"We are developing a revolutionary new technology that promises to improve key performance characteristics of industrial combustion systems including energy efficiency, emissions control, fuel flexibility and overall cost effectiveness. ECC™ can be used anywhere there is a flame, regardless of fuel type, in the world's commercial, industrial and utility combustion systems." ~ Clearsign homepage
The following passage appears to be an admission of a weak point for Clearsign, but after studying the history behind the technology, the statement itself appears to be inaccurate, while at the same time ironically revealing an even greater weakness:
"Our technology has not been tested or verified by any independent third party." (Prospectus)
As far as the four stated effects of ECC technology is concerned, I disagree. The technology of applying electric fields to flames is not new. In fact experiments were first performed about 200 years ago. See the document dated 1814: "The Bakerian Lecture: One some new electro-Chemical Phenomena." However, in Clearsign's Whitepaper and in the video narrated by CEO Richard Rutkowski, ECC is supposed to be a revolutionary new step in combustion science. Are we really supposed to believe that there was no history behind the science? In the next passage, "buoyancy" refers to "the natural tendency of a flame to float upward" (E.G., a candle) and "momentum" refers to a flame jetting from pressurized gas (E.G., a propane torch).
"Until now, combustion engineers have had only buoyancy and momentum forces in their tool kit for shaping wayward flames. ECC technology provides a third force of at least an order of magnitude greater than either buoyancy or momentum to shape flames." ~ Clearsign Whitepaper, Clearsign Video
And in an SEC "risk" disclosure,
"Although at this time we do not believe that any of our potential competitors has technology similar to ours, …" ~ Prospectus
It's true that electric fields influence flames, and it's true that ECC technology uses electric fields, but it is not true that this third influence on flames is either new or unique to ECC technology.
So, the basic fact that electric fields affect flames is nothing new.
Clearsign's Whitepaper mentions 4 effects, which we itemize in the table below, left column. In the right column, we find what the rest of the world already knew and when they knew it. (Some of Clearsign's presentation reads like a textbook of established science.)
"The Future of Fire" ‒ 2012 CLIR Whitepaper, Clearsign ECC Technology
The past of fire
2012 First: "CO is reduced, owing to the increased homogenization of the flame and increased mixing with the air stream as well as the increased mobility and collisions of HCO+ with oxidants and neutral free radical species such as OH, known to catalyze CO oxidation. For example, CO oxidation occurs primarily by CO + OH = CO2 + H (6)"
1997 "A systematic experimental study of electric field effects on flame stability was carried out by Calcote and Berman, which revealed enhanced stability of both laminar and turbulent flame types. Sepp and Ulybyshev reported that the emission of carbon monoxide (CO) by a methane diffusion flame was decreased by more than one order of magnitude by applying a voltage of 1 kV." ~ Sepp's and Ulybyshev's work was published in 1997. Electric Field Effects on Emissions and Flame Stability with Optimized Electric Field Geometry, THIRD EUROPEAN COMBUSTION MEETING ECM 2007
2012 Second: "Particulate is dramatically reduced."
[figure 2] "Particulate reduction via ECC technology. Biomass is suspended in a small crucible held over a propane diffusion flame (not visible), generating copious quantities of soot (NYSE:A). The electric field is switched on and the particulate is eliminated immediately …"
1952 "We have found that we can … materially improve the character of the combustion, whereby more complete combustion takes place and carbon, soot and other objectionable products of combustion are eliminated …" ~ W. L. Kaehni, et al Patent 2,604,936
2007 "The influence of electric fields on flames is a well known and established phenomenon. Flame stabilization and reduction of pollutant emissions are the two main effects which can be observed." ~ . Electric Field Effects on Emissions and Flame Stability with Optimized Electric Field Geometry, THIRD EUROPEAN COMBUSTION MEETING ECM 2007
2012 Third: "Heat transfer is enhanced. Since the thermal flow can be directed toward (or away from) various surfaces, one may use ECC technology to enhance heat transfer to boiler or process tubes or insulate surfaces such as gas turbine blades and critical engine parts from hot flue gases.
