(Last) Weekly Roundup: It’s not inEVitable edition

Last week, commenter Ken asked why I get so militant on the subject of electric vehicles, both here and in the digital pages of Hagerty. Yesterday, one of our most time-honored and respected commenters suggested, in his own kind way, that this blog had become “anti-science”.

If nobody minds, I’d like to respond to this pair of comments together, because there’s a strong common thread running through both of them. Trigger warning: this post is likely to contain Master of Orion content.

“Likely” to contain MoO content? More like certain to contain it. Master Of Orion, for those of you who had actual sex lives during the Nineties, was a game where you set out to conquer the galaxy as one of several different races. Oh, the jokes I could make here! Unlike in The Current Year here on earth, however, where all races are precisely equal in IQ and intellectual achievements, the races in MoO were very different. Silicoids could live on hostile planets, Humans were cunning diplomats, there was a race that looked like cats (I think).

How did you win the game? Well, you could conquer all the planets, you could sign a bunch of treaties, you could find a secret planet where an ancient super-race had all their goodies… there were a few different ways. But all of them involved a “tech tree”. The tech tree worked like so: Your scientists would offer to research a certain weapon or spaceflight technology. You’d give them resources. And the breakthrough would eventually come. While there were a few random factors involved, by and large you got the tech you “paid” for. It was inevitable. Your scientists never came back and said, “Well, you paid us 10% of your GDP for 20 years to develop PLASMA CANNON, but it turns out that PLASMA CANNON doesn’t work.”

Master of Orion was far from the only video game to have a “tech tree” or a “research tree” or something like that. It’s part of most sci-fi strategy games and even appears in arguably the greatest computer non-sci-fi strategy game of all time, Civilization III. Given that many people in my generation and the generations afterwards have spent nontrivial time playing games like that, it’s no surprise that the notion of “tech tree” has crept into our core assumptions about how the universe works.

There’s just one little problem: the “tech tree” has virtually no connection to reality. Yes, most innovations depend on previous innovations, but rarely is there anything inevitable about the next scientific breakthrough. You can spend 10% — or 99%! — of your GDP on an innovation for a very long time and come up with… nothing.

The above fact should be self-evident to all thinking human beings, but it is not, partially because our society works to obscure it in countless ways, from the ridiculous and unscientific “Moore’s Law” to the 3G-4G-5G way we describe the progression of cellular-tower tech. We are told about “moonshot efforts” that, by and large, are really just the work that has to be put in to realize the benefits of a known scientific discovery. The Manhattan Project? There was no new science there. The physics behind “Little Boy” were so certain that they never bothered to test the bomb before dropping it on Hiroshima. The moon landing? It was a combination of a hundred previously-known scientific achievements.

The opposite of the Little Boy bomb is probably “perpetual motion”, which is generally understood to be impossible and therefore no further serious effort is being put into it. (That’s a fairly recent development; well into the Twentieth Century very knowledgeable people were still convinced it could happen.) In between you have something like “cold fusion”, which is exceptionally difficult to achieve in conditions most people still wouldn’t consider “cold” and will likely never lead to a “Mr. Fusion” device a la Back To The Future.

Alright. Let’s talk about electric vehicles. The science behind the EV is older than the science behind the internal combustion engine. The electric motor is more or less at maximum development. The problem is, and always has been, the storage of energy. The batteries.

Gasoline is an astoundingly compact and efficient energy source. Quoting Menlo Energy,

A gallon of gasoline (roughly 4.5 liters) weighs approximately 6 pounds (less than 3 kilos), occupies a mere 230 cubic inches but contains the equivalent of 36 kWhs of electrical energy. For better or worse, this is the energy density standard to which the driving public has gotten accustomed over the years. Anything heavier, bulkier or with less energy density would be considered inferior, hence the main obstacle to popularity of PEVs.

Most current EVs use lithium-ion batteries that store no more than the equivalent of 16-24 kWh of energy in a single charge, short of the amount of energy in a gallon of gasoline. The Tesla, currently among the most powerful PEVs on the market, can store the equivalent of 53 kWh when fully charged. A subcompact car with a 10-gallon gas tank can store the energy equivalent of 7 Teslas, 15 Nissan Leafs or 23 Chevy Volts, according to industry sources.

This is from 2012, but not much has changed. Today’s Tesla can give you 100kWh, which is three gallons of gas, using just 1,200 pounds worth of batteries. It uses that energy more efficiently than an internal-combustion engine, which is why it can go much further on that energy than a similarly-sized car, but it’s still fairly poverty-stricken.

If the real world operated on Master Of Orion rules, we would just RESEARCH SUPER BATTERY and eventually everything would work out. Indeed, that’s what pretty much everyone is doing — but in the real world, you can research the hell out of a super battery and never get one. Or you do get one, and it’s a pyromaniac safety hazard, like the Lithium Polymer battery that lets my Kriss Vector airsoft gun shoot a thousand high-speed rounds at 500 rounds a minute using a cell the size of a Life Savers roll but which also just adores bursting into flame during charging, discharge, or even steady state storage.

