Reclusive green-tech startup whispers a eulogy for the battery

Austin, Texas (AP) _ Millions of inventions pass quietly through the U.S. Patent Office each year.  Patent number 7,033,406 did, too, until energy insiders spotted six words in the filing that sounded like a death knell for the internal combustion engine.

A Cedar Park-based startup called Eestor promised "technologies for replacement of electrochemical batteries.''  That means a motorist could plug in a car for five minutes and drive 500 miles roundtrip between Dallas and Houston without gasoline.

By contrast, some plug-in hybrids on the horizon would require motorists to charge their cars in a wall outlet overnight and promise only 50 miles of gasoline-free commute.  And, the popular hybrids on the road today still depend heavily on fossil fuels.

Ian Clifford is Chief Executive of Toronto's Zenn Motor Company, which has licensed Eestor's invention. He calls it "a paradigm shift'' that could "make internal combustion engines unnecessary.''

Skeptics, though, fear the claims stretch the bounds of existing technology to the point of alchemy.  Robert Hebner is Director of the University of Texas Center for electromechanics.  He says Eestor, "depending on who you believe, they're at or beyond the limit of what is possible.''

(Copyright 2007 by the Associated Press. All rights reserved.)