Transcript of Episode 44 – Steve LeVine on EV Battery Tech

The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or by Steve LeVine. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.

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Jim: Today’s guest is Steve Levine, author of The Powerhouse: America, China and the Great Battery War.

Steve: Pleased to be here, Jim.

Jim: Great to have you. I’m looking forward to this. I really enjoyed reading that book. I’ll tell you a little bit more about Steve. He’s the editor-at-large on Medium, writing on the impact of tech, science, economics and demography, on jobs, society, politics and geopolitics. Prior to joining Medium, he was an editor for The Future for Axios. Steve is also a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Foresight, Strategy and Risks Initiative, and he’s an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, where he teaches energy security and the graduate level security studies program. This is the second of three episodes focusing on various aspects of the fight against climate change. Last week, we had on Jessika Trancik from MIT, where we reviewed a wide range of technologies, their learning curves, where they fit in the fight on climate change, and we included batteries. In this episode, we’re going to talk about batteries a lot. First, Steve, why are batteries so central to the transition to carbon neutrality?

Steve: Thanks, Tim. It’s so good to be on the show and talk about my favorite topic: batteries. So transportation around the world, there are one billion cars right now, all of them using gasoline. In about 10 years, the estimate is that there are going to be two billion cars. This is in places like China, India, Nigeria, where this added billion comes in. All those fumes are pouring into the atmosphere, to the degree that those second billion cars, and as many as possible of those first billion, become electric, not burning gasoline, it means that we’re not pouring more CO2 into the atmosphere.

Steve: In fact, when we see climate forecasts the apocalyptic projections, where CO2, temperatures and climate are going over the next one, two, three and five decades, they factor in that extra billion cars are internal combustion. So it’s not just sort of a notional thing that that added billion aren’t pouring in the CO2; it’s that future that we’re worried about, by looking at the projections, changes, and maybe we can have a less bad future than the one we’re worried about.

Jim: Oh, yeah. [inaudible 00:03:21] to go further than that. We have to basically make the transition period to zero carbon emissions in our transport sector, at least most of our transport sector. Maybe we could reserve a little bit for air travel, but everything else has got to be zero emissions. Electricity, so far, seems to be the only answer, though, of course, there are a couple of alternative to batteries. When I first jumped into this space, 2004, fuel cells were quite hot, but they’ve kind of fallen back for a number of reasons, and they still from time to time talk about ultracapacitors. But it does seem like batteries, at this point, is where 80 or 90% of our bet ought to be. Would you agree with that?

Steve: I think so. The way that people talk about this, it sounds like spinach, we’re eating our spinach, we’re going to switch to battery operated world. But I think this has to actually be sold in practice, it has to be sold as the meat portion of the meal, something that’s cool, something people want to do, which, I will assume, at some point in the conversation, we’ll get into who’s marketing what to the degree that people want to buy these vehicles, not because they’re forced to or because their conscience tells them to, but because they want to, that will be faster, and that will be better.

Jim: Yep. And one of the things that’s interesting, as I’ve been looking into this, when you start looking at avoiding paying gas prices, particularly if we’re assuming we have a reasonable politics sometime in the future, and when there’s a legitimate carbon tax to push us towards carbon neutrality in a market driven fashion, it’ll make a hell of a lot of sense economically, as well as just existentially, the experience of driving an electric car. So I see at least our future being essentially all electric cars by 2040 or thereabouts, unless some miracle occurs in fuel cells or ultracapacitors, are probably going to be battery driven.

Steve: Yeah.

Jim: It makes batteries probably a hundred billion dollar a year industry, one of the biggest industries on Earth.

Steve: Yeah. One thing I wonder, Jim, about that dimension of electric cars and that’s how it’s cheaper, you don’t have to buy gasoline, but you plug in, and currently when you plug in, especially if you’re doing it at home, the cost is pennies, really. I just wonder, to the degree that you end up with commercial charging stations around the country, just like today, you can find a filling station almost anywhere, won’t the price naturally converge? These commercial players, what’s their incentive for building them? Won’t the price converge at some equilibrium with gasoline? No one talks about that, but I wonder if that is where we end up.

Jim: Interesting you mentioned that, because one would think from a micro economics perspective that the oil companies, the only way they can respond is to cut price, so that we reach some form of equilibrium. Interestingly, the electricity generation industry and oil are decoupled; at least in the United States, very little of our power is generated from oil, it’s all generated from coal, nuclear and natural gas. So there isn’t this cross linkage, which could cause them to go back up, but rather they’re completely different sources. So I would say it’s oil that you will see the price come down if this equilibrium starts to occur.

Steve: Let’s see. I’m not going to underestimate the proclivity of the profit motive.

Jim: On the other hand, again, think about this one, the beauty of the electric car is there is always the alternative to do it yourself, right?

Steve: Yeah.

Jim: For a significant percentage of the people, people who live in single family homes, quite simple, to just put in your own charging station. And that’s 40 or 50% of the market, that’s more than enough, I think, to discipline the marketplace on price.

Steve: Yeah. However this happens, remember, just to close out that one part that when people complain now and they hesitate now to buy an electric car, because of the shortage of charging stations and also the length of time it takes to charge, that when the model A came out, and when the Model T came out, there were not gas stations everywhere. It took about 30 years for the commercial sector to catch up. People bought their gasoline and drug stores in cans. So the same thing is going to happen with electric cars. But I just think that this shift is going to happen much faster than people assume. The shift to self-driving cars is going to be much slower, and the shift to electric, I think, is going to be much faster.

Jim: Though, I do think the two are synergistic. And one of the reasons is that transportation as a service gets around the charging problem. So imagine for urban and suburban travel, if we’re thinking of a fleet of self-driving cars, and when you want a car, you just hire one to come fetch you, those things can have their own centralized charging facilities operating at scale, highly efficient, high voltage, so the charging time’s only 30 minutes. And then, for the end user, they don’t have any concern about it. I think that’s when the inflection point really takes off, because it’s possible that charging problem could be a hard to overcome problem, particularly for people who live in multifamily units and things like that. But once we get the transportation as a service, the problem entirely goes away.

Steve: When you say, “Transportation as a service,” you’re talking about driverless cars, correct?

Jim: Correct. I’m thinking of Uber and a bunch of competitors provide transportation on demand using driverless electric cars, that’s my future for the 2030s. It won’t happen until 2030, they were lying [crosstalk 00:09:26] when they said it was going to happen in 2021, ain’t gonna happen; 2030 is fine. We have to fix this by 2050 or 2060. That means we have to do a lot of things between now and then. So I see that’s where the barrier against the adoption of EV just takes off, once we get to self-driving cars and particularly transportation as a service, where the charging problem goes away.

