by Amy Martinez
Updated 3 yearss ago
In 2011, Bing Energy, a fuelcell technology startup, moved from Chino, Calif., to Tallahassee, planning to create 250 jobs. The company was based on research by Florida State University professor Jian Peng Zheng, who had worked with “buckypaper,” a thin yet strong conductive material, to make hydrogen-powered fuel cells [“Funding Bing Energy,” June 2014, FloridaTrend.com].
In 2013, Bing began producing its fuel cells to serve as backup power generators for telecommunications towers in China. A year later, CFO Dean Minardi told FLORIDA TREND that he expected the company to be “cash flow and profit positive” by the end of 2015.
But last year, Bing laid off its employees and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Bing’s collapse is now the subject of a legal battle pitting a group of Tallahassee investors against three Chinese- American businessmen, a Bing subsidiary in Rugao, China, and a Chinese car and truck manufacturer.
In an amended lawsuit filed in July, the investor group alleges that former Bing executives Yung Chen, Harry Chen and James Zhai schemed with Youngman Car Group to cheat Bing out of its controlling interest in Chinese subsidiary Nantong Bing Energy (NBE). Bing had created NBE to manufacture fuel cells in Rugao in exchange for economic incentives from the Chinese city. Bing owned 60% of NBE, while Rugao owned 40%.
In 2015, Yung Chen, then CEO of Bing, became dissatisfied with his pay and became “increasingly erratic,” according to the lawsuit. “More importantly,” the suit states, he “failed to develop any long-term strategy for Bing’s growth” and did not ensure that it had “sufficient capital to operate. As a result of Y. Chen’s conduct, Bing was forced to seek outside funding to meet its obligations.”
In return for a controlling interest in NBE, Youngman Car Group offered to give $6 million to Bing and another $6 million to NBE. Bing reduced its stake in NBE to 20% but never received the $6 million, the suit says. The plaintiffs are seeking an undisclosed amount of money.
Meanwhile, NBE continues to produce fuel cells for telecommunications companies in China in addition to transitioning into commercial fuelcell vehicle systems and military applications, says the investors’ attorney Brian Rich, of Berger Singerman in Tallahassee. “There was intellectual property developed at Bing that’s being improperly utilized,” Rich says.
Bing has been evicted from Tallahassee’s Innovation Park. Without any money to pay FSU, the company also lost its license to commercialize the fuel-cell technology. So far, no one else has obtained the license, says Gary Ostrander, vice president for research at FSU.
At Encore, a new $450-million downtown Tampa urban renewal project, solar panels have been installed on three of four residential buildings in a public housing complex and will be installed on the fourth building this year. The rooftop solar arrays are expected to produce enough energy to cover electricity costs for lights and air-conditioning in each of the building’s common areas, says Rick Gilbert, executive vice president of Tampa-based contractor Solar Source, which is working on the project with the Tampa Housing Authority. Solar panels mounted on a stormwater vault also will cover expenses for streetlights and other outside electrical needs within the 12-block area.
“Traditionally, solar energy has been installed in wealthier communities,” Gilbert says. “Here’s public-assisted housing that recognizes solar energy as a way to reduce electric costs. And it’s good environmental stewardship.”
Brightline’s new express train service in south Florida will run with biodiesel fuel supplied by FPL. In June, FPL signed a two-year contract to annually provide Brightline’s fleet with 2 million gallons of biodiesel — clean-burning, renewable fuel created from vegetable oils and other used cooking oil. The passenger line, which will connect West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami, is under construction. Eventually, Brightline plans to expand to Orlando.
- Speaking at Duke Energy’s annual shareholder meeting in May, CEO Lynn Good said the company will invest $11 billion to generate more electricity from natural gas and renewables.
“By retiring coal plants and bringing on more natural gas and renewables, we have already reduced our carbon emissions by nearly 30% since 2005,” Good said. “We have set a new goal to reduce our carbon emissions by 40% from the 2005 level by 2030.” During the next decade, Charlotte-based Duke expects the natural gas share of its total generation to grow to 35%, while renewable energy will increase to about 10%.
- Gulf Power’s new 30-megawatt solar farm at Eglin Air Force Base is expected to produce enough energy to power 4,500 homes in Okaloosa County. Pensacola-based Gulf Power also has military solar projects under way at Saufley Field in Pensacola and Holley Field in Navarre. Combined, the three facilities will generate enough electricity to power nearly 18,000 homes annually.
- FPL is building eight solar plants that will produce enough energy to power 120,000 homes. The plants, in Alachua, Brevard, DeSoto, Hendry, Indian River, Putnam and St. Lucie counties, are to be operational by early next year. Juno Beach-based FPL already operates more than 335 megawatts of solar-generating capacity in Florida.
- Seminole Electric Cooperative, a group of nine cooperatives that collectively serve about 1.6 million Florida residents, has completed its first cooperative solar project — a 2.2-megawatt solar facility at the site of a gas-powered plant in Hardee County. The facility includes more than 8,000 photovoltaic panels, which rotate to follow the movement of the sun throughout the day.
- Tampa Electric’s new 23-megawatt solar array at Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach includes more than 200,000 sun-tracking solar panels. The facility, completed in February, has the capacity to power nearly 3,300 homes.
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