2012 Four: "4. Flame shape is dramatically affected. Tailoring flame shape is critical as unwieldy flames are a major source of concern in many units; e.g., process heaters in refining and petrochemicals and boilers. In one interview, a heater expert for a major refiner reported that unruly flames could force as much as a 30% derate in process output for some heaters; i.e., flame shape is critical in most combustion applications. Until now, combustion engineers have had only buoyancy and momentum forces in their tool kit for shaping wayward flames. ECC technology provides a third force of at least an order of magnitude greater than either buoyancy or momentum to shape flames."
1952 "When no current is supplied and no electrostatic field is present, the flame appears as shown in solid lines. It is a wavering, elongated yellow flame from the upper end of which rises a ribbon of soot or smoke showing poor combustion. The wall 3 soon reaches a moderate temperature and remains at that temperature. When the current is turned on and the electrostatic field created several phenomena occur. The flame shortens and bends toward the wall 3, as indicated roughly in dotted lines. It becomes more intense and the heat generated is materially increased. The soot disappears and the combustion takes place with a clean clear flame." ~ W. L. Kaehni, et al Patent 2,604,936
Does Clearsign really have a unique technology? It certainly appears that it wants us to believe that it does. We are reminded that it is actually a discovery company. It has no marketable products.
"We have no committed sources of financing and we do not expect to earn revenues in the near term." ~ Prospectus
As it goes with discovery companies, everything hinges on the team … the discoverers. Who are the scientists? Although Clearsign has no patents, they've listed two applications for patents in their prospectus. Clearsign can now advertise the fact that they have "patent pending" technology … but almost anybody with a competent attorney can apply for a patent. So in our due diligence we need to ask ourselves, is this a business of inventing patents or of patenting inventions? I ask this because after researching this company I question the sincerity behind these two patent applications. Of the five "inventors," some of them have no credible scientific experience with combustion, and others have aligned themselves with questionable scientific projects in the past.
CEO/Co-Founder Richard Rutkowski and CMO/Co-founder Geoffrey Osler have histories with business development, finance, and stock promotion. As inventors, where is the experience and education with combustion science to warrant investor confidence? (In my opinion, SEC risk disclosures should include patent "inventors" who have personal interests in using the words, "patent pending," as a promotional tool.)
During Mr. Rutkowski's tenure at Microvision Inc. (NASDAQ:MVIS) there was a man named, Chris Wiklof, who was referred to as "Director of Product Management." In his LinkedIn Bio, he refers to his role there as "Director of Patents at Microvision." It appears that Mr. Wiklof's job during and after Rutkowski's tenure at Microvision is to help build patent portfolios. Other than his work on Clearsign's patent applications, I have found nothing in his history which shows a series of experiences leading up to a groundbreaking advance in the science of combustion. (A list of Wiklof's patents can be found here and here) He appears to be fulfilling his role as patent agent ‒ and in smoothing out the rough edges, he has made some contributions. Aiding an idea's patentability permits, if not obligates him, to list himself as one of the inventors. (There is an interesting debate about this last point, here. It's not that clear-cut.)
Clearsign Combustion will succeed or fail based upon its scientific validity, and thus there is an inverse benefit-ratio when it comes to business promotion and bad science: the greater the ability of the CEO to raise money and promote the stock, the greater the extent of damage to investors if the science behind the patent is shoddy or commercially infeasible. On the other hand, if the managers of a company are incompetent and the science unrealistic, then it will come down all the sooner anyway. So, we will focus on the scientists here, the ones who introduced Clearsign technology through the currently pending patent applications, the ideas of which were first filed in April 2009.
Thomas S. Hartwick, besides being listed as an inventor on the patent application, is also listed at the top of the "Technical Advisors" found in the Prospectus. Recently, he got tangled up in a bio-fuel scandal.
There was a Mr. John Rivera who was deeply involved with two companies ‒ U.S. Sustainable Energy Corp (USSE) and Sustainable Power Corp. (OTC:SSTP). Also involved was a "technology" sometimes called the "Rivera Process" or the "SSTP process" and which claimed a bio-fuel called "Vertroleum." (Source Documents.)
According to court documents, in a Summary Judgment on July 2011, (Case 5:08-cv-00245-DCB-JMR)
"The central fraud alleged involves claims by Rivera that USSE could produce viable commercial biofuel and fertilizer products." (Page 2.) (USSE = US Sustainable Energy Corp.)