Steve: Yeah, okay. We’re on the same page. Just what you just said, that a lot of people have been misled into thinking that driverless is around the corner, it’s coming in the 2020s, and it’s not, yeah.

Jim: Yeah. There’ll be limited special cases, but general, buy a car that in most urban and suburban areas will work most or all the time, 2030 is a good guess. It might be a little earlier, but I’m planning on 2030. Let’s talk a little bit about your book and your experience of writing it. I’ve got to say, I love the book! I mean, it drew me in, it was beautifully written, almost novelistic.

Steve: Thank you.

Jim: Really, I’m serious, it was really good. It reminded me of a book called Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder. It was a nonfiction, technologically driven, almost suspense story, just like this thing was, which a bunch of us read back in the day. One of the guys from my class at MIT was a minor character in the book, so all my friends and I read that book, and it reminded me tremendously of that book. Are you familiar with Soul of a New Machine?

Steve: I am, I am. I’m so glad that you’ve said that. It’s very flattering.

Jim: Well deserved. It’s just a joy to read. I have to read a lot of books for my podcasts, sometimes I have to force myself through them; not this one. So a couple questions about the writing of the book. How much access did you have to these people? It seems like you had some amazing inside stories, and especially the Argonne Labs guys.

Steve: Right. The format of research for the book was analogous to how Tracy Kidder did Soul of the New Machine. He embedded himself at, I think it … was it EDS?

Jim: Data General.

Steve: Data General for one year. He embedded himself for a year of product cycle, the creation of one iteration of the desktop computer that they were selling. And I embedded myself for two years at Argonne. I shouldn’t say, “Embedded myself,” they allowed me, it was this arduous thing, because Argonne is owned by the federal government, so this permission had to go all the way up through the Energy Department and up to the Deputy Secretary, who was the one who finally gave his okay, because Argonne is where the [inaudible 00:12:04] nuclear work goes, so they didn’t want someone just sitting there. So I sat in that lab with the battery team, on and off, because I had to come back to Washington to teach every Tuesday, so from Wednesday to Friday basically for two years, and then full-time during the summer, I was inside the battery lab, watching them do what they were doing.

Jim: So you got a chance to, sounds like, talk to them at some great length. You’ve got their life stories for a lot of these guys, right?

Steve: Right. One thing you have to know about battery guys: you’ve spent time, I’m guessing, talking to geologists, for example. If you talk to a geologist, one conversation can be very long and filled with color and very lively. Battery guys are like you; you need the two years, you need the two years to equal one conversation with a geologist, not a very talkative bunch. So you have to sit down, them get used to you, and things take a long time. The lead acid battery was invented in the 19th century. This has been a long standing problem: how do we invent a truly practical, long-lasting safe battery, this is an enduring challenge.

Steve: So there was that, the Argonne folks, and then of course there’s Envia, the startup group, it’s a dual profile, parallel in the second half of the book of Argonne, and then Envia, the startup in Silicon Valley that licensed Argonne’s technology with the objective of selling it to GM.

Jim: And we’ll get to the Envia story. That’s where the thing really started to get like a detective story or a thriller! But we’ll get to that in a little bit. Before we again jump in a little bit more to the story itself, could you explain to the audience the importance of the two metrics that everyone’s always working towards: the watt hours per kilogram and the dollars per watt hour? What are those two things, and why are they so important?

Steve: One is the density, watt hours per kilogram, density of the battery, how much energy have you packed into a small space. Why is that important? That’s how far the car is going to go. Right now, the number most of the cars have is like 230 watt hours per kilogram, and you can see it’s that, and then plus the engineering, ingenious engineering that the car makers have done with aerodynamics and weight and all of that. They’re getting, most of them, over 200 miles per charge, which is outstanding, that’s incredible. But really, when you think about it, they need to do better, because in practical use stats, but let’s say it’s 250. 250 is a reasonable number. But that’s if you don’t use air conditioning, you don’t turn on the radio, you’re not using the defroster, which is ridiculous.

Jim: And it’s flat. I live here in the mountains, right?

Steve: Right.

Jim: And it’s about 40 miles from my in-town condo to my mountain farm. And I figure, yeah, we could definitely make that with some room to spare, but probably not a huge amount of room to spare, going over three mountain ranges.

Steve: Yeah. And what happens if it gets cold? If it’s winter, then you can lose 40% of the capacity off the top, so really 250 turns into 100, and that’s not enough. So they really need to have, in my view, a sticker distance: they need to get up to 400, because 400 will be 280 in practice.

Jim: Good target. I guess, at the high end, Elon Musk is approaching that, at least in his stickers.

Steve: Right, with the new Roadster, with his redo of the Roadster, he is getting up there. Now that’s where you get to the other side of the equation, and that’s the price. We like to say, or people trying to sell electric cars or batteries like to say, that people will take account over a 10-year period or five-year period, whatever it is, how much they’re going to save, but that’s not how people buy cars.

Jim: Nope, they don’t.

Steve: Yeah, I reject that. So how much is this compared with the internal combustion engine car? That’s what they’re [inaudible 00:16:48]. So the price needs to drop to $100 or lower per kilowatt hour. Right now, it’s 200, or it’s [inaudible 00:17:04]. They’re secretive about this, so the people who watch this are inferring, but it’s believed that Tesla is at right around 100 or a little bit less, maybe a little bit more, and that everyone else is 150 or a little bit higher, which is incredible. When I started researching this, it was 2010, and the price was like 1,200 dollars. The objective at that, if we want to be equivalent to internal combustion, we need to get to $100, and it was regarded as something that you’re going to land a spacecraft on Alpha Centauri. It was just an impossible dream. But here we are 10 years later, and we’re almost there.

Steve: There is an aggressive, but I think realistic, forecast by the folks over at Bloomberg, New Energy Finance were really good when it comes to forecasting renewables. And they think that 2024, 2025 is a crossover, and the price of batteries … That’s the largest component of the price of an electric car, around 40% of the price, it can be even 50% of the price. There’ll be a crossover, starting in the latter half of the 2020s, the electric drivetrain starts to be cheaper than internal combustion, and that’s when you’re going to start seeing this uptick. In the sales, people are going to are going to be willing to give an agnostic look at electric cars.

