139: Battery Breakthrough Giveaway

Matt and Sean discuss missteps in battery development around a breakthrough formula for vanadium redox flow battery. 

Watch the Undecided with Matt Ferrell episode, “The Breakthrough Battery That The US Gave Away to China”: https://youtu.be/pQlG46F87Fs?list=PLnTSM-ORSgi7UWp64ZlOKUPNXePMTdU4d

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Today’s episode of Still To Be Determined. We’re gonna discuss how to give it away. Give it away, give it away. Now, , Geez. Hey everybody, as usual. I’m Sean Ferrell. I’m a writer. I write some sci-fi. I write some stuff for kids. And I’m also curious about developments in technology, which is why I’m so appreciative of the fact that my brother is Matt of undecided with Matt Ferrell.

Matt, how you. I’m good. How you doing? How’s your weekend? I’m okay. Uh, pretty good. Just did some pretty extensive traveling recently for the first time in two years due to the pandemic. It’s the first time, yeah, that my partner and I took a extended trip slash vacation, just the two of us. We traveled across the country from New York to San Francisco.

We had a terrific time, and I was sick the entire time and she’s sick now. Azati. It was just a bad cold. We avoided covid, We amassed the entire time. We took all the precautions we could, but uh, still it’s been a little strange settling back into normal. Yeah. Yeah. But, uh, I think I’m getting the swing of things, which is why I’m excited to get back into our usual recording schedule.

We were not able to record the previous week because of my travels, but we’re back, and now we’re gonna talk about the US giving away technology developments to China. So, yeah. That’s a bureaucracy. That’s an upbeat topic to come back to. But before we get into that, I wanted to share some comments on our previous episode.

This is from episode 1 37. Homestead in which Matt and I discussed his building of a new net zero home and the trials and tribulations that come with that. And there were comments like this from Echo House Thailand who wrote, Why is climate appropriate building design not a thing? It surprises me that houses around the world look so similar.

And yet have to face completely different climatic conditions. I built a net zero house in Thailand at a latitude of 15 degrees north and based it upon a traditional design from Queensland, Australia at 15 degrees south. Because most of the new houses here look like they should be in a Northern Europe.

Any insight into this? Have you seen this across the board? Is there a kind of uniformity of home design that is emerging? Or have you seen anything that looks a little bit more like the right house for the right place? We’ve talked before about the right tool for the right job, but have we seen development of the right house for the right location?

I, you do see that, but at the same time, there is a little bit of a homogenous look and feel to most houses that are built around the world. Yeah. Doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean the underlying. Codes that they’re designed for are the same, because there may be a house that’s built in Texas or San Diego that looks a lot like a house built in the Northeast, but very different.

You know, insulation requirements, very different. You know, like if you’re in a tornado area or hurricane area, there are different requirements for the underlying structure. Yeah. Versus what you’d build here. So on the surface it may look the same, but underneath it’s not. There’s different code requirements based on where you are.

I think that even something as simple as how windows are designed, Yeah, can very different, can vary widely. I, I know I had a, I lived in a new construction at one point, and I was absolutely convinced that the construction had cut corners by putting in windows that were not actually intended for the Northeast.

I was convinced that the windows were designed for a southern climate because they bled cold air. They were designed in such a way that there was no insulation between the exterior metal and the interior. So that metal would just, like, the heat would just bleed. It’s a thermal bridge. It would just like, Yeah, like a thermal bridge.

It would just go right outside and there was so much cold air coming in through those windows. I I, by the time I moved out, I was convinced that somebody somewhere had been like, It’s cheaper to get these, you know, these other windows that are intended for some place like Florida. There was no way these could have been specked out for the Northeast.

So, But from the outside they looked fine. So they looked like Windows . There was also this from Raden G who wrote, I’m not an expert on pressurized home ceiling. This was the tech that Matt and I discussed a little bit last week where they effectively. Fill your home with a particulate matter that finds every little nook and cranny, every little crack and crevice, and builds up a sealant in those places to insulate the home.

