Friday, April 14, 2006

This sector is interesting to look at


In March, the venerable glass and ceramics outfit said it had developed a new glass composite that doesn't include heavy metals in the manufacturing process. By reducing environmental hazards associated with the glass, commonly used on liquid crystal display televisions, the new formula enables Corning (GLW) to gain an earth-friendly edge and reduces concerns over how the glass is disposed of.

They plan to adopt the technique over the next two to three years. The new method is "clearly a differentiator for them," says C.J. Muse, an analyst at Lehman Brothers (LEH) who rates the company overweight. As attention in the glass sector turns away from size capacity to how the glass is made, Muse writes in a recent report that the new composition "support[s] the company's market share position and premium pricing over the competition."

Capstone (CPST) produces microturbines that can be used in parallel with utility power and heat or as a backup to it. Capable of running on fuels such as kerosene and natural gas, Capstone aims for its turbines to produce very clean emissions while helping clients save on the electricity bill. Capstone's turbines spin on high-pressure emissions from a fuel cell, reducing the need to use additional fuel.

Medis (MDTL) produces portable alkaline fuel cells designed to power increasingly sophisticated and power-thirsty personal gadgets. The devices, scheduled for a limited retail release in the fourth quarter, provide sustained power without the need to use up excess electricity. Though they're disposable, the fuel cells don't contain heavy metals, unlike standard alkaline batteries. Despite these advantages, CEO Robert Lifton says the device was developed primarily with practicality, not ecology, in mind. "It's a product for people that happens to be environmentally O.K.," he says.

Quantum's products include high capacity hydrogen storage tanks that can be used in fuel-cell powered cars. These tanks can store enough hydrogen to power a fuel-cell car for about 300 miles. Brion Tanous, managing director of equity research at Merriman Curhan Ford & Co. -- which makes a market for Quantum (QTWW) -- says that's about the minimum distance electric cars will need to travel before consumers will buy them, and that makes Quantum an industry leader in a field that could take off. He rates the stock a buy despite predicting that losses will continue into at least 2007.

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