Jim: Yep. I absolutely agree. And it is important for people to keep in mind that in the fundamentals, minus the battery, an electric car has some huge cost savings. An internal combustion engine, a whole bunch of explosions per second, it’s a damn hard thing to engineer. And you have to have a fancy transmission, which electric cars don’t need, and you have to have an exhaust system, and you have to qualify for all these pollution standards. And then, you have to carry all that weight around. Of course, batteries are heavy, too. So in the long run, everything I’ve read seems to say that electric cars should be considerably cheaper and last longer than internal combustion cars, but not until the battery price crosses over that crossing point you were talking about.

Steve: Yeah, I think the big takeaway for me, that I think that your listeners … is that this is not one of those “Ain’t it cool” gimmicky and sort of pie in the sky; this is one of those futuristic things that is going to happen. What we don’t know, and I’m saying I think it’s going to happen, but really we don’t know, we don’t know what the demand is going to be. That’s where the car makers need to be very mindful about what they put on the road, like Elon Musk putting cool cars that a number of people desire, desirable cars. And GM is not; GM put the Bolt, which I think is an excellent car, but it’s not appealing looking. So all the car makers, VW, BMW, they need to think really hard about design.

Jim: Yeah, and I pulled down some data. We’re gonna talk about this later again. But in 2019, it looks like Tesla sold about 158,000 cars, now that’s just the 3 Model. Throw in the X and the S, and it will be more like, doing the thinking here and here, about almost 200,000 cars. The Toyota Prius Prime was 23,000. The Bolt was 16,000. And very quickly you get down to below 10,000. So really, only Tesla has figured out how to sell these things at scale yet.

Steve: Right, and I hope the other car makers are paying attention to that. Do they really want to sell these cars? I think Volkswagen does. Volkswagen is trying to remake itself.

Jim: Yeah, the new Audi is really cool. I’m surprised it hasn’t sold more. According to this number, it sold 746 in December.

Steve: Yeah. So I won’t remember, maybe you remember, there’s something wrong with the car, this is why. And they’ve withdrawn it to retool it.

Jim: Oh, dear, I didn’t know, I had not picked up on that. But yeah, it is interesting. Who would have thought that Google would be Yahoo and Microsoft in the search wars when they came out? They were a tiny little guy, but they beat their ass, and the big boys never recovered. So it’s at least possible that Tesla could do that with the big boys. On the other hand, the car business is a hard business, so it’ll be interesting to see how that works out. We’ll talk more about that at towards the end.

Jim: Now I’m gonna pull a quote out of your book, because it actually resonates with some of my own personal experiences. You said, “Charlatans and hucksters abound in eras of inventions, since no one can truly know what will become the next Bonanza. And batteries have been unusually marked by exaggeration and outright fraud.” As we talked about before, we went on the air here back in 2004, I took a deep dive into mass storage of electricity at the utility scale. And I learned about all the technologies, and I went around and talked to the companies, and I went to conferences, and it was scary in 2004. Within 90 days, I was considered enough of an expert to be on the panels [inaudible 00:22:48] scaring me people, I don’t know shit about this stuff. But I obviously know more than you guys, and a lot of people do. One of the things that was just amazing at that time was just the obvious bullshit people were laying on.

Jim: At the time, it was thought about $2 billion a year were being spent in mass electrical storage. And even me, who had 90 days in the field, with a piece of graph paper and a pencil could figure out that none of these technologies were even close to working. And I’ve lived through the PC boom, the Dot Com boom, the early Internet boom. And they were all full of bullshitters and fraudsters, but I don’t think I ever saw anything quite as blatant as the battery folks. Anything in your mind about why that is?

Steve: Yes, because it’s very hard to do. So this is chemistry and thermodynamics, and how do you meet all the specifications? In the case of vehicles, something that will pack more energy, so that’s distance. Also, move the energy through the battery rapidly, that’s acceleration. And cost and not ignite and explode and your car’s on fire. All of those requirements are very hard to accomplish at one time, but the payoff if they are successful is very, very high. So you get that combination: something very hard, very high payoff, and then you get people making stuff up.

Jim: Yeah, it was quite an eye opener. As I said, I’ve been through various bullshit fests in the industrial cycle, whatever they [inaudible 00:24:28] the battery guys. I see your point about the hard to do. After my first 90 days of self education, I went and hired who a number of people pointed to as the guy in electrochemistry. He was retired, about 80 years old, eventually died at the very end of my project! Sorry, wonderful fella. I go out and visit him out in Mountain View every month or so. He was a Brit, yet a good old boy Brit accent from Northern England. He said, “James, one thing you have to remember is this is not computer technology. You guys are used to everything doubling every two years. In electrochemistry, if we can make significant innovations in 20 years, we think it’s a big deal.”

Jim: He and I sat down and tried to figure out when we’d reach what I had determined was the threshold for the mass utility grade storage of electricity. And we built a timeline that said, it’s very interesting, “A hundred dollars a kilowatt hours is what you needed to make the businesses work.” And second, we figured we’d get there in 2024.

Steve: Wow!

Jim: Isn’t that interesting?

Steve: It’s very interesting. You guys should have bet on that.

Jim: I didn’t make a big bet on it, but as an inverse bet, I was prepared to launch a business to do mass electrical storage. So my six months of work and $10,000 worth of consulting fees convinced me not to do that. So I would say that between the venture capital I would have raised and all that, it would have been at least 30 or $40 million dollars that would have gotten pissed away. So I made 30 or $40 million for the world by not wasting it, by doing my research. I put all my research in a box and put a label on it that said, “Open in 2020.” So later this year, I’m going to open that box and look at the research and see if that … Frankly, at this point, I’m retired. I don’t do that stuff anymore. But I’ll maybe pass the box on to somebody else, because I did do a whole bunch of analysis and what it took to make that business work. But that’s a big takeaway.

Jim: I think you’re right: it’s way harder than computer technology. So many venture capitalists and so many entrepreneurs, like me, are used to working in this “Okay, it’s hard, but it’s not that hard” kind of environment, where things happen relatively predictably and rapidly; electrochemistry ain’t like that, it’s black magic.

Steve: Yeah. This year, the Nobel Prize for chemistry was shared by three men: the inventors of the lithium ion battery, the lead inventor was John Goodenough, who’s 97 years old, and he invented his part of it 40 years ago, in 1980, and it was commercialized 10 years later in 1990 by Sony. Pick your point of starting out the timeline, it’s either 30 or it’s 40 years since the invention or the commercialization, and the lithium ion battery is still the cutting edge. All that they’re able to do in using engineering, thinking of different ways of producing the battery, and then executing, applying battery energy in a car through those two mechanisms are able to get 7% or 8% more efficiency each year out of the battery. That’s not much since, as you’ve said, semiconductors double every 18 months.