Raden writes, I would think you wouldn’t want to do this process with all the finishes, knobs, poles, locks, faucets, lights, lamps, et cetera, installed. You would be putting spray lead, takes paint effectively on everything, and you would end up with a fine powder. Across the surface of everything in your home.

I assume that raden is right on this, that if people are interested in this technology, this would be technology to use in a new build, not a retrofit. Yeah. Yeah. You typically wanna do this in a brand new build or a retrofit where you’ve kind of stripped things down. You wanna do it before it’s a furnished place.

But the thing about it, it’s a little counterintuitive. It only, it would only collect. Settles. So it’d only click on the surface of something. It’s not like it would be against the walls and things like that. So you could, if you had furniture, put it in the middle of a room, put a tarp over it, and it would be fine.

So it’s like there are ways that you could get around. It causing a lot of problems. But yes, generally speaking, you wanna do it in a room before it’s been finished, right? In any way, shape, or form. Cause it’s gonna collect on the tops of like the trim pieces of the windows and all that kinda stuff. Right.

And run doorframes. And if you had, so you’d have to clean it off and stuff like that. Anything hanging in the windows, drapes and stuff like that would Oh, you don’t, you would roll it Everything. Yeah. On now to our new discussion. This is going to be about Matt’s most recent episode from October 11th, 2022, the breakthrough battery that the US gave away to China.

So this, it just seems like it’s bureaucracy left hand, not knowing what the right hand is doing and licenses being granted. That did make sense. Right. There’s like, there’s a starting point where, where one of the developers of this tech was doing it through government grants and then was like, We wanna commercialize this.

We wanna take this part of it and commercialize it. Correct. And a license whos granted. And then that license was taken and granted outside the US to a Chinese. . And then from there, yeah, it’s just a series of dominoes of people not really paying attention to who’s holding what and for how long. Yeah.

This is, this whole, the way this all came out and the NPR report that sparked my interest in this, dove into this too, but it’s, it was not out of malice. A lot of this stuff that happened, it was just bureaucracy and ineptitude that allowed it to happen because, Because it was us taxpayer. There’s requirements that it has to stay within the United States.

Not that you can’t sell this stuff outside of the United States, but like there’s requirements of the manufacturing has to be here in the US because the taxpayer dollars are meant for to help create jobs for our economy. So it’s like there’s these requirements around it, right? They had to get special permission to start to license this out, and basically the government was just kind of like rubber stamping it and not double checking to see what was going on.

So it wasn’t. The US was like, there was like not money under the table and stuff like that, but it was more of a, just the bureaucracy was not doing what it should have been doing and there was rubber stamping of Yeah, sure. That’s approved. Yeah, go ahead. It’s like, um, you do realize that you’re giving this to a company that’s not gonna manufacture it here anymore.

Right? It’s like nobody was double checking. So that’s kind of like, What came out of this. But then the other side of it was the, the gentleman that were trying to get it out at side of the United States over to China, there were, there are some allegations that are being made that they were deliberately doing this and taking advantage of the bureaucracy to do this.

Right? So they were, not that they broke a law cuz they got approvals to do this, but they were playing the bureaucracy in a way to give them an advantage. Getting this over to China. There were a lot of comments on the video in that vein of, Oh yeah, this is not, There were people who were making the claim that this is not in any way shape or form, bureaucratic ineptitude.

This is just straight up. Theft. This is people taking advantage of a system that there was nothing in your report or nothing in the reportage that you pointed to, to from NPR that indicated there was any kind of political graft going on. Uh, I’m trying to figure out how to say this to be done because I did talk to people that have inside knowledge of some of this.

Without naming names, obviously kinda like taking a journalist kinda approach of my sources. Some of them were being very clear in their accusations of basically saying, yes, there was deliberate manipulation between certain parties to try to get this outside the United States the way they did it. I couldn’t find a lot of corroboration on that, so it was a lot of hearsay.

So I don’t wanna make that allegation saying for sure. Right. But yes, it does sound, Some people were making the statement of yes, that there. Something hinky going on behind the scenes, not with the United States government, but with the gentleman that got it outside of the United States. Right. I, while I appreciate their point of view, I, I was a little gun shy to go full in there cuz I couldn’t corroborate exactly what they were saying, but I, I would, I leaned towards believing that their story is more likely true than not.