"Rivera was also the principal shareholder of SSTP. According to the Commission, Rivera used SSTP for misconduct similar to that alleged in this case." (Page 3, Note 2)(SSTP = Sustainable Power Corp)
"The defendants also argue that two purported contracts filed with their response demonstrate that USSE (or, later, SSTP) was commercially viable." (Page 20)
As you can see from the court documents, the case was so strong that it did not need to go to trial: John Rivera received a summary judgment from a federal judge. (The story gets a little weird at this point: Mr. Rivera was said to have died just before sentencing and his credibility was so low that many thought he might have faked his own death, but that was apparently not the case).
In the middle of the SEC suit, Dr. Hartwick, with his credentials, is presented to investors by SSTP. Hartwick's job appears to have been twofold, first, to communicate the science to the average investor:
"'As we received consistent, encouraging information from the university that conducted testing at our Baytown facility, we felt it wise to retain someone of Dr. Hartwick's stature and reputation to help disseminate in layman's terms how effective and efficient the SSTP process is,' stated Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, M. Richard Cutler." ~ Sustainable Power Corp. Appoints Dr. Thomas S. Hartwick as Scientific and Technical Advisor to the Company
And second, to validate the "SSTP Process," which had been subject to doubt, given recent scrutiny,
"'When I was approached to review the SSTP process and the utilization of the proprietary catalyst, I spent nearly five weeks reviewing the technical data before I agreed to accept the position as scientific and technical advisor. Only after I became convinced that the technology was based on sound scientific principles would I accept this position,' stated Dr. Thomas Hartwick." ~ Sustainable Power Corp. Appoints Dr. Thomas S. Hartwick as Scientific and Technical Advisor to the Company
As far as I know, Dr. Hartwick enters the scene after the SEC began its case against John Rivera and continues to work with it while the case is ongoing. It is difficult to imagine Dr. Hartwick not realizing what was happening around him. Nonetheless, his role, whether active or passive, lent credibility to the ongoing business of SSTP.
Again, according to Businessweek's bio of Dr. Hartwick:
"Dr. Hartwick's function is to provide advice and counsel on the commercialization of SSTP's Green Energy Vertroleum(NYSE:R) process utilizing Sustainable Power Corp.'s proprietary catalyst to ... produce biofuels, biogases, and biochar."
In general, lacking a real technology, a fraud needs to associate itself with credible institutions and people. Here we see something like that, twofold: a strong association had been made between Texas A&M and the SSTP process, facilitated by the association with Dr. Hartwick and his prestigious credentials.
"Sustainable Power will shortly announce the results from the Texas A&M's report on the Company's process for converting biomass to liquid fuel, flammable gas, and biochar after a review of the report is completed by Sustainable Power's Technical Advisory Board headed by Dr. Thomas Hartwick." ~ Sustainable Power Corp. Reports That Texas A&M University Completed an Analysis of Its Green Energy Technology (See also SSTP's Summary of a Comprehensive Report by Texas A&M University.)
In the end, John Rivera lost the case in a Summary Judgment. Investors lost money. I don't know how Dr. Hartwick faired. SSTP now trades at less than a penny. Now we find Dr. Hartwick with Clearsign Combustion, as the first-named inventor on one patent application, second-named on another, and here he is again as Technical Advisor. He has moved from the science of biofuel to that of combustion. In my opinion, either this constitutes a very big intellectual leap among very different scientific disciplines or there is not really as much science here as there is a story of science.
Now Clearsign has brought on "Technical Advisors," many from the University of Washington. According to the prospectus, they can be paid in cash or shares and they typically enter non-disclosure agreements. They joined after the provisional patent application was already filed. Presumably the research, testing, and preparation for the patent application had taken place even earlier.
In short, it is clear that the technology behind the patent applications was developed before the new University of Washington advisors came on board. I find no other credible scientists preceding the articulation of Clearsign technology as found in the original April 2009 patent application. We have the three 2008 founders of the company, Goodson, Rutkowski, and Osler. And Hartwick and Wiklof received restricted shares also in 2008. Mr. Rutkowski and Mr. Osler are businessmen. Why are they listed as inventors? Mr. Wiklof is the patent agent. Mr. Hartwick's recent work with SSTP we have seen. These are four of the men behind the 2009 patent application, an expression of Clearsign technology.