It is entirely possible that SCIENCE! will come up with a super-battery next month. It is equally possible, perhaps more so, that SCIENCE! will never come up with one, the same way cold fusion will probably never power your car. There’s no way to know for sure. Let’s review the characteristics the super battery would need:

  • An energy density perhaps ten times current standards
  • Recharge time perhaps one-tenth of current standards
  • Heat stable, impact stable, time stable, non-flammable unless seriously provoked
  • Relatively affordable
  • Made from environmentally sustainable materials
  • Environmentally safe for disposal

Holy shit, that’s a terrifying list. Today’s NiMH or Li-Ion batteries go 1-for-6 against that list, assuming you think a Tesla is affordable. LiPo is about 2.5-for-6. An article in Financial Times argues for solid-state batteries but contains a worrisome quote:

“How soon we get to mass production is simply a function of how much is invested,” says Kim at Hana Ventures. “In chip making, for example, most limitations — including those once said to be technologically impossible — have been overcome by increasing funding. The recent growth in the electric car market means that much more capital can now be allocated to bringing solid-state batteries to market.”

If you ask me, “Kim at Hana Ventures” has been playing too much Master Of Orion. Or simply playing too much at being a financial Master Of The Universe. Not everything in this world or the next will simply yield to an avalanche of cash. Not that the average scientist is any better at predicting the future. How long have you been reading imminent predictions of “strong AI”? Guess what? We’re no closer to “strong AI” than we were in 1955. Not a step closer. We have expert systems, advanced pattern recognition, GPT-3, but there are obstacles to actual intelligent and/or conscious behavior that are just as high now as they were for the people who designed the Altair 8800.

Of course, the world is proceeding as if super-batteries and Level 5 autonomy and strong AI were just around the corner. Because the world is profoundly stupid and has no idea how science actually works. Clarke’s note that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” is sadly applicable to ninety-nine percent of America, including the 130-IQ kinda-normies who think they’re smart enough to have the final say on things in corporations and government. The average New York Review Of Books reader thinks science is a black box that accepts money and produces miracles; it may be neither doubted nor questioned. We are repeatedly told to “TRUST THE SCIENCE!!!!” but the very defining characteristic of science is that it requires zero trust. Indeed, it requires that you regard it with zero trust, if it is to continue operating correctly.

Because The Powers That Be think science is a tech tree operated by magic gnomes, they see no problem with legislating the autonomous, gasoline-equivalent EV as if were actually a real thing rather than a pipe dream. It seems obvious to them that the Master Of Orion commands of RESEARCH SUPER BATTERY and RESEARCH STRONG AI just need to be funded properly, at which point the desired advances will simply appear on command. This idiocy is made even more dangerous by the fact that the EV will be ready for urban prime time long before it is ready to serve rural America. Indeed, if you live in Chicago and never want to go anywhere else, a Nissan Leaf will do you just fine. The problem is that about half the country lives in places where an EV is inconvenient at best and dangerous at worst. Let’s not forget the fact that the American power grid is already insufficient to the demands placed upon it, and almost no effort is being put into addressing the problem.

Not that any of this matters to the O’Briens who run the country at the moment. When they tell you to TRUST THE SCIENCE what they really mean is: You must completely submit to whatever pop-culture interpretation of scientific results currently serves the people in power. The limitations of that approach are currently on full display with regards to the various COVID-19 studies out there, from the not-quite-vaccines to the not-quite-treatments. The FDA stated in February of this year that the mRNA treatments didn’t cause heart problems in young men. Ninety days later, they reversed course and admitted that the treatments do, in fact, cause heart problems, albeit at a low rate. This is how science works; you obtain more data over time and make better inferences. But that didn’t stop people from screaming “TRUST THE SCIENCE!” at people who had concerns about heart problems prior to the second announcement.

One odd side effect of the Uniparty’s Science As Secular Midwit Religion policy is that the following meme has a little more truth than most people would care to admit:

You can see a similar distribution with EVs: the rednecks in the sticks are all like YOU CAIN’T TAKE MAH GAS CAR, the midwits are all like EV IS THE INEVITABLE FUTURE AND YOU MUST ACCEPT IT! while the people who can actually read a paper on battery performance studies are all like YOU CAIN’T TAKE MAH GAS CAR. The same is true for “climate change”; exceptionally stupid people say the weather can’t be changed by anybody but God, the media call it “settled science”, and the people on the far end of the curve are just unpleasant enough to point out that much of the theory relies on measured changes in historical temperature data that rarely exceed the margin of error for that data.

Much of what I have read over the past forty years suggests that the Midwit Bell Curve phenomenon is relatively new to Western society, because it relies on the politicization of the education process. We no longer teach much in the way of logic or reason to young people; instead, we teach them to parrot a dogma as a means to advancement. Some percentage of the people who read this will come away thinking I am engaged in “science denial” or “anti-science” behavior because I don’t always agree with “science” as presented by CNN or USA Today. My last-ditch attempt to engage those people is something I call “The Flying Car Theory” and it goes like this:

In 1950, pretty much everyone thought we’d eventually all drive flying cars. It was de facto understood that there would be a natural progression from foot traffic to horse traffic to motorized traffic to flying traffic. Flight was seen as simply the next frontier. And spaceflight, probably faster than light, would be a natural follow-up to that. Now, there was never any actual science to suggest a working technical pathway to flying cars. The power density and recovery required to make a flying car in the same form factor as a 1953 Chevrolet do not exist outside laboratories and never did. Nor is there any evidence that faster-than-light travel is possible for any being composed of standard atomic matter. Yet people proceeded as if these things would eventually become real. Scientists talked about them as if they were real. Governments made plans. But it was never real, and never will be real.