Steve: But if you do that over 10 years or you do that over 20 years, then you get this amazing progress. From 2010 until now, the price has dropped by a factor, so that’s pretty good. Now, just moving over to this area where we started, which is exaggeration, the hype. You hear really in the newspapers, university announcements and also in Silicon Valley about this or that advance. And really, it’s like chatter, it’s noise in the background, and it’s something, okay. Put all of your data on one slide, so I can see it in one place, so I know that nothing’s slipping up your sleeve. And then also, let’s see, you scale it up. Let’s see, you get it into an actual automobile. So that’s where we are.

Jim: Yep. A fair number of venture capitalists listen to this show, I believe, so you guys should keep that in mind when people come to you with mass storage or transportation storage proposals that shit’s going to take longer than you think, probably! If they don’t have something demonstrable right now, it’s probably going to be years before they have a product in the marketplace.

Steve: Yeah, I’ll tell you one thing, if you don’t mind talking, getting a little bit into the weeds on the chemistry. I’ve been hearing in the last two, three weeks about advances on the anode side. Most of the advances have happened on the cathode side. So you’ve had this lopsided series of advances with metallic lithium, putting pure lithium metal into the anode. That’s sort of a holy grail, lithium metal being highly volatile, and that’s why you see batteries going up and in flames, because often the lithium will get it exposed to air or to moisture.

Steve: But in a few places, at the same time, commercially and also in academic labs, there have been advances with lithium metal. What I’m hearing from aside is: we’re not there yet, but we’re a lot further than we were, and we’re not cycling, we’re getting the energy, we’re up to 400 watt hours a kilogram. The objective is to get to 500. And if they can get that, then that’s so huge, in either you can make your cars cheaper, or you can make them go further, you have to decide how you’re going to deploy that added energy. But that’s huge, you going from 230 or 250 up to four or 500.

Steve: But the cycling, the need to get up to 600, 800 cycles, charge/discharge cycles, they’re not there yet. I think they’re more like 200 or 300, but I’m hearing the excitement in their voices versus the last time I checked in with them on this kind of research, which is … it was pretty morose, if you haven’t made any progress for years on something. I mean, keep tuned, I’m going to keep tuned on this, and there could be something that could be commercial. I’m gonna throw out a year just for the heck of it, but maybe 2025 or so?

Jim: Okay, that sounds cool. Now let’s get a little bit more down towards the meat of the story. A lot of the action is set around Argonne National Labs, and you even tell the history of how the land was acquired and all that. Why don’t you give us a few minutes on what are these national labs, when did they emerge, what were they for, and then maybe transition to the battery unit?

Steve: Sure. Argonne was the first national lab, so this is where in 1944 Enrico Fermi and his team conducted the first nuclear experiment, nuclear fission. This was done at Stagg Stadium at University of Chicago. After his team was successful, he and they went off to Los Alamos and finished off the first atomic bomb. We know history after that, but it was decided to keep the research going, so the first Argonne stayed there, it stayed at University of Chicago. But then after a while, it expanded, it had grown. It was nuclear research, and that’s when they picked up that land, about 30 miles outside the city, and establish Argonne as a place to do nuclear research.

Steve: But from there, you ended up with a constellation of these national labs. They’re across the country: Sandia, Oak Ridge, Los Alamos I already mentioned. They do a lot of the basic research of all kinds of science, but energy is a big part of that. And that’s where, when we hear about China, for example, putting the state behind so much fundamental research and what is the United States doing and are we falling behind, the national labs, it’s our crown jewels, it’s super fundamental, super important.

Steve: Shifting over to what I watched them do, that’s the battery lab and the batteries. It’s a relatively small group, between 30 and 50 people in that one lab. Battery research, by the way, is also done at Sandia, it’s done at LBL, Lawrence Livermore, at Cal Berkeley, but the country’s main fundamental battery research is at Argonne. The team, it’s gone through various iterations, including researching hydrogen, which you mentioned earlier, but mainly various iterations of batteries. They also do research in the same general, not exactly the same department, but affiliated in making internal combustion, by the way, more efficient. I mean, really, really cool work.

Steve: So when we look, for example, at the electric cars that are on the road right now, and that will be on the road over the next few years, use battery chemistry with an acronym NMC, Nickel, Manganese, Cobalt. That chemistry was invented at Argonne, so its stuff, yes, it’s fundamental, but here we have a very, very important commercial application of the output of the lab. The inventor, Michael Thackeray, just retired from the lab over the last few months.

Jim: Interesting. And you talk a little bit about how the rise of the national labs kind of helped offset, at least in part, the decline of the great industrial labs, like Bell Labs. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Steve: Yeah. This is a sad story about … Well, as you say, the economy has developed. So big companies, especially in the 40s, in the 50s, in the 60s and going a little bit into the 70s, the thing that made the US economy so great, such an outsized success internationally, were the industrial labs, Bell Labs especially, but Kodak’s lab, Xerox Parc, GE, all of them had their own laboratories, all of them churning out inventions, their own inventions, and then stuff that they would license out. But for a number of reasons over the years, the big companies sort of pared themselves down. They closed or hived off the labs. When they were hived off, they shrunk.

Steve: So really, the United States no longer has much in the way of commercial research labs, and companies, to a large degree, are relying on the national lab system to play that role in giving them an edge, giving them an international edge. This is another book, it should be another book. I think, in Silicon Valley, the big companies, like Google and Apple, and so on, they’re big inventors. But after them, other parts of the economy not doing what they should be doing. What they’ve done, Jim, is they’ve hived off what they should be doing onto the public, so that the taxpayer is paying for the research side of their commercial enterprise.

Jim: Yep. Actually, I know a fair amount, particularly about what Google does in their research labs, particularly in the area of artificial intelligence. And they do not do 20-year projects. If they don’t see some way to monetize it within five years, they’re not going to do it, with very few exceptions. So none of them are taking the very deep fundamental research that Bell Labs or Parc used to do. Yeah, you’re absolutely right, it’s all been socialized essentially, right?

Steve: Yeah.

Jim: That’d be a great topic for a Medium article!

Steve: You’re right. It’s across the spectrum, it’s research, it’s training their people. The big companies, rather than bringing in a bright young person straight out of college, who you can just see has so much potential and just needs to be given a skill, which is what big companies used to do, they’re relying on the community college system or the college systems to take that added step. Then they move into the companies. Again, you just call it “Socialized education,” “Socialized research.” It’s dumping off on the taxpayers the roles that used to be part of each of the big companies.