But I think there’s a lot of nuance here and I think the biggest fault of all of this, Is the bureaucracy here in the US because even if these gentlemen were doing what they were being accused of doing, if the our bureaucracy was working properly, it wouldn’t have been able to get out. Mm-hmm. because they would’ve been doing their due diligence and saying, Oh, well no, that company’s gonna be manufacturing this in China.

No, we we’re not gonna let you do that. But instead it was just kind of like a blind rubber stamp out it goes. So it, it’s, it’s our fault, the United States fault that this happened, , Right? So that’s kind of why I’m a little gun shy to say, Yeah, there’s absolutely something hanky going on here. It’s, it’s more ineptitude than anything else.

As for the technology itself, there were also comments like this from Estro who was curious about the ranking of the different techs of battery types that you’ve talked about in the past. Mm-hmm. Estro suggests you should make a video comparing pros and cons for all the different electrochemical batteries, including a redox flow.

Liquid metal, sodium ion, et cetera. And you’ve done some similar things to that in the past, but maybe it’s time for an update video. There probably is, but there’s, it’s, it’s hard to do that cuz even within redox flow batteries, there are so many, there are different chemistries that have each of their own pros and cons within flow batteries.

Same thing within lithium ion. So it’s like, I don’t know how. Well, I could stack rank things. It’s not really stack ranking of this one’s better than this one. It’s more of a, this one’s better than this one in this use case, right? This one’s better than this one. In this use case, it’s something I always bring up again and again.

There’s no one technology to rule them all here. This is not lower the rings, right? It’s there’s going to be a tool chest of all these different options and you have to come at it from what are my goals for energy storage and what is the best technology to make that goal achievable? It’s like that’s what you have to do first.

It may be flow, it may be lithium ion, it may be something else, but yes, the, the, the, I probably should revisit that and kind of dive into that again cuz it’s been a while since I’ve done it. There’s also, I thought it was interesting that in your videos, normally there’s a, oh, you know, the plans are five years from now, 10 years from now.

This technology is literal. Oh, it’s here. It’s up and running. It is doing what it’s supposed to be doing. It isn’t doing it here, but it is doing at various locations, including in Europe and in China. Yeah. And coming here, I mean, they are working on building out, uh, grid scale energy storage facilities here in the US that is happening, but it’s happening really fast over in China.

They’re ramping it up really, really fast. And for me, when I talk to Forever Energy, the US company that’s trying to get the license for it, They have a product designed working like, it’s not like we have this theoretical design for this thing. It’s like, no, we have this thing. All we need is the license to be able to do and we can start manufacturing it and selling it.

And what is standing the way of them having that license? It’s just the bureaucracy. It’s, it’s one of those how the US kind of rubber stamp the stuff it got out there. The NPR report came out about this of like, what the heck just happened, and the Department of Energy kind of felt like it. Whoops. And they rescinded the license to get it back, but now the license hasn’t been given back out again, and I may have to correct myself if I get this wrong, but the way it works is the license that they have Cons, The company that owns that has the license, the Department of Energy they have, they can license out to three.

and right now there’s a guy I think in Australia, , literally a guy that has one of the licenses. He’s, I believe in Australia. He’s not doing anything with it right now. The Diane Rocka power, whole situation, that license is back. Mm-hmm. . And then I believe there’s the third license may have also been rescinded.

I’d have to double check on that. But basically there’s licenses that have not been painted back out yet. The Department of Energy is having to kind of go through the paperwork again and look at the applications to hand it back out. And Forever Energy is pretty confident that they’re gonna get it.

Mm-hmm. , it’s just a matter of when, and it’s like the red tape, the bureaucracy. There’s senators that are trying to accelerate this for Forever Energy because they see how kind of mess, how much of a mess this is, and they’re trying to speed it up and get this taken care of. So it’s. From Forever Energy’s point of view, it seemed like it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when they’re just waiting for that license because that unlocks a whole bunch of stuff for them.

