Matt and Sean talk about how many wood batteries a woodchuck would chuck… Lignin, biochar, and sustainable tree farming are key to this being a success.
Watch the Undecided with Matt Ferrell episode, “Growing Batteries – Wood Battery Explained”: https://youtu.be/bs7CQf_F088?list=PLnTSM-ORSgi5LVxHfWfQE6-Y_HnK-sgXS
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How did I know you were gonna do
that joke, . It was obvious the handwriting was on the wall. Hey everybody, welcome to still to be Determined as usual.
I’m Sean Ferrell , I’m a writer. I write some sci-fi. I write some stuff for kids. And with me of course, is Matt from Undecided with Matt Ferrell, my brother. How are you doing today on the 1st of January, 2023? We’re living in the future. .
Happy New Year. I’m exhausted. ? Yeah, that’s all I’ll
say. Have, how about you? Uh, 2022 was a lot of heavy lifting.
Yeah. So yeah, let’s hope that 2023 things instead of shifting. Maybe. Settle a little bit, get a little more firmly rooted. Tone down, tone it just a little bit, tone it down a bit. And here’s hoping the same for everybody who’s listening. We hope everybody had a safe and happy holiday season. And as we enter a new year, we hope you find yourself, uh, rested.
And getting ready to take on the challenges that face you in this new year. Before we get into today’s discussion, which is of course about Matt’s most recent episode, which is about wood batteries. Yes, you did hear me correctly. I said wood batteries. Wanna share some thoughts about the recent episodes we’ve had, which include this from episode 149, which was Matt sharing his long form interview with Mike Donaldson and this one from arkatub who wrote in, I think General Fusion has a good.
I also think we are 200 years away from it being practical . There was a lot of commentary in that episode of the channel regarding like, yeah, this all sounds okay, but, and then mm-hmm. far future. And there was also a lot of skepticism. There were a lot of people, there was somebody who weighed in with very detail.
An informed feedback along the lines of fluid dynamics and just not understanding how they could actually do what they’re trying to do and not, and not seeing a path forward. Given this person’s understanding of how fluid dynamics work, it got a little too into the nitty gritty details for me to share here, but I just wanted to get your sense, there’s optimism and then there’s skepticism.
Mm-hmm. , where do you fall on that spectrum of. When you think about that
interview, I’m definitely on the optimistic side. I’m definitely on the optimistic side, but I’m a realist. I don’t think this is five years away. I don’t even think this is 10 years away, but it’s, it’s gonna happen sooner than you think.
So the people that say it’s 200 years away, I, I think, oh, come on. No, it’s, it’s much, it’s a lot sooner than that. Yeah. It, it feels like over the past, just decade. The iterations and improvements that have been, advancements that have been being made in fusion are picking up speed. Like we’re making major milestone discoveries at a more, more rapid clip than we ever have before.
And so it’s like when you just kinda look at that, that hockey stick rated development, it’s like Fusion is really kind of getting into a place where it feels like we’re getting close. What that close is, is it a decade, two decades? What, what, what is it? Mm-hmm. . But it feels like we’re getting really close.
Yeah. So it’s, it’s definitely feels like something. In our lifetime, we’re gonna see something of like, it’s positive energy gain. Here’s a proof system, right? It actually works. Doesn’t mean it’s gonna be attached to the grid. It doesn’t mean that we’re gonna have power plants that are doing this, but I think in our lifetime we’re gonna see some kind of breakthrough that makes it a feasible path forward.
Yeah. I think it’s, in moments like this, it’s always helpful to put things into context. and try to to line things up and say, well, if this individual is saying 200 years away, and this is not to in any way dump on aub, this is just like a starting point of this conversation. Yeah. So let’s say, okay, 200 years away, let’s assume for the moment, let’s pretend the development of technology and the leaps forward that we make in new technologies is perfectly linear.
We know that it’s. We know that. Mm-hmm. developments and technology have actually, the speed with which we make breakthroughs has increased over time. Yeah. So that there’s, you go from the invention of the wheel to the invention of the car, and that’s a flat slope. But then you go from the invention of the car to the invention of the airplane, and then you start to see that arc go up.
But let’s ignore that. And let’s pretend it’s all completely linear, that the same amount of time and effort exists between each major breakthrough. So we have people currently working on fusion technology. We have people who have had various breakthroughs, but it’s not quite there yet, but they think they’re within an arms reach of it.