Jim: Yep, absolutely. And we’ve let them do it. Great article on medium. You may not know this, but I write articles for Medium from time to time. I think it’s a really wonderful platform. It’s a really fun platform, so I’d encourage you to do it, Mr. editor-at-large!

Steve: Yeah, thank you!

Jim: Let’s move on to another topic, something that’s near and dear to my heart. We’ve had several conversations in passing about this and one whole full episode on it with Brian Nosek. I would call that the Sociology of science and the Sociology of research. And you actually talk about this, although you didn’t call it that, which I have framed as the principal investigator problem, where, especially in US universities, and it appeared from your book at Argonne, particularly earlier in the battery search, but I’m sure there was a strong tendency there all along, for these single relatively senior people to have a small team around them. And it basically meant they couldn’t attack a problem bigger than what a principal investigator and a few postdocs and researchers could do.

Jim: And yet, some of the problems on the level of batteries were much more transdisciplinary and reached across many more technologies than a single principal investigator oriented lab was likely to do. Could you talk a little bit about that, what the culture there, the sociology of science was like at Argonne?

Steve: Yeah, this is such a good point that you raise. What you end up seeing is that what drives research in the national lab, I should say, as I saw on the battery, is the funding cycle. So the DOE puts out a notice that they’re willing to fund projects of all kinds in electrochemistry, and if you win it’s a three-year cycle. So say you get $10 million, it’s $3.3 million over a year over three years, and then you put together your team, and you work on that. And it’s exactly what you’re describing. It’s this pernicious system where you’re trying to keep your group working, so you need to keep pumping out proposals, funding proposals. We know that we want a battery that can power a car that goes 500 miles, that will cost $100 per kilowatt hours. So you would bring together five teams, bring together 10 teams, put the whole lab on it, put several labs, but the system works against that.

Steve: So I do think that, in one way, it’s a good system, because you end up you with two or three guys working day and night, and that’s a lot of firepower versus you have a big team, and there’s a lot of management, you can end up with bureaucracy, and efforts get spread out, and they’re working separated by geography. Before you know it, three years or five years have been spent on this. But on the other hand, there’s a real upside to putting all of your resources on one thing.

Steve: If I can have a couple more minutes, one of the main characters in the book is a former Bell Labs senior supervisor at Bell Labs. He said, “We didn’t do this, but we should have 30 years ago decided that in the same way we decided we were going to tackle GPS and transistors and so on, we could have decided that we were going to tackle the battery, and we put a gigantic team on it, and, from the ground, we learn every possible thing from the inside, how the electrons are operating within the cathode, and so on, which, incidentally, even though the lithium ion battery was invented 40 years ago, researchers still don’t know what exactly happens on the inside of the battery. A lot of it, they’re still speculating. But anyway, his point was that the magic of that Bell system of having that large scale approach to solving big problems, Peter [Littleworth 00:43:15] is his name, he felt that Bell would have tackled batteries, and we wouldn’t be in the same place where we are right now.

Jim: I think you also pointed out Steven Chu, who was the Energy Secretary, sort of in the middle of all this, also had that sense that recompounding something like Bell Labs, spread across multiple, historically competing national labs was the way to do it.

Steve: Right, right. One of the things that happens in the book is the United States sort of takes this approach, where they establish a battery hub at Argonne, and they throw $125 million on it, which maybe doesn’t sound like a lot, maybe it sounds like a lot, depending where you are, but it’s a lot; for the battery world, that’s a ton of money. But what they ended up doing is they dispersed it over a number of labs, over a number of teams, diluting the impact of this money. So you didn’t really end up … it’s been over five years, it’s been about six years now, and you don’t have an outcome you can point to. Jim, you need to do that, but you need to do it in a way that somehow bypasses the bureaucracy. I don’t know how Bell managed that. Bell somehow was able not to fall into the bureaucracy trap, the waste the money trap. They’re concentrating the firepower in an efficient way.

Jim: I had the great fortune to be able to spend a day at Bell Labs in the early 90s. It was starting on its way down at that point, but it was still one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been, except, of course, the Santa Fe Institute, where I spent a lot of time, which is the most amazing place! Right?

Steve: Yeah. So would that be a great place to embed?

Jim: Yeah, if you want to write about the complexity science and every hard problem, all these dire problems that we suffer from or will be suffering from as a society, everyone has the aspect that they’re complex problems, and these are the smartest people in the world, about complexity at least, they are the ones that invented complexity science, mostly, or shall we say, borrowed very aggressively, and did it very well … So yeah, if you want to tell the story of complexity and how it can either save us or not, if we don’t invest enough in it, that would be great, happy to set you up, I’m on the board there, I’m the former chairman, good friends with the president, et cetera. So yeah, we can definitely do that, at least you could have a conversation if you think it makes sense for you.

Steve: Well, now we have a conversation when we get offline.

Jim: Absolutely. Now this business about the sociology of research and the issue of fragmentation at the national labs, there was one character in your book, and I say, “Character,” because your book does read like a novel, who I resonated with to the Nth degree, and that was Jeff Chamberlain. He seemed like he saw the problem, and he tried to fix it! But he couldn’t.

Steve: Yeah. He’s still at work. Jeff’s the main character in the book, and he is a PhD chemist, but his job at the lab … They recognize that his genius is that he’s an organizer and a salesman. So the first thing they did is get him to go out and sell the team’s patents to commercial players. That’s how the NMC got into GM’s cars, for example, Jeff [inaudible 00:46:54]. But then, they put him in charge of that hub. The system defeated Jeff, and he would probably be the first to say that. But he’s done something super interesting, is he’s gone the VC model. I don’t know how much money he pulled together in the end, it was about $300 million, a lot of money from investors whose big bet through Jeff: invest in near commercial battery cutting edge, futuristic technologies that will move the needle significantly. So he is outside the walls of Argonne, although he still has access to the labs, and he is putting small amounts of this capital into bets in various companies, so he’s still trying!

Jim: Is he in the private sector now?

Steve: Yeah, I guess. It’s private, but, again, its associated with Argonne. It’s called the Volta Institute.

Jim: That’s kind of interesting. As you can probably tell here, I’m obsessed with batteries.

Steve: I am too.

Jim: Maybe I can get you to introduce me to Jeff, maybe I’ll have him on the show!

Steve: Oh, he’s good, he’s really good. Yeah.