That leaves us with Mr. David Goodson ‒ Clearsign's Chief Science Officer, co-founder, Director and largest shareholder. In the prospectus, the first thing that struck me was that as Chief Science Officer he was nonetheless referred to as Mr. Goodson and not Dr. Goodson. That might or might not be a serious matter, but the second conspicuous point in his bio revealed a crack which provoked a lot more study and which eventually revealed severe fractures:
"Mr. Goodson's scientific interests began in high school when he collaborated with James Watson and Francis Crick, co-discoverers of the structure of DNA, to place at the top of the International Science Fair." ~ SEC filed Prospectus (The claim is repeated on Clearsign's website.)
First, the prospectus tells us that Mr. Goodson was 69 in April 2012, so that means that when Goodson was a senior in high school (about 17) that Crick and Watson had not yet won their 1962 Nobel Prize and were still obscure. If they had met after Crick and Watson became famous then Goodson would have been around 19 or older in high school, suggesting that he had been held back one or more years during his early years.
Also, Mr. Watson is 84 (born April 1928), and Crick, if he were living, would be 96 (born June 1916). So, when Watson was 17, Goodson was about 2. When Crick was 17, Watson was only 5 … and Goodson was not even born yet. So a "collaboration" among high school peers cannot be what Goodson's biography means.
And there are geographical problems. Crick was British. Watson is American.
- Goodson's years in high school, age 14 through 18, would be about 1957 through 1961.
- "On 8 September 1954, Crick sailed from New York. .... Crick had a job in Cambridge again, though it was only a seven-year contract from the Medical Research Council." (Francis Crick: Discoverer of the Genetic Code, By Matt Ridley; Page 85,86)
- Watson: "Since the fall of 1956, he has been a member of the Harvard Biology Department, first as Assistant Professor, then in 1958 as an Associate Professor, and as Professor since 1961." ~ Nobelprize.org
Perhaps they were all pen pals? ‒ in which case being one of the few to recognize the genius of Crick and Watson, before the rest of the world did, Mr. Goodson most certainly would have known the value of the correspondence and undoubtedly would have preserved it. Perhaps it will be auctioned off in Sotheby's someday?
Should I say that such a "collaboration" has only the slightest possibility of being true or should I say that it is highly unlikely?
Here is another instance where Mr. Goodson's credentials appear to be inflated. In the very same passage, the prospectus states:
"Mr. Goodson's numerous US patents include US 4,110,086, US 4,675,029, US 9/760,214 and US 5,702,244." ~ Prospectus
The suggestion here is that Mr. Goodson has "numerous patents," of which a mere four are mentioned. In reality, I have found only three patents where Mr. Goodson is listed as an inventor, the first and fourth patents in the list above, and then another patent 4,093,430, which is the Apparatus corresponding to the above listed Method, 4,110,086. (They are essentially the same technology.)
As for the other patents listed above, there is indeed a patent numbered 4,675,029 but the inventors here are Dan A. Norman and Stanley J. Frazier. Mr. Goodson is not listed.
I spent some time on the phone with the US Patent Office to confirm the above and the following. His other claimed patent, "9/760,214," refers to an application, not an issued patent, and that application shows the status: "Abandoned ‒ Failure to Respond to an Office Action."
(Patent information retrieved from the United States Patent and Trademark Office, click on "Public Pair")
This is the Chief Science Officer of a discovery company. He is also the first and second-named inventor on the two patent applications mentioned in Clearsign's prospectus.
OK, the patent which was said to belong to Mr. Goodson was really an abandoned application for a patent. Mr. Goodson later re-applied for this patent ‒ with Mycoferm Technologies Inc as the assignee ‒ a company he founded. It suffered the same fate and was also "Abandoned" due to "Failure to Respond to an Office Action." However, there is something interesting about the abandoned application. Its basic idea was to apply electricity to biomass and accelerate the fermentation process.