Technologically speaking, the gasoline-equivalent EV is about as difficult and unlikely as a mass-market flying car. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen tomorrow; it just means that we have no current pathway to understanding the next steps. To quote Donald Rumsfeld, there are unknown unknowns. I think it is suicidal for America to proceed as if we are on a tech tree when in fact we are on a road to nowhere. That’s all for today. Thank you for coming to my TED talk.

* * *

For Hagerty, I wrote a story of a bad person with a good truck.

153 Replies to “(Last) Weekly Roundup: It’s not inEVitable edition”

  1. Nick D

    The same people who think the Exxons of the world are evil have zero idea how severely monopoly for-profit electric utilities pervert the political process for the own aims. A wolf in sheep’s clothing is a far too mild analogy.

    Also, how often does the sort of kickbacks happen in Big IT?

    Reply
    • Disinterested-Observer

      A couple of years ago I was traveling down a wiki hole that started with The Godfather and ended with googling a protest led in part by Robert Duvall against power lines that the local electric company was going to run near or possibly even through some of his 360 acre back yard. The protesters, generally extremely wealthy government grifters, decried the power company’s “greed.” However, given the explosion of data centers, cell phones, and Tesla ownership in the free-money swamp nearby, anyone with half a brain could see that they were going to need more transmission lines. I don’t doubt that power companies are pushing EVs, but they are not forcing anyone to take a picture of their dinner to post on the web.

      Reply
  2. MrGreenMan

    Since we can fold stuff and it takes up less space, and the Japanese have proven that origami principles can apply to the interior packaging of a 2003 Honda Accord, we’re practically owed shrink rays – if those dastardly science-denying Jesus Freaks would only release their control over the Republican Party!

    Reply
  3. Jim Bob

    Chemist working in the pharmaceutical industry. If you only knew our rate of failure taking a drug through clinical trials and getting to market approval. ~10% success rate. Technological progress is not inevitable. Even the most clever ideas fail horribly once your drug starts going into people. Money will sometimes allow for a brute force solution, but most often not at all. So why is drug development so hard, we simply do not know enough about what goes on at the cellular level. That’s why our industry’s R&D expenditures are something like 10-20% of revenue.

    If you want a practical solution to CO2 emissions, in this scientist’s opinion, do what you can to retire coal power generation and adopt nuclear power. Liquid hydrocarbons aren’t going anywhere so long as people have a choice in energy sources. Winter is over 4 months long where I live, no way I’m giving up gas heat.

    Reply
    • Nick D

      Nuke plants are the way and create positive impacts from increased infrastructure, jobs, and tax revenue wherever they’re located.

      Reply
    • Michael-Scott

      Big pharma: “R&D is hard.”

      Also big pharma: “80-70% of our budget is spent on mainstream media TV ads.” (Unless you are Incyte, who actually seems to be the only one doing science)

      Chances are the pharma company you work for thinks the marketing douche bag snorting coke off the ass of his latest intern is more important than you.

      But sure. Science is hard.

      Reply
    • Ronnie Schreiber

      One of the things that I learned working in an industrial R&D lab is that while much modern technology works very well, it’s also performing very close to the envelope, so it works well, but only by a small margin and it doesn’t take much to make it not work.

      I’m beginning to think that the same factors are involved in society and politics. It works, but only by the thinnest veneer of civilization. Put enough functional ignoramuses in power as we have done, and that veneer starts to crack and peel.

      Reply
  4. link3721

    Your reasoning is why I think PHEV’s are the way to go. They’ve got the battery power to cover most daily commuting with no or little gasoline and allow one to take longer trips without range anxiety. They also wouldn’t require the immense and expensive resources of trying to make every single car a pure EV. I know many will bemoan the reduction of full ICE cars, but after almost two years of having a Pacifica PHEV in the driveway, I’m loving it. As soon as they start making Jeep Gladiator PHEV’s, I’ll be ordering one in the most ridiculous color available.

    Reply
    • sgeffe

      If the next Accord were hybrid-only, I’d still pop for one. But dammit all, make the experience just a little more like a normal ICE vehicle:

      1. When cold-starting the vehicle, slow the engine RPMs down when you put the car into gear! It just seems WEIRD to be slowly backing out of the garage, but the engine is screaming away on fast-idle.
      2. Similarly, if the car is going slow, run engine at a lower RPM, and if the driver steps on the gas, vary the RPMs according to the amount of throttle input and/or vehicle speed.