But the pushback is, well, no, it’s really 200 years away. Okay, 200 years away. If we go back in time, 200 years. We’re here in the year 2023 . Yes. What was going on 200 years ago? Yep. In 200 years ago, 1823, the Eerie Canal wasn’t yet completed. Yep. So based on this sort of timeline, the idea of 200 years away from Fusion Energy, , you’d be making the argument that we are as far away from fusion energy as we are from using the eerie canal.
I don’t see that as being . Neither do I It doesn’t make sense. It, it’s, it’s not the number, the number of major breakthroughs between the eerie canal and where we are today, that you just think about the, just the development of nationwide train service in the United States cars. Like every, every major step between the Erie Canal and where we are now in the Erie Canal, let’s be clear.
Ran on Mule Power. It was well . Well, for,
for me, so for me, I brought this up in my video or my original video on Fusion, which was one of the big things that’s changed. 50 years ago now is computers, like the computers that we have available to us today with the machine learning and AI and the things that we can apply to this today in fusion research.
Mm-hmm. didn’t exist. Yeah. A decade ago. And so it’s like the fact that they can model. Hundreds of thousands of permutations on an experiment of a theory. Yeah. To see what plays out. Oh, well these 99% of these don’t work, but this one does. They now know, okay, well let’s go down that path. It saves them iteration time on the experiments, which is speeding things up.
So just the fact that we have these computers and machine learning and AI is, it’s accelerating this at a rate that we couldn’t have even conceived of a decade ago, two decades ago. Mm-hmm. . So it’s, that’s part of why it’s like that whole 200 years away to me feels like, oh wow, that’s, Taking skepticism to, uh, kind of an unrealistic level.
Yeah. It’s like it’s good to have skepticism. I prefer trying to be a realist, and it’s like, that’s why I said, in our lifetime, I think we’re gonna see it happen. Yeah. Doesn’t mean it’s gonna be on the grid, but I think we will see it in our lifetime actually be achieved. It’s
also, I always go back to the claim of the early astronauts, which was they went to the moon.
and landed on the moon with computing power that was less than what we carry around in our pockets today. . Yes. So, yep. The the things that we take for granted, and I think that there is a part of human cognition that just works this way. We, we assume that the horizon is further away than it actually is, and that is, I mean, that both literal.
in the sense of like when people are at the beach and they look out at the horizon and they think, I’m looking hundreds of miles and you’re not, you’re looking mm-hmm. a handful of miles, and if there was a ship sailing directly away from you, you would see it literally dip over the horizon. You would see, you could see the, the ship disappear and then eventually the mast, because you’re not looking hundreds of miles, you’re looking.
And I think figuratively, that also works. We stand here and we say, this technology sounds like something from science fiction. It can’t be here, it can’t be close. It has to be far away. And I do believe it is. I, I agree with you. I don’t believe this is five years away. Maybe not 10, but God. If I’m halfway through my life right now, I would like to think, well at some point in the other half of my life, and that goes hand in hand with the.
Episode we’re gonna be talking about today. This is Matt’s most recent episode. This is Growing Batteries, wood. Batteries explained. It was an episode that dropped on December 20th last year, which isn’t as far away as you’d think, Matt
So this one really made me kind of fall into , the camp with Arche Tub, which was. Shut up. What? No. Yeah. . What? Yeah, and I, I think my, this also, it gave me kind of a warm feeling, and I don’t mean that to sound really weird, but just like, well this is great. Like kind of like all things coming together. If this does take hold and becomes a technology that is used,
Mm-hmm. what? What a really kind of great feel good story for it to be. Well, we make all this paper and there’s this byproduct, and what do we do with this byproduct? We burn it. Well, what if we did something different with it? What if we repurposed it for this? And it’s just the perfect marriage of like, we’ve got too much of this stuff, but there’s a way to use it and look what it can do.
And it made me feel like. Well, there are good guys out in the world really trying to do good things. This, it really, yeah. It seems like a, a too perfect a marriage between excesses needs and know-how. And that Venn diagram right in the middle seems to be wood batteries. Yeah. No,
it’s, there’s also the. I see it in all the battery videos I ever make.
There’s always comments along the lines of supply chain and there’s not enough lithium in the world to make all these batteries. And it’s like, yeah, but we don’t have to use lithium for all the batteries and we don’t have to use all these different materials for all the batteries. We can have different chemistries, different materials that go into different batteries.