"Apparatus and method for enhanced biomass production by electrical waveform shaping are disclosed. The invention relates to cultivating a biological source cell in a liquid-medium bioreactor and applying a waveform regulated electric field potential to the source cell, wherein the liquid medium comprises one or more ionizable components." Goodson's patent application
Compare this to Clearsign's idea,
"Our Electrodynamic Combustion Control technology introduces a computer-controlled electric field into the combustion zone to improve control of flame shape and heat transfer." ~ Clearsign Combustion website
Perhaps Mr. Goodson really has mastered two completely different scientific disciplines and it is just a coincidence that both utilize electric fields. Or, is this more like Saturday afternoon sci-fi where, from Frankenstein to the Computer Who Wore Tennis Shoes, we can apply electricity and expect an amazing transformation? Now we have Clearsign taking the age-old human fascination with fire and applying our new fascination with electricity, and reinventing how fire is going to burn in the future.
Is there a pattern here? We have moved from applying electric fields to biomass to applying electric fields to fire, and with both efforts, "Patent pending," seems to be enough to ask investors to put up money. This was also the case with the John Rivera scam mentioned earlier:
"Rivera also submits a purported patent application and related correspondence to attempt to show USSE's commercial value," the judge wrote. "It is undisputed that Rivera filed patent applications which were never completed, and which lacked sufficient details to allow the patent applications to be evaluated." ~ Federal judge: biofuels deal was a scam
Mr. Goodson's company, MycoFerm Technologies, appears to have been dissolved in 2003. Although its patent application was also abandoned, perhaps it still served its purpose? Here is a page advertising Mycoferm's "patent pending" technology and pitching for investor funds : "MycoFerm Technologies, Inc., Develops New Fermentation Technology."
"MycoFerm Technologies, located in Bellevue, WA, has developed a new patent-pending technology-Enhanced Growth Technology (NASDAQ:EGT)-that has the potential to revolutionize the fermentation industry. "
"MycoFerm has developed a completely new fermentation process that can be installed in existing facilities or incorporated in new construction."
"The company's revenue model is based on licensing EGT to customers. License fees will be based on a combined percentage of energy savings and increased biomass yields."
"The company, located in a cell-growth research facility vacated by a major pharmaceutical company, is seeking $1.5 million dollars to fund the further development of its technology in order to provide industrial scaleup-expected to take from 4-6 months-and for additional corporate and market development, and will fund the Company to revenue generation, approximately 12-14 months." ~ ("MycoFerm Technologies, Inc., Develops New Fermentation Technology," HTML and Google s PDF Quick View) (For another article, see Feeding the yeast to make medicines)
Clearsign's Chief Science Officer has been involved with other companies as well. Here, Mr. Goodson's bio is inflated by the suggestion that a dissolved company is being actively managed:
"Mr. Goodson is also Executive Director of the Alternative Energy Resources Alliance (AERA), a Washington State non-profit foundation dedicated to the development of new forms of electromechanical conversion technology." (Prospectus, 2012)
AERA had been dissolved "due to the failure of the corporation to file an annual list of officers" ‒ and it was dissolved a year before the prospectus was filed. (AERA corporate registration and website, letter received from Washington State Government.)
Nonetheless, it's the science behind Mr. Goodson's AERA that also concerns us. It might provide some insight into Mr. Goodson, the Chief Science Officer, who is going to help investors commercialize a "new" technology. On the homepage:
"AERA has a global sense of implementation, and believes in studying immediate and readily available solutions for the planet's problems." ~ Alternative Energy Resource Alliance (Note the phone number. It will come up again ... and again later.)
"Immediate and readily available solutions"…?
"AERA's latest project, the Horizon project, uses the potential of the Earth's rotation to directly produce electrical energy. This is attained by treating the Earth as a giant battery, where each side of the horizon is treated as the positive and negative end of the battery. When the horizon passes through a location on the Earth that is about 120 miles across (where the dark side meets the light side) the potential difference between these two points becomes the source of the earth's battery. Energy created in this zone can be stored in giant capacitors that capture the free charge in the earth's surface, thus enabling the distribution of energy to electrical transmission sites stationed in the proximity of the horizon storage devices. These storage devices can be positioned around the world. … The most important aspect of this project is that it will provide readily available energy in order to replace coal burning, hydroelectric power, nuclear energy, and the use of other fossil fuels." ~ The Horizon Project
AERA is listed in the prospectus as one of Mr. Goodson's credentials and as if Mr. Goodson is actively managing it, although it was dissolved. Other active companies however are not mentioned. Why not?