      Mind you, all of my hybrid experience has been in Hondas equipped with the two-motor hybrid system, so I have no clue if the driving experience is different in, say, a Toyota HSD vehicle such as a Prius or Camry.

      Reply
    • Daniel J

      Interestingly enough there was an article on TTAC not too long ago basically poo-pooing on PHEVs along with most of the commenters.

      For a single car solution, I think PHEV is the next logical step for most people outside of cities.

      Reply
  5. John Van Stry

    I’m an Electrical Engineer by training and have a BSEE. I had a friend who worked for one of the leading battery companies his entire career. I’ve had these conversations before.

    Battery powered cars are a DEAD END. The people promoting them really have Zero idea what they’re talking about.

    This isn’t to say that ‘Electric Powered Cars’ are a dead end. But anyone who thinks a ‘super battery’ is possible just hasn’t studied any physics (or has been paid to lie about it). The level of energy density necessary is just not physically possible in a rechargeable battery. Physics won’t allow it and it’s not going to change no matter how much you wish it will.

    And of course with our collapsing energy grid because we won’t allow nuclear power, well, even if the impossible were to happen, we do NOT have the ability to charge all those EV’s. California doesn’t have the ability to charge the ones they have now. Just wait until their latest EV mandate goes into effect!

    If you want EV’s, then what you need to do is give up on batteries and pursue fuel cells. As we already have this HUGE infrastructure to deliver gasoline all over the planet, the idea fuel cell would be one that uses gasoline (they exist) and use it more efficiently than an internal combustion engine does.

    That’s what the ‘smart people’ would do. Sadly we are ruled by idiots who have never in their lives taken a single science course, who have hucksters (like that ‘mr. science’ fellow and his ‘physicist’ compatriot) for advisors. It is very sad that critical thinking, logic, and science are no longer taught in schools today.

    But if nothing else I get to point at these morons and laugh. It’s good entertainment when the inevitable outcome always comes to pass.

    Reply
    • Ronnie Schreiber

      A friend of mine has patents in the field of hydrogen generation and purification. He sells “Mr. Hydrogen” brand reformulators that will take a methanol/water mix and extract 99.99995% pure H2. http://www.rebresearch.com

      Combining that tech with fuel cells would join the advantages (power efficiency, torque) of electric drive with the practicality of liquid fuels.

      Reply
        • Will

          It’s not a scam, it’s just expensive to make and store hydrogen. The byproduct is water and there’s plenty of water to pull hydrogen from. Far more efficient than batteries. They solved the explosive fuel cell problem, but it’s the manufacturing, that’s the issue. Chill.

          Reply
    • sgeffe

      Hell, I would think that theoretically, a battery that could charge fully in seven minutes and provide an Accord-sized car with a minimum range of 450 miles. But if such a battery were feasible, it probably wouldn’t last more than around a year before it’d be boiled into oblivion!

      My guess is that of the three things that would put EVs on an equal footing with ICE equivalents:

      1. Range.
      2. Charge time.
      3. Battery life.

      ..at best, you can only have two..if you’re lucky!

      Reply
      • Mopar4wd

        Range and battery life aren’t that hard. getting it at a reasonable cost and weight is the issue. The Lucid air got an EPA rated over 500 miles recently but it weighs about 5000lbs as a sedan. The water cooled EV’s seems to be doing OK with longevity of the batteries. Charging times is the real issue.

        Reply
    • Ice Age

      Seems to me that the only way an electrically-propelled car would be practical is if it had some kind of fusion reactor, running on water, producing electricity and using battery packs as a buffer before the electricity made it to the traction motors.

      Short of that, I don’t see the technology working day-to-day.

      Reply
    • stingray65

      What are you saying? Joe and Kamala don’t know science? Even if Joe didn’t get it in school, after all of Hunter’s consulting with the Ukrainian oil and gas industry, he must of filled the old man in on the science of energy, plus he can always call on Al Gore who I happen to know took a science class while at Yale (and got a gentleman’s C).

      Reply
    • yossarian

      i basically came to the same conclusion in the 1990s and decided to invest a large portion of my retirement fund in hydrogen fuel cell companies. my thinking was they would sort this all out in ten or at the most twenty years and i would retire rich. guess how that worked out?

      Reply
  6. ScottS

    Here’s an assertion based on real research. These folks are being offered benefits in exchange for votes.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y50i1bI2uN4

    The Pleistocene Ice Age hasn’t quite ended yet. Ya, we’re still in a _ucking ice age, and Western Civilization happened once things warmed up sufficiently.

    Unless we deregulate electric utilities and move forward with modern nuclear power plants our global competitiveness is going from low to zero.

    -Scott is grouchy today

    Reply
  7. CliffG

    Three ways to look at statistics: A. Not understand the limitations or context surrounding all statistics, thus getting them wrong, B. Reach a conclusion and then go look for statistics to prove your point. C. Realize all statistics should be treated as unreliable. It would be nice if after a year and half of Covid that more people would be in camp C. But alas. Von Mises addresses this topic in “Human Action”. Chicago school libertarianism, but still worth reading.