Right. And they’ll be able to come up pretty quick. So the license that was revoked from the Chinese company Yeah. Doesn’t stop ’em from making it. That’s what I was just gonna ask you. I’m like, They no, no. How, how to make this. And they make another one and the license means effectively nothing. So it that adds to the cat, the cat’s outta the bag.

Yeah. That adds to the head scratch around the whole licensing issue. It really does kind of make it like if the cat is already out of the bag and this company in China has it. Yeah. What is the Department of Energy doing by maintaining a licensing structure that looks the way it does this? This raise, I saw a whole bunch of comments that were along the, the, the thread of this kind of technology needs to be out there for everybody.

Yeah. It shouldn’t be licensable to like just a handful of companies to make a huge profit. Yeah. And I get that sentiment, but there’s a another side of it of whoever spent all that money and effort to create it should get first dibs to at least get to market first and like to try to do something first, but then it should very quickly be rolled out more publicly.

That’s my personal take on. So it’s like I, I feel like it’s, it’s a shame it worked out this way, but at the end I do agree with their sentiment of like, this technology should just be out there. China should be making it. Europe should be making it. United States should be making it. Yeah. But it’s a shame that we spent millions dollars of US taxpayer money and in the, a US based company that’s trying to do it can’t because of the bureaucracy around this stupid license around how this works.

It’s insane. This whole, the whole system is broken. It’s just absolutely broken. Yeah. There’s a model that. Became aware of years ago, and it was being pushed for pharmaceutical companies that basically instead of a company holding a patent Yeah. On the pharmaceutical breakthrough, you know, a company comes up with a new medicine.

The argument was basically let’s create a, a giant repository of. And then when a pharmaceutical company has a breakthrough, the patent immediately becomes public. So that mm-hmm. , anybody can make this, this money, this the, by selling the pill. But the money that is in this huge repository would give profit to the company that made the breakthrough over a period of.

You say like, We’ve got a trillion dollars in this account. If you make a breakthrough, you will be given not only the entirety of your research cost back, you’ll be given 10 years of grant money On top of that. And that is your profit. So that then drives the profit motive of the pharmaceutical companies because companies like Pfizer are looking for the newest, the best, the current drug.

And then when they get it, because they hold the patent, they can charge customers $500 a pill in order to recoup all of the the stuff that went into it. And research has shown that a majority. Money that goes into the pharmaceutical companies, goes to advertising. Yeah. It does not go to research costs here in the United States, by the way.

Yeah. Yeah. So here, like here’s a model that I wonder if there’s a similar model that might work for the kinds of tech that you’re talking about where Yeah. Something goes into, like in one case, like you’re talking here, it seems like this already was public money, so somebody trying to recoup research costs is already kind of a red herring because if public money was already going into that, they don’t have mm-hmm.

like the research costs being recouped really doesn’t make sense. But as far as the profit motive, if there was a guaranteed funding, A number of years, you’re given a reward for having come up with the tech, but that the tech can then become publicly available. It could be a win-win for both sides. And I wonder if some model like that might take, you know, get some of this back on the right tracks.

You avoid a DOE licensing issue where, I mean, think about it. The idea that they can give three license. For a tech at the same time that we’re talking about the world is gonna be drowning in about 15 years because of global warming. Yes. It just, That’s exactly, it just doesn’t make sense. So I agree with it.

The sentiment of people that were commenting on along those lines, I, Yes, that’s why have a problem with this too, of the fact that only three licenses are gonna be given out and it’s this technology that can make a massive difference in the. It’s problematic on its own. Right. But at the same time, I get why it’s so screwed up that we spent like 15 million of US tax per money to develop this technology and then just basically to it away.

Yeah. And we’re not even manufacturing it here yet. It’s like that’s what’s frustrating. It’s, it’s not that to me, I care that China’s making it or not. Go China, Go nuts. Right. Have fun with it. Right. That’s great. My thing. It’s us taxpayer money and here’s a US company that’s like, uh, why can’t we, can we plea?

Can you just give a , make it. That’s what’s driving me nuts. That’s, to me, that’s the whole linchpin story of the insanity of other country now making this, and yet we can’t even make it ourselves. Right

Along the lines of the research and development and who should recoup what? There were comments like this from Andrew Stewart who wrote GLAD that Flow batteries are being covered. They have huge potential. One gripe is that the first successful Redox battery demo was done by an Australian chemical engineer.