Here we have "The Remediators," whose CEO, Howard Sprouse, is the trustee for Goodson's shares in Clearsign. It was formed shortly after Mycoferm was dissolved.
"We Clean Contaminated Soil Using Fungi." ~ The Remediators website
Goodson is modestly listed on The Remediators' website as a business advisor; however he is actually listed as Chairman of the company with the Secretary of State of Washington. If you're interested in some of the ideas behind the science, see the presentation by CEO Howard Sprouse on Youtube.
Here's another Goodson-related company, more recent. If you copied down the phone number for AERA earlier, you might want to compare it with the phone number listed at "Human Energetic Systems Corp." In his other bio at Businessweek.com, Mr. David Goodson is listed as the Chief Technology Officer. Besides the identical name and phone number, the company is also in the same vicinity as other Goodson businesses. As for the science, we'll need to forget the electro-fermentation, remediation by fungi, extracting power from the Earth-battery, and Clearsign's ECC technology. We're looking at,
"… developing a medical diagnostic device that measures the body's internal electromagnetic field to discover knowledge of disease conditions …" ~ Web Page
Just this last June, Goodson also started up a business called "Transvolt International Energy Corporation." This company has the same address registered with the Secretary of State of Washington State as AERA, and of course AERA's link to Goodson is filed with Clearsign's SEC documents, so everything links up. What is this company about? It's impossible to say for sure, but there are some clues. Here is a passage from AERA:
"The primary key to the AERA approach is the electrical engine. This device was actually developed in the early 1920's by early innovators at MIT. J. G. Trump and Van de Graaff were the primary developers of the motor which at that time could generate 20,000 watts of electrical power when in its braking mode." ~ Advanced Car and Train System
Knowing the phone number for both AERA and Human Energetics, I tried it in a Google search and found the following post:
"Back in the 60's, or approximate timeframe, ions were injected into a non-conducting liquid for purposes of creating a Van de Graaff generator type device."
"Does anyone know where one might obtain the source of materials that describe this device. At one time I thought I had a copy of this, however, that has been far too long for me to know where it might now be and where in the hundreds of boxes I might locate it."
"I'm also interested in finding drawings or plans for the construction of a Trump Electrostatic motor. The patents on the device do not clearly indicate the actual layout of the switching of components. The Trump motor was developed along with Van de Graaff at MIT back sometime in the 1930's and it utilized an extremely high voltage (1,000,000) electrostatic field to make the motor work. It demonstrated an extremely high efficiency in conversion of the electrostatic charges inside the motor on discs containing pie shaped sections. My plan is to merge the fluidic charge carrying aspect of the higher current density for use and conversion for the Trump motor." ~ General Mills Fluidic Electrostatic General
By this time it is difficult to be surprised by anything regarding Mr. Goodson. We note first that the phone number is the same as AERA's and Human Energetics. The very specific reference to both Van de Graaff and Trump matches up with the text on AERA -- and of course the poster identifies himself as "David Goodson."
The post was dated May 27, 2012, about one month after Clearsign's IPO and two weeks before Goodson filed for the formation of Transvolt International Energy.
It is an interesting request for information ‒ especially the drawings and plans ‒ on a very basic level. It almost sounds like a hobby or someone preparing for a presentation. I would not have given this post so much thought and room for doubt had I not already researched AERA and his other questionable claims and enterprises.
"Does anyone know where one might obtain the source of materials that describe this device."
As I write this, Clearsign Combustion is trading at around $7 a share and has a market cap of around $65 million ‒ without anyone bothering to have a third-party test the scientific claims.
One can't prosecute insincere science. One can however take part in the debate and thus aid the greater exposure of relevant facts.
As investors, we might ask, Are Clearsign's patent applications here to protect investor-owned technology and the commercialized products that follow? Or, do they exist to create a story, elevate investor expectations, and sell shares to benefit insiders? Why has the company gone directly to investors without first testing the technology through third-parties?
Disclosure: I am short CLIR. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.