    Reply
    • NoID

      Realizing that even some key players in my company’s Reliability department have a tenuous (at best) grasp on statistics, and already knowing that most engineers don’t really know shit about how probability works except how to plug-n-chug in Minitab or SuperSMITH, I’ve never taken much stock in any publicly-traded stats.

      Reply
  8. anatoly arutunoff

    to replace all hydrocarbon fuels would require 50% more electricity and the infrastructure to deliver it. ain’t EVER gonna happen…several % electrification is possible, but that’s it! nuclear power, please!

    Reply
  9. Harry

    I bought a Rubicon 4xe for my off-road rental business as soon as they were available this spring. It is probably a terrible hybrid, but it changed my approach to offroad driving.

    Most importantly it is quiet much of the time. A lot of reviews mention it, but for enjoying nature I would weight it heavily.

    Second, the instant torque of the electric motor obviates the need for low range in all but the most technical situations, so even when you are using the ICE the attendant driveline noise is significantly reduced. On descents, max-regen does a good job keeping speed under control without riding the brakes, and the first bit of pedal travel increases the regen braking (max is a misnomer on the vehicle).

    Downside to all of the electronic wizardry as that at rock crawling speeds, the handoff between regen and hydraulic braking can be very, neck jerkingly, abrupt. This is especially the case between 0-1mph, or the margin of error for the speedo in those conditions. I thought there was something wrong with my foot at first, but nope, its the handoff.

    I wish he had more battery and I could complete more of the journey on electric alone. Without a “super batter” I don’t know how that would happen. The weight offroad is already very apparent. I couldn’t go all-electric as consumption of power offroad is unpredictable, and by its nature, you are looking for remote places away from infrastructure. I don’t believe a smaller ICE would allow for enough weight savings to significantly increase battery size.

    If anyone is thinking about buying one, check for neutral/ground voltage on whatever outlet you have in your garage. It is sensitive to anything over 1.5v on my multimeter, it just won’t let it charge. My local electricians have not been helpful in reducing that current.

    All of that being said, my customers don’t care. I don’t think I can charge a single extra dollar, and don’t think I made a single additional rental day out of it over a regular Rubicon.

    Pearls before swine.

    Reply
    • danio

      I have one in my driveway right now. It’s a pretty novel vehicle, but certainly no Prius which, of course is not the point. It’s a compliance lifestyle vehicle which has been marketed beautifully and is already the #1 selling PHEV.

      Reply
      • NoID

        Danio, do you prefer the 4xe or the 392?

        I’ve only been in the 392 (along with the more pedestrian Rubicon), and it ruckin’ focks. Would love to get some seat time in a 4xe, especially since the electric range would probably get the family to and from school every day on electricity only.

        Reply
        • danio

          I haven’t tried the 392 but I would imagine I would prefer it based on the raw power (I have a 6.4L swapped 300C and love it.) The 4XE isn’t a slouch either once full boost and electric power kicks in, but it’s a weird power delivery that kicks in like an old school turbo car with nothing down low then a lot of thrust all of a sudden.

          Reply
          • NoID

            So what did you gain by swapping a 6.4L into a 2018 versus buying a 2011-2015? Just the ZF 8-speed?

            I know I’m wildly off topic at this point…just curious. I’ll bet that’s a pretty nice ride.

          • Danio

            The interior, exterior and suspension improvements along with the ZF8 which performs much better than the NAG1. It was worth it. I did it for a cost the same or less than buying a decent 300SRT

    • stingray65

      I do love how many “professional” reviewers complain about the short electric only range nearly every plug-in hybrid they test – how it would be so much better if the vehicle could go 40-50 miles on battery alone, before they move on to complaints about how heavy the vehicle feels and how they wish manufacturers would put more effort into taking the weight out of their new designs. Its almost as if they don’t realize that bigger batteries are heavier, and that carrying around two powertrains is also heavy.

      Reply
      • John C.

        Those professional reviewers sound like they miss the Chevy Volt. I don’t remember them getting a premium as rentals over Cruise. Maybe because us swine don’t like to be charged a great price for the pearl of the rental franchise owner’s virtue signaling.

        Reply
        • Harry

          The pearl is not the range or the environmental virtue. The pearl is the enhanced off-road experience, increased wildlife sightings, and ease of use. The increased cost to obtain it is obvious and is completely worth it based on when I have used it. That being said my customers are by nature inexperienced, often the first and only time they will drive a vehicle like it, or roads like it, and therefore don’t have a basis of comparison to make a value choice with.

          Reply
  10. stingray65

    “Let’s not forget the fact that the American power grid is already insufficient to the demands placed upon it, and almost no effort is being put into addressing the problem.”

    Not true Jack – great efforts are being put into the grid to make electricity generation and distribution much less reliable AND much more costly. Every solar or wind farm that replaces a coal/gas/nuclear plant probably reduces the number of EVs that can be reliably charged by tens of thousands. California, Australia, and most of Europe are already enjoying life with next generation renewables and will soon be freezing to death because the juice gets shut off or is too expensive to afford.

    Reply
    • Ronnie Schreiber

      Some windfarms, in a limited number of locations, like the eastern edge of the Rockies or the eastern part of Lake Michigan can actually make sense because they have high enough average wind speeds.