Different supply chains. Mm-hmm. . And I love the fact that this is like, you could have your own supply chain, you can grow. You can make paper and then you can recycle that paper and use the pulp for for this stuff. And it, it, it creates more of diversity in the supply chain, more diversity in where we’re sourcing our batteries from, giving more countries a path towards more of energy independence towards what they need to do for them and their region.
I, I just love this to, to me, that’s part of the reason why I wanted to make this video was like, well, this is, clever thinking. Yeah. Let’s, let’s take a supply chain that’s not getting used and let’s lean into it. I don’t know if you were gonna bring up comments, but there were a bunch of comments I saw around the, well, this is just another excuse to cut down more trees.
Yeah. And my response to that is there are literal tree farms that are like, they’re grown to cut down to make lumber. To build houses. Yeah. To make paper. They’re not, they don’t, you don’t have to go into a rainforest and cut a rainforest down to do this. Um, it’s literally like a farm. Yeah. You’re
just farming trees and, and people are not cutting down rainforests in order to make paper.
That is not what’s happening. Correct. With the rainforest and the, the types of paper production that you’re talking about. Tend to be this kind of farmed product. Mm-hmm. , it is not like people don’t wander through the woods and buy hundreds of thousands of acres of land to start cutting down trees that are wild in order to make paper.
That’s not, no, that’s not how it goes. These are grown.
Yeah. Deliberately grown for this purpose.
Right. And then the byproduct, which is, remind me again what the byproduct is. It, it, it’s Lignan. Lignan, a massive excess of this byproduct, which can be turned then into the component of the battery. Up to this point, it was being burned.
Was it being burned to create energy to then run? Yes. Mills? Is that what was being done for
whatever, it’s like they could be selling it off, it could be being used in industrial power plants. Fill in, fill in whatever your need is for burning something. It’s like it could be used
for that. Yeah. But the process that they would be using in order to help convert it into battery ingredients.
Mm-hmm. , was it Char? Yeah. And is that something you’ve talked about previously on the channel? Is that the process of carbonizing where you’re effectively baking something at high heat and recreating? The coal production that exists naturally, but just accelerating it and making it within a few, yeah.
Hours as opposed to, yeah, millennia. That’s a good way to put it. It’s kinda
like you’re just baking it a super high temperature and you’re creating this char, right? It’s a biochar, and I’ve talked about biochar in previous videos. It’s essentially what this is. You’re taking that, that leftover byproduct and basically turning it into this kind of usable carbon product that you can use in something like a battery.
Right. instead of burning it for the high heat for energy use, you’re just taking it to a little lower level and not actually burning it, but like baking it off into this
biochar product. Does this end up being a process which adds, like, does that process have carbon emissions or is it lower because you’re not literally, it’s lower burning it, it’s lower, it’s lower.
The commentary on this, as you pointed out, was very interesting. It was very varied. There was a lot of people saying like, well, this is an excuse to take down trees, and, and as Matt pointed out, we tried to like land on, there’s a knee jerk response. I have it myself. The idea of paper. Mm-hmm. paper usage paper, you know, like farming for wood, like there’s a knee ER response, which.
Oh, but that’s like, that’s anti-environmental. That’s, that’s harmful to the planet. But the reality is that trees are sustainable. That’s, that’s the, that’s the, that’s the reality that we need to kind of like hold within our head that this is sustainable and it’s no different than the sustainability of what we try to do with food production.
Like we need farms to be sustainable. We. Have a farm, cut down all that corn and say, well, we gotta go find some new land and make a new farm. It’s farmers want this to be sustainable and it doesn’t go any differently for tree farms. And so the encouragement I think that we should be pushing for is not.
Stop using these products, but find the most efficient way to use every part of the product. And I think that this lands in that, because people are going to continue to use paper. There was a, I know that the company that I work for, there was a point where it was like, we’re gonna go paperless, everybody.
Good news, we’re going paperless. What that meant was we were no longer printing out files that were then transitioned from department to department and. Like it was this like very strong, like good news. This is, we’re living by our ethics. This is an environmental plus we’re going paperless. It meant all those paper files went away and everything became digital.
And what they discovered was that within the first few years of us going 100% digital, The company was using three times as much paper as it ever did, because what was happening was now instead of a file going through 10 people, the first person gets the file mailed to them literally from the outside organization.