Jim: We can really nerd out on the technology, right?

Steve: Yeah, yeah.

Jim: So much more to talk about, the Argonne story, these interesting characters, Mike Thackeray from South Africa, Khalil Amine, is that how you pronounce it?

Steve: Yes.

Jim: Both very interesting characters. Well, I think we don’t have time to go into that. So let’s go to the second big thread in your story, which is the Envia story and Sujeet Kumar. Maybe just start with Mr. Kumar’s background, which was fascinating, and then roll pretty quickly into the Envia story

Steve: Right. Sujeet, an up from the bootstraps immigrant, grew up in India, and managed to get himself into Technological Institute there. One of those striving individuals, the kind of people who end up immigrating, and he ended up getting a scholarship to the Rochester Institute for his PhD. One of those clicheish stories: arrived in New York with like a dollar in his pocket, but did really, really well in his PhD program, ended up impressing his professors. Just speeding up the story, ends up in Silicon Valley, teamed up with a VC guy with a bucket of money in a startup called Envia. He had been looking around for a battery technology to work on. He wanted to, not invent, commercialize the next big battery.

Steve: So he did a search, a massive search of all of the patents in lithium ion over the last numerous years, and he zeroed in on the Argonne technology, the NMC technology as the most promising thing, the closest thing to commercialization that could push the needle [inaudible 00:50:10] and get into an electric car. He was the first outside commercial player to show up at Argonne, with a willingness to license the technology before anyone else. He was the first one to find it. Because he had been the first, even though he was no one, but they were willing to license the technology to him. That was one startup.

Steve: Then he took the same stuff to another startup, that was Envia. And that catches us up to the narrative. So you have that parallel narrative of Argonne trying to take the NMC and invent NMC 2.0, and that’s where you get that battery to save the world. We’re going to tweak the original NMC and invent the 200-mile battery. At that stage, the best electric car on the road was the LEAF; it went 84 miles on a charge. We need to get two to 200 miles, that was the mantra. And then, you had Envia. Envia said, “No, we’re going to invent MC 2.0. We’re going to invent the battery that goes 200 miles, we’re going to sell our stuff to GM.” So you’ve got a race between Argonne and Envia.

Jim: Yep. And what happened?

Steve: That’s the narrative that I said. I spent … the last year of the research was toggling physically between Chicago and Silicon Valley, so I would travel to Silicon Valley and visit with the Envia guys, and then I’d go out to Chicago and visit with the Argonne guys. Or, if I wasn’t able to go to each one physically, then I would get on the phone with them and say, “Okay, what happened this week?” With the deadline of the book approaching at the end of the year, Sujeet was telling me, week by week, how much progress they had made, how impressed GM was with what they were doing and how GM had decided to license their technology. This is huge. These car companies don’t do this. They’re very, very concerned about reliability. They go to big established suppliers that can produce massive scale and have been doing it for 20, 30, 40 years. That they were willing to take a chance with Envia was a big feather in Envia’s cap.

Steve: So that was going to be the big finish in the book, is that, at the end, you have the two immigrants start up the business, their success story, and they end up selling their stuff to GM. They both end up super wealthy, and you end up with a 200 mile car. Should I give away the ending? I mean, it’s already-

Jim: [crosstalk 00:53:21] Yep, let’s do it.

Steve: The book has been out for a while I think it’s okay.

Jim: Yeah.

Steve: So I got a call one night at my home. It was Steve, “I have to tell you something.” “What’s that?” “It’s that Sujeet has been lying to you.” Everything, my stomach, every part of my body fell from that. For whatever motive or for whatever reason, the batteries did not do what he said that they did. And there had there just been a huge crisis at the company, where GM had discovered this and a huge falling out between them and Envia. At that moment, they’re trying to figure out, “Okay, what are we going to do?” What they did was they canceled the deal, and they let Envia off the hook, they did not sue Envia, they didn’t make Envia pay back the down payments they had paid. But it was a huge letdown, in terms of where a lot of people thought that the market was going and where that story was going, where Envia was going. Of course, it completely undermined the book, not the whole book, but the end of the book; I had to reimagine how the book was going to close. Should I tell you what sort of I think happened?

Jim: Sure.

Steve: I don’t think that the Envia people, I don’t think that Sujeet is … We talked about fraudsters and connivers and all that. I don’t think that Sujeet was a fraudster and that he intentionally or malignantly misled GM. I think what happened is that he had been responsible, he and his team, have been responsible, making enormous progress with NMC and making it much more energetic than Argonne had. And they really did have the metrics that he was showing on the slides. He didn’t make up those numbers. But there were faults, and it wasn’t ready for commercial deployment, but he thought he could be. It’s one of those aspirational things, he got in over his head. He thought, “Okay, I’m going to sign this, and I’m going to be able to make the progress that I’m promising here, that I’m saying I’ve already made.” But then, he discovered that he couldn’t or, at least, that he couldn’t on the timescale that he had promised and that GM expected.

Jim: That’s amazing. It was kind of a sad ending to the story in that regard. I was kind of rooting for Kumar. As you said, it’s just an improbable story up from nothing in India, somehow got funded, somehow did a deal with GM, had a great team, but electrochemistry is damn hard.

Steve: Yeah. By the way, someone else, their VCs kept funding them for quite a while, for years, and they were never able to overcome the challenges in the material. You just said it: it’s very hard to do and, unless someone can magically come up with the fix or some other material, they’re stuck with that 7% or 8% progress every year.

Jim: Yep. And, as you pointed out, 7% progress is great! But it’s not IT type speeds. It’s really hard to deprogram Silicon Valley from thinking that way. But yeah, it happens. That’d be a lesson to everybody who wants to fish in these waters. These are hard waters to fish in. That kind of concludes the book, from my perspective. Again, I’d like to really say: this was a very enjoyable book to read. You went into great detail on a lot of things, but it was a real story, it pulled one in. I’d really recommend to my listeners, if you’re interested in batteries, or even if you’re interested in a cool story, read the book, it’s got some great characters. I was rooting for Jeff Chamberlain all along, because I saw him as kind of a me-type character. That’s kind of the role I would try to play in the business world, not put up with the horseshit. Fortunately, I usually was able to defeat the bureaucracy, but sad to see that he was not.

Steve: Let me just throw out just on that point for your listeners that at the book’s website,, there are a series of very short one, one and a half minute videos with each of the main characters, six or seven characters. When Jim makes the URL for this podcast, there’ll be a link.