      I was surprised and disappointed to find out that near one of my favorite camping spots on the Garden Peninsula on the north shore of Lake Michigan in the UP there is a windfarm that will eventually have about 50 turbines. It’s not wilderness there, it’s mostly farmland, but it’s quiet and the windmills are pretty noisy, maybe not as noisy as an urban interstate highway, but still the whoosh whoosh is very noticeable and you can see the windmills from miles away. Still, the farmers who rent the land to the windmill utility are happy with the revenue and from what I’ve been able to determine, they’re actually a reliable source of power and the locals are happy.

      Reply
      • stingray65

        Europe also thought that the winds off the North Sea were reliable and shut down most of their coal power plants only to find out this summer and fall that the reliable winds can go days without blowing. If wind farms made sense they wouldn’t need subsidies.

        Reply
      • stingray65

        Pumped storage is not common because you need land and topography suitable for reservoirs, but even then you will be stopped by environmentalists who don’t like reservoirs that destroy nature.

        Reply
    • Mopar4wd

      Wind and solar make good power and are fairly cost effective. But they are not completely predictable in power delivery which means you need a way to store and fill in power. The idea of giant battery farms scare me, but it seems the way things are headed.
      Solar is very cheap in running cost and capital costs per KWH, but obviously storing that power of filling in with gas peaker plants can be very expensive. Wind is pretty good cost wise as well running even with many coal and gas plants or even cheaper in particular onshore plants on the plains. Offshore wind is still pretty expensive.

      Reply
      • stingray65

        The cost effectiveness of wind and solar are not based on truthful calculations, because if they were truly cost effective against conventional power sources they wouldn’t need massive and continuing subsidies. For example the Dept. of Energy calculated the levelized cost of power based on a 30 year life and does not include the cost of backup power sources, which greatly understates the cost of solar and wind because their actual life seems to be closer to 10 to 20 years and they do need 100% backup because the wind blows least on very cold or very hot days and solar is worthless in winter. On the other hand, gas, coal and nuclear plants can last 50 to 70 years and need to backup, so the DE calculations greatly overstate their costs to make renewables look better.

        Reply
        • Mopar4wd

          As I stated the problem is the fill in power when not generating. But I can tell you I have seen calculations for a small scale project (my company works on peaker powerplants) and solar is pretty cost effective (I haven’t seen it for wind) if you look at how much KWH hours you can produce over the life span including parts replacements and capital costs. Even adding batteries to make it fully 24 hour capable costs aren’t horrible, it would be more expensive then a Gas power plant over 20 years in Texas but much cheaper then the same plant in CT for example. years ago we ran an estimate for replacing gas peaker plants with batteries and solar. The biggest issue with solar here in CT was finding the land, over all over 20 years (and this was like a decade ago) the solar came in like 10-15% cheaper per MWH. but finding places for 50 MW of solar panels is tricky, which is one of the issues finding 300 acre sites to fill with panels is just as unpopular as 10-15 acres for a NG plant.

          Reply
  11. Guns and Coffee

    I always had a slightly different approach as to why we will never have flying cars. I will describe my approach like this. Assuming Humanist Philosophy as faith in mankind as infallible. Conversely, most of my ideas may be described as anti-humanist in that my assumptions are based on the inherent fallible nature of man. Never EVER under estimate the capacity of humans to fuck things up. The history of man has way more examples of this than the few times we get things right.
    With that out of the way, we cannot seem to motor around this country on a yearly basis without killing on average 52,000 of our fellow countrymen with the benefits of a two dimensional playing field. I may be more dimensions when “reverse” is added to forward, left and right, but humor me. Add the third dimension of “flight” and the most unforgiving law of physics discovered to date, known as “gravity.” We cant get it right with the benefit of staying “safely on the ground.” where traction and spacial relationships are too difficult for most drivers. Who knows how many of us we can eliminate from the gene pool when a trip to the store for a twelve pack (you know, after you run out) requires a take off AND a landing.
    Flying cars? Ha!

    Reply
  12. danio

    I work in this industry and am heavily involved with EVs and PHEVs and Jack is pretty much right. There’s no low hanging fruit to be had aside from mild cost reduction of the batteries themselves which might bottom out 20-30% lower through scale.

    Automakers are going all in on EVs now because of mandates that have made the conventional ICE car unfeasible. Take a look around, small cars are disappearing. Why? The CAFE rules have punished them out of existence. Anything that’s not a Light Duty Truck with heavy electrification, or a very expensive passenger vehicle will soon be regulated out of existence because of the curve at which they’re punished and profit sucked by CAFE 2025.

    The result is a new car landscape that escalated in average price by over 30% in 10 years (before COVID shortages) in an industry whose products routinely lagged inflation before.

    The marketing has kicked into high gear so customers are more on board than ever. However, they’re in for major disappointment, especially the F150 Lightning customers. As Jack mentioned, energy density is a major issue. Hope there’s a charging station that can accomodate your truck and camper every 90 miles…

    Reply
    • Arbuckle

      It’s hard for me to feel too bad for the automakers when they spent the last 10 years declaring man-made climate change is a major threat to civilization, hiring Jalopnik writers, and making side deals with California over a more sympathetic federal administration.