So now they have the paper in hand, and then that paper got handed to the other 10 people on the pipeline. , well now it’s digital. They found that every person along the pipeline was printing their own copy of the file, . So in the first few years, our paper usage skyrocketed and it was like head scratching, like people in supply were like, what is going on?
Why are we using this much paper? And it took a concerted effort to really push back on that response. So I bring that all up to. Paper isn’t going away. Paper usage is not going away. Paper usage in the form of literally printing out documents may be going away in certain aspects, but that paper usage, we’re seeing spikes in cardboard production because companies like Amazon have made it so easy to say.
I need a new toothbrush. Send me a toothbrush. Oh yeah. I also need toothpaste. Also. Send me toothpaste. And you get two packages. Both boxes are enormous. One has a toothbrush, one has toothpaste. It’s we live in a world where the ease of shipping and the ease of online ordering has created far more cardboard boxes than anybody any ever anticipated.
So paper’s not going away as a thing. We need to encourage ethical, sustainable tree farming. Yes. And we need to argue for use a hundred percent usage. And this is a great case of that it’s recyclable,
it’s biodegradable, everything plastic is not. Yes. So it’s like if paper is a good product, what is a good product?
We should be leaning into it in a responsible way. Which, yeah, this is, seems like it will be part of that process.
Among the other comments that caught my I, I like this one from Steven Tro who wrote Nice Ones. Stor has existed as a company since the 13th century. Do it seems to its flexible approach. It started out as a copper mine, but later switched to paper making.
It’s great to see. See, they’re still innovating. I think the history is really kind of a fascinating one that this kind of, well, Transition from thing to thing and we develop new products and we move where the, the currents take us. It’s really quite fascinating that they’ve landed on this new step. I also like this comment.
I’m pretty certain trees are already batteries. Solar energy comes in, then it gets stored as chemical energy for later. They even have sustainably sourced solar panels built in. I just love that comment. .
Yes, they’re technically okay. I see where you’re going. Yeah, I like it.
Yes. There was also this from Cliff Dog who wrote, I wonder, is there a future where these paper thin style batteries.
Like how the lab battery was printed to paper could go into solar panel manufacturing so that every individual solar cell has batteries underneath it. Instead of buying the panels and batteries separately, you’d have combo panels that release the power all day and night. I wanted to get your feedback on that.
Is that something where this kind of technology could lead to a development in anoth in a parallel industry, or is this really a batteries or batter? Like, let’s not have a combo TV and vcr. I mean
at this point it is batteries or batteries at this point, but I could see in the future, like 10, 20 years from now, that’s not the case.
Like there are structural batteries that are constructed as part of like it’s carbon fiber with kind of like a layer that’s the, the battery and it’s using the carbon fiber and all these different layers where it’s actually strong enough that it can be the structure itself. It’s like I could see something like that becomes the base that this, the solar panel is put on top of.
And so you have this kind of combo approach of. The framework of the solar panel is a battery, so it’s kind of, you don’t need to aluminum because you don’t need that part of the structure anymore cuz it’s the battery. I could see that happening, but there’s also a case to be made for. That makes it more difficult to recycle things and break things down.
Yeah. As you start to integrate things so tightly. I mean, think about our mobile phones. It’s like smartphones are basically glued together in this hodgepodge stuff. Yeah. And we no longer can easily prepare ourselves. Yeah. So there’s, there’s pros and cons to going down that path. One, it could make it cheaper to manufacture, cheaper to install, which makes it easier to kind of roll it out.
But then it also means, well, what do you do at end of life? It kind of makes it harder to repair and, and dispose of. Yeah, so there’s, there’s pros and cons, but I don’t think that’s something we’re gonna see anytime soon. It would be way down the road that we might see stuff
like that. It also adds a wrinkle to.
The lifespan of these different technologies are not the same. Solar panels could last for X number, number of years, and the battery might not last nearly that long. And then what do you do? You, you end up with one component that’s not working and then you’re having to double up on it. So yeah, lots of developments there.
It’s a very, very strange. tech, but very, very, like I said, it gave me a good feeling like, like, oh yeah, there’s some good guys out there. Like what are we gonna do with all this tree? I know what we’ll do. We’ll turn it into a battery. Yeah, . Exactly. So let us know in the comments, jump in there and let us know if you agree that this sounds like something that gives you good feelings and you think this is a positive development, or do you think this is just a distraction and we should be putting our efforts else?
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