She figured out the sulfuric acid method to do the demo in the 1980s. That’s the patent expiring that opened up the market in the early two thousands. It wasn’t all NASA and US government research. That’s an important component of this. This is not the US We’re out there leading in all these things like.

There’s people all over the world who are trying to crack these nuts and, and they need to be honored as well. There’s a follow up view I’m kind of starting to work on now. Um, Australia is kind of breaking ground a whole bunch of areas. They’ve been doing flow batteries using zinc bromide for a while now.

And they have, there’s battery that’s using zinc for this kind of like gel based battery. And then there’s a company called Red Flow that makes a zinc, uh, flow battery that you can, it’s like you could get for a house or a business or whatever. It’s like there’s, they’re doing something different with a totally different chemistry in the flow battery.

Using zinc when you look into like, why is zinc like all over the place? Australia? Well, guess what? Australia produces most of the zinc in the world. So it’s like they’re, it’s clear why they’re focused on zinc, but it’s, it’s another interesting technology and a different approach. And Australia is leading the charge on a lot of different things around DC Nation and different battery technologies and solar.

They’re, they’re, they’re at the cutting edge of a lot of this stuff, but they don’t get enough coverage. So I’m actually, look, I’m actually looking at ’em right now. , I think, I think that’s interesting and it’s also, it’s obvious. They’re mm-hmm. , they are already in circumstances where their environment is incredibly challenging for them, and it’s only going to get fresh water.

Yeah. It’s gonna get worse as we, as we move forward. Yeah. So it’s understandable why they would be driving the research in the way that they are, and it might be interesting for you to focus on them in more ways than just one tech. But taking a look in various videos at. Overall big, picture them as maybe the canary in the coal mine of what does cutting edge tech and research look like.

And I suggest that only so that maybe an Australian company will take you overseas and take you there. And then you can bring me along so we can both. I still wanna go over there. I actually just talked to an Australian company called the Graphing Manufacturing Group, gmg. They have an aluminum ion battery that uses graphing that they’re working, bringing out.

It’s mind blowing how good it is. Um, and I just talked to the CEO just a couple days ago, so it’s, it’s like I’m trying to peel that Australian onion. Yeah, horrible . What a terrible . Sorry, Australia. We so sorry. We’re trying to peel your onion Australia Buckle up. But it, but it’s, it’s very cool and I’m trying to dig into that more.

That sounds really interesting. So the last comment I wanted to share, Matt, it takes us back to the beginning of a conversation. This one from Gary Zaki. You have to be put up for an Oscar. You looked genuinely surprised that the US government would let the technology go overseas. Businesses and the government have been doing this for years in the name of profit and greed.

Whether this was profit and greed or just a bureaucratic rubber stamping the kinds of compliance issues that licensing like this. First, you know, as Matt and I have just talked about, we don’t necessarily agree that licensing. Makes a lot of sense, but mm-hmm. , you know, just from the perspective, like, you know, give it away.

Like let people build these things so that they can do good things with them. That’s, that’s my take. Whether it was profit and greed or just rubber stamping or whatever it is, I do not believe that Matt was, was play acting when he looked surprised that something like this happened. Just for me, it was just the profound level of stupidity.

right, was what I was surprised by, was like really this bad. So thank you to everybody who weighed in in the comments, both on Matt’s most recent episode, which drove the conversation here, but also the people who weigh in. On our previous episode of this podcast, all of your comments really do drive the conversation, and we appreciate hearing from you.

We’d like to hear back from you on this conversation here. What do you think about all of this? What do you think about licenses being given for technology that could improve things for people all around the world? Do you agree that somebody somewhere needs to recoup those costs, or do you think there might be other models?

Let us know in the comment. Don’t forget. If you’d like to support the show, you can leave a review. You can go back to Apple, Google, Spotify, wherever it was you found this podcast. Leave a review there and recommend us to your friends. Those really help support the channel. And if you’d like to more directly support us, you can always go to still tbd.fm.

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