      Reply
      • danio

        Self preservation. They know the Left has won their crusade and now have to figure out how to market this garbage and stay in business. All while spending dozens of billions to completely change their product lines for no real benefit to the consumer. Call it what you want, it is what it is.

        Reply
  13. Ice Age

    Clarke also said that if a scientist says that something’s impossible, he’s almost certainly wrong.

    I have no doubt we’ll get FTL from the same guy that gave us the lightbulb: The lone nutcase that just won’t let it go.

    Reply
  14. Bridgeguy

    Soon we’ll be a joke society,

    “What did we have before EVs”?
    “A lot more of everything.”

    Which is a derivative of the old sub Saharan joke, “What did we have before candles? Electricity!”

    Reply
  15. -Nate

    I enjoyed the story =8-) .

    I’m old and one of those P.I.A. guys : you can have my I.C.E. powered Motocycle/car/truck when you pry my cold dead hands off it .

    Some idiots on North California (?) have decided no new gas stations in their town…

    -Nate

    Reply
  16. dejal

    NiMH or Li-Ion batteries. You know those tiny car jump starters? I watched some Youtube videos on those kinds of batteries going up in flames. “Then don’t keep the jumper in the car (or house)”. Which kind of defeats the point.

    One thing I did find was take a 50 cal ammo can. Remove the rubber seal. Stick the jump pack in the can (after wrapping it in a file retardant blanket made for small batteries). Place the ammo can in the car. If the battery goes boom, the flames will hit the cover and will have to do a 180 around the lip to escape. A sealed ammo can and you might get a real boom. There’s still going to be a mess if it happens, but you might save your rig.

    Reply
  17. Ken

    Jack, thanks so much for addressing my question and expanding on your EV viewpoints. From car advice, to religion, to tech, to social issues – I come here daily to read your perspectives and occasionally receive advice (an E550, Continental, and RevGrips just in the last few months, I’m sure there’s more “Jack specials” I’m forgetting over the years).

    I do hope there was no interpretation of hidden agenda in my comment. I believe there wasn’t; but just in case – I genuinely wanted to know your thoughts, as I value your arguments. Admittedly I do have preconceived notions; it’s good to have them challenged. I did fall for the “tech tree” troupe.

    Beyond the technical limitations you laid out and the non-science approach our “SCIENCE!” based government is taking when it comes to EVs… do you think it’s simply hubris, or could it be something worse? You’ve written of the city mouse vs the rural mouse. Is it possible that it’s an intended consequence, to push EVs, to limit movement?

    Or am I going a bit too tin-foily?

    Reply
    • CJinSD

      Maybe not cynical enough. The effort to vilify CO2 on a planet with carbon-based life is all about making the people you don’t want to exist into their own worst enemies.

      Reply
      • hank chinaski

        The fact that only we will have to wear the carbon hairshirt and that China and India with 10x the population are full throttle on coal tells you all you need to know.

        Making CAFE flat would do a lot for fleet mileage. Reducing the number of combovers would be icing on the cake.

        Reply
        • stingray65

          In 2019 China surpassed the US and EU combined in greenhouse gas emissions. What the rest of the world does or doesn’t do won’t make a spits worth of difference.

          Reply
      • sgeffe

        ^ This!

        How in almighty hell did the end product of aerobic respiration become classified as a pollutant, anyway??!! 🤪

        Reply
    • Jack Baruth Post author

      I value your readership and that’s why I was in a hurry to answer the question…

      As for city mouse and country mouse, I think it’s less malice than ignorance and self-satisfaction. The average City Mouse doesn’t go anywhere and doesn’t think that it’s worth preserving anyone else’s ability to go anywhere, the same way I wasn’t personally upset by the COVID restrictions put in place across NYC.

      Reply
      • yossarian

        over the summer in nyc, i saw some reason for for hope. the subways went back to 24hr service and two weeks ago our schools actually reopened (no zoom in a room) for the first time in 18 months. there has been no excess mortality here since june. then they started with these mandates and passports. it’s enough to make a grown man cry.

        Reply
  18. Power6

    Thanks for this, a great analysis of the current situation. I know I have a liberal mindset generally but I’m meh on EVs I’d grudgingly embrace them when I have no other choice. I thought these things were obvious that we probably don’t have any fantastic breakthroughs on the horizon. A good reminder for me that there are plenty that are deluded about that.