Jim: We’ll definitely do that. I’m gonna go look at it myself, I didn’t even know that. But that sounds really good. We talked before the show, you’ve kept up on what’s happened subsequently, I think the book was published about 2016, something like that?

Steve: Yes.

Jim: That means the research was done in 2010 to 2013, and a couple years to write it, and then a year for the publishers to mangle it, and here we are. So what’s happened since? In particular the big story since, and you do mention it in places in the book, is Tesla. Tesla changed everything.

Steve: Yeah. Two things happened. You’ve got two chemistries on the world market. One is the NMC, which is in everybody’s car, so that Argonne Technology has taken the world by storm, except Tesla. Tesla uses NCA, Nickel, Cobalt, Aluminum. Musk has his own reasons for using that. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s the stuff that he’s putting into these double A size batteries, and then they cram 8,000 of those batteries into the floorboard of all the cars. But that’s why he’s been able to manage this, because that style of battery, all the bugs, all the kinks have been worked out, because they’ve been making those for decades now. It was a very clever move. Anyway, Tesla has taken the world by storm. He’s making super cool cars, people are buying the cars. He’s jumped the categories from people who want to be green to people who want to be cool.

Jim: Which there’s a lot more obviously!

Steve: Yes. There were 400,000 people lined around the block at Tesla distributorships around the world to put $1,000 each down to order the Model 3. That’s incredible!

Jim: I think there were still 200,000 people the first day that slapped down money for the pickup truck.

Steve: Right. So this year, the Model Y, which is the crossover SUV, remember that is the single biggest selling category of car in the United States, the crossover SUV. Women buy and drive 55% of those cars, men buy 70% of the Tesla. So if you have women being the biggest buyers of cars, you need to appeal to women. When that Model Y comes out, suddenly you’re going to have women looking at, and, I think, possibly buying in large numbers, the Tesla Model Y. This Model Y is a potential inflection point, the cyber truck. I don’t know, Jim, that doesn’t seem to be that’s going to go mass. I think it’s going to sell a lot, but do you expect a lot of those to sell?

Jim: I don’t know. I put an order in, just why the fuck not, I’m a pickup truck kind of guy, I live on a farm, seemed pretty zany, so I put down my hundred dollars, wherever the hell it was, and got in line.

Steve: And are you going to take it?

Jim: I was probably near the end of the first day, so I was there at about the two-hundred-thousandth. It’ll probably be quite a while, and there’ll be some amount before I have to decide. But yeah, they weren’t that expensive. As crazy toys go, I’ve done worse.

Steve: And what about your friends? Do you know other people who did that?

Jim: Amongst my country boy folks, nobody. Nobody’s interested in it, it looked too zany. Amongst my techie friends, I think a few did. It’s an exotic, it’s what they call in the car business, a “Halo model,” that they don’t expect to sell, kind of like the Corvette is for a Chevrolet and the Viper was for Dodge. Sadly, I just sold my Viper, my 1993 original Viper.

Steve: Wow!

Jim: So that gives me room in the garage for the Tesla truck. We shall see. But let’s get back to the kind of more hard nosed stuff a little bit. You do make the note that Tesla does use the NCA for their vehicles. They use the NMC for their stationary, for their house batteries. Is there something about NCA type batteries that has allowed Tesla to routinely and basically always have longer quoted range than anybody else?

Steve: Well, it’s a cost reasons. I asked Musk, “Why are you using the NCA when everyone else is using the NMC?” He said the cost per kilowatt hour is cheaper and is consistently cheaper, and that if he were in charge of producing GM’s cars, that the first thing he would do is get off of the NMC. Interestingly, though, in his Shanghai facilities, he’s ordered NMC. So us geeks, battery geeks are wondering, “What are you doing there? Are you going to load up NMC into the Model 3s and the Model Ys that you make at your Shanghai facility?” We’ll watch that. But the NCA, it was for cost reasons, and also the deal that he made for the supply of his batteries was with Panasonic, and Panasonic produces the small cylindrical batteries with NCA. These were and these are the batteries that they had perfected, they were able to produce them reliably off the shelf, not having to work out any kinks. It was a smart move. Why didn’t anyone else think of that?

Jim: Yeah, he did it. And I still remember when they showed the pictures of the early ones, it looked like a whole bunch of double A batteries glued together with Elmer’s glue, right?

Steve: Yeah, it’s just a little bit bigger than the double A.

Jim: Yep. I think I have some of those batteries for one of my cameras. They’re a little fatter than the double A. All right, so that’s Tesla. Now, everybody and his brother is gearing up to sell actual electronic vehicles. What do you think? Give us your baseball prediction for the next five years across the bigger car companies and/or are there any other startups that you think will make a big difference?

Steve: I’m skeptical now of the luxury category. There are a ton of startups, Silicon Valley and other places in the United States and in Europe too, that are trying to out-Tesla Tesla, meaning the Model S. So they’re coming out with 80, 90, 100, $120,000 cars, Jaguar is and the startups. These cars are very cool, but how large is that market? For me, that’s not serious. It’s sort of like the Dot Com era when everyone sees one winner, and all of them pile in with exactly the same product, and then it washes out and one’s left. In terms of who ends up being winners, who ends up being losers, it is super important that they reach that price inflection point, and that’s where you’re going to start to see sales take off. So for the next few years, these are not going to be priced correctly to really sell if you’re going by the projections.

Steve: But, in 2025 and from there, that’s when you’re going to start seeing things sell. I think that the contest is going to be between the Germans and Tesla. I think that VW, because they’re so hungry, they feel they’re in an existential race to survive, they totally screwed up with Dieselgate, and they’ve put all of their chips on the electric car, they’re going to change over very rapidly their whole fleet, all of those, Porsche, Audi, VW; all of their car companies, all of them are going electric. The new electric Porsche, look at the reviews; the reviewers love this car.

Jim: Yeah, I read those reviews. I’m going, “I want one, goddammit!”

Steve: Yeah, out of this world, out of this world. Now, that’s a real [inaudible 01:07:08]. You could see that one giving the S a run for its money, because a Porsche has cachet the name Porsche, and then the way the car’s described. But also Audi: one of my neighbors said the S and the X, the SUV with the gull wing doors, that they look cool, but people who buy those kinds of cars, they have enormous expectations for what’s in the interior. They want it to be like Apollo, it should feel and look like luxury on wheels, and it doesn’t. It doesn’t feel like that, the X doesn’t.

