Watts). I guess that summarizes “60 Minutes” journalism–“gutless” is the new “hard-hitting”.

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