Steve: So they’ve been waiting for Audi to produce its E-Tron. As we discussed, the first iteration of the E-Tron, something’s wrong with it, so they’re going to have to come back out, they’re going to have to produce that again. But I expect a lot from Audi. But not just them, Daimler, BMW, all of them are in this race. I think the Germans want to win it. They have the engineering chops. That’s what I see. Look in 2024, 2025, going forward, Tesla and the Germans.

Jim: What about Ford? Have got a very interesting CEO there, Jim Hackett, who’s actually a guy I know, he was a big fan of the Santa Fe Institute, he used to come out there all the time when he was the CEO of Steelcase, and before they moved him up to be the overall [inaudible 01:08:40] he ran the electric vehicle division. Where do you see Ford being in the race?

Steve: Okay. I was just going to piss all over Ford. But the electric Mustang has gotten very good reviews. I haven’t driven one. I’ve driven the Audi, I’ve driven all of the Teslas. Well, let’s see how that goes. The only reason that I hesitate is that Ford hasn’t seemed to be as intent on winning. If you’re not really in the game, can you win it?

Jim: They basically discontinued all their car models except for the Mustang, and they claim they’re going to come out with 21 electric vehicles over the next few years. We shall see.

Steve: We shall see.

Jim: It’s interesting that this Mustang thing isn’t really a Mustang. It’s actually a crossover SUV, which you pointed out is the biggest selling category right now. So it might be an interesting first foot in the water for them. I’m not gonna bet too much against Jim Hackett, he’s a damn shrewd dude.

Steve: He is. Maybe I’m being unfair. I should give Ford a harder look, and I will.

Jim: It may take them a little bit longer to get there, because they were way behind the curve under the previous administration. But we shall see. I found a chart, which claimed the forecast by Lauren McDonald, I think it was called, the person’s name, their guess on the growth curve for US electric vehicle market. They point to about 2028 as where it crosses the chasm and you have something like an 18% market share for new sales of vehicles as EV. How does that strike you? Is that too conservative? Is that about right? Do we not know?

Steve: We do not know. It’s very similar to a lot of the futuristic technologies: we have one half of the fraction, in all the cases we have the denominator, we know how much the supply is, and we don’t have the numerator on any of these, so we don’t know what the demand is. So let’s wait for that. Let’s see how many cars, the electrics, are sold once they reach that price point. But, again, BNEF, the Bloomberg New Energy Finance, they’re a little bit more aggressive than … McDonald’s did you say?

Jim: Lauren McDonald.

Steve: McDonald. Who’s he affiliated with?

Jim: I don’t know. It’s just something I found on the web! So you know what that’s worth.

Steve: [crosstalk 01:11:02] Okay. Someone’s going to be right. It doesn’t seem outlandish. I don’t think that it’s going to be Exxon’s … The oil companies, they have basically the same number, the same percentage of the total fleet and annual sales that are now being sold in the year 2050.

Jim: [inaudible 01:11:28].

Steve: It’s impossible! Somewhere between there and where BNEF says. Again, I’m just repeating myself, but I do think people are going to be surprised. I think that VW, BMW are going to produce electrics that people want to buy; Volvo will too. Volvo is in this, very much in the game, owned by the Chinese. Geely owns Volvo, so that’s interesting. And then, Tesla. Elon has been on a tear. So you can have fantastic cars, it doesn’t mean that your shares should sell for over $900 each. I think the value of his shares are really inflated. You can have both. You can have inflated share price and a great company.

Jim: Yep. And I think he probably has both. Yeah, currently his market cap’s higher than Ford and GM together, what’s …

Steve: Yes.

Jim: He basically had to put them both out of business to equal that market cap. I actually owned some Amazon stock early on, but I got to a period where I said, “All right, this is getting ahead of itself.” Guess what? I was wrong! [crosstalk 01:12:49] also, but maybe you shouldn’t sell your Tesla stock, though. I don’t own any, I wouldn’t own any. Let’s see. What other comment do I want to make here at this? Oh, yeah. So I’m gonna run something by, which I think is just nutty as it can be, and this is Bernie Sanders’s energy plan. I’ve gone out front and center and said this is either a plan for a Stalinist dictatorship or he’s delusional or he’s just the usual lying politician. Bernie claims that all, in fact he uses the characters, 100% of all transportation and all electrical generation in the United States will be on renewable electricity by 2030. I say there’s no fucking way.

Steve: Jim, it’s ridiculous. He also is going to ban fracking in the United States, he says. The purpose of this podcast episode, it’s one of three episodes on your climate change series, so that’s what we’re talking about, but we’re not there yet. We’re not at the point of zero emission, so we still need oil to keep civilization going. We don’t want to end up back in the Stone Age. So no, we’re not going to end up drilling no oil in the United States by 2030. It just isn’t going to happen, nor should it happen, because, again, we want that runway that we end up getting to renewables, but we’re also able to keep going on eight billion people the living standard, reasonable, and then how fast you get on renewables … That’s hard. For one thing, we’re talking about batteries; batteries need to get there. We’re not there yet.

Jim: Yeah. Jessika Trancik pointed out: waiting is a free lunch on learning curve. Things do get better, not as fast as we’d like, but they do get better, so if we can be more realistic on our time curve. I’ve put down the flag that I’d be tickled pink if we had all transportation, electrical generation on renewables by 2050, and I’d actually add in plus a whole bunch of nukes. I would triple our nuclear fleet at least, then you could do it. But trying to do it by 2030 is literally impossible. Why somebody would say that, put it in black and white, I don’t know.

Steve: Okay. Jim, I tell young people when they’re talking about disinvesting from the fossil fuel and all of that, “Then go to graduate school, and become a battery scientist. Go invent the super battery.” And I say this to Bernie too, “Okay, then let’s see part of your platform tenfold investment in battery research.”

Jim: Great idea. Again, that was in our conversation with Jessica. She laid out a whole series of areas where we need more investment. Solar might have been at the top, and batteries number two, but they are closely related, because, of course, if you’re really going to use solar for all your electrical generation, you have to have storage, right?

Steve: Yeah, yeah.

Jim: Guess what, the sun does not shine at night. Even a politician ought to know that! Well, this has been a wonderful conversation. We had some other topics we could talk about, but I think we reached a point where this is a great place to wrap it. We had a lot of good energy, a lot of good conversation and covered a lot of space. I really want to thank you for coming on, and I would strongly encourage my listeners to read your book, The Powerhouse: America, China and the Great Battery War.

Steve: Thank you, Jim.

Jim: It’s been great.

Production Services and audio editing by Jared Janes Consulting. Music by Tom Muller at