    The two things I see that are important you gloss over: Breakthroughs may be few and far between, but cost reduction seems to be the key to some level of adoption, and that seems to be happening with batteries. And you don’t spell out the real current state of how much energy compared to gasoline. Just back of the napkin but at 30% usable energy in Gasoline, the 100kWh Tesla is carrying 8.3 gallons of gasoline, ignoring the efficiency of the usage there but it’s something in the 90s so close enough. It’s not bad, not going to change the world over to EVs but it’s workable for many. I’m not qualified to say if the cost reductions continue to where we have “cheap” 100kWh EVs. But the current tech seems to be workable for many who just couldn’t get over the price. I thought it is obvious that’s not for everyone but apparently I was wrong on that 😉

    It makes me think of the Michael Moore produced “Planet of the Humans”, the main takeaway I got from that is Humans just want to consume. Along comes Tesla and gives the fairly well off person a way to consume guilt free. They sort of redefined luxury. The buyers are not really interested in consuming less, only in continuing their lifestyle with less guilt. The fact remains IF you believe in the climate change, that the situation is dire, if you truly believe, the solution is to consume less. Sell your car and don’t buy another. Ride the bus, your bike, a horse, walk or whatever, live a simpler life. That’s so much harder of a reality to accept than just “take your Mercedes money and buy a Tesla, problem solved!”

    Engineering Explained tackled the “power grid” problem it didn’t seem that switching over the entire fleet (that’s not going to happen soon anyways) to EV was a major problem. Maybe he’s wrong but he did put some numbers and math to it at least.

    I just zipped up to Vermont this weekend to tag along with a buddy off-roading his 6 wheel Pinzgauer. 350 miles round trip. I guess I could have made that in an EV, might have been sweating bullets on the way home!

    Reply
    • Jack Baruth Post author

      You’re right that I glossed over the efficiency a bit, largely because I didn’t want to get into the spiral of efficiency through the lifecycle from coal or wind to road and so on.

      You’re also right that some people won’t care about anything else once the price drops to everyday levels. A significant percentage of Americans don’t really go anywhere.

      Reply
    • stingray65

      I don’t think it is safe to assume that batteries will continue to get much cheaper, because if EVs get as popular as predicted we will run into mining/material capacity issues for rare earths and other minerals that will mean they get more expensive not less. Of course some other battery technology that uses less mined materials might be developed, but then you will start from year zero in terms of learning curves and economies of scale that might also make them more expensive for the first 5 to 20 years. And if EVs become popular you will also have politicians deciding they need tax revenue from EV owners so they will no doubt start taxing electricity that will make it as expensive or more so than gasoline (especially with the renewable premium), and the environmentalists will start complaining about the millions of old EV batteries that are accumulating in landfills or junkyards that need to be properly disposed of, which will lead to a “battery deposit” of several thousand dollars when you purchase an EV, so it isn’t clear that EVs will ever be cheaper to buy and operate without continued heavy subsidies.

      As for Engineering Explain’s math – I don’t see how it can be “no problem” when many parts of the country (world) are already having grid reliability problems and EVs are less than 2% of the vehicle fleet. Perhaps he assumes that tree huggers will finally embrace nuclear power and EV owners will only charge at night when the demands on the solar panels is lightest.

      Reply
      • NoID

        Good point there at the end. I work with a global team and it isn’t uncommon for my colleagues in Mexico to have a power outage at least once per quarter.

        Reply
  19. Newbie Jeff

    Re: “Flying Cars”…

    “Now, there was never any actual science to suggest a working technical pathway to flying cars. The power density and recovery required to make a flying car in the same form factor as a 1953 Chevrolet do not exist outside laboratories and never did”

    We’ve actually had “flying cars”, within reach of the majority of Americans (noting specific use of “Americans”, not the rest of the world), for the past 70-ish years. These are general aviation aircraft… ubiquitous examples being Cessna 172’s and 182’s, Piper PA-28’s, Mooney M20’s, Beechcraft -33/-36… all 4-seat vehicles powered by 4- and 6-cyl gasoline engines.

    The interesting point here is how much their existence makes Jack’s larger point… the formula that made these aircraft viable in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s still applies today. That is, a durable aluminum airframe, a dependable air-cooled piston engine, running on aviation gasoline (100 octane “low lead”). The designs “peaked” in the 70’s… Piper still makes new PA-28’s, Cessna makes new 172”s and 182’s, Beechcraft still makes new Bonanzas and Barons, and the designs are virtually unchanged. The only significant advancements over the years have been avionics, equipment like autopilots, EFIS, GPS… because that’s where technology had room to grow.

    Newer general aviation aircraft have been introduced, most notably the Cirrus SR20 and SR22. They have composite airframes, but are generally the same formula as the legacy GA aircraft… i.e., 4 seats, piston air-cooled gasoline engines. Interesting to note that the newer, composite Cirrus design is nowhere near as fast (about 160-180 knots) as the equivalent Mooney’s (well over 200 knots), a design that is essentially unchanged since the 1950’s… 70 years of innovation, research, testing… 747’s, F-15’s, Space Shuttles and Concordes… and no one can make a better “flying car” than Mooney.

    Reply
    • Jack Baruth Post author

      The way in which general aviation was essentially taken from Americans via rising costs and insurance hassles would be worth a very long book.

      New 172s are a quarter million bucks and cost ten grand a year in storage and insurance.

      On the other hand, they do have giant parachutes which is nice.

      Reply
      • ScottS

        So, about the cost of three F250 diesel pickups and bit more to store and insure? Doesn’t seem all that bad compared to the cost of a lot of the vehicles on the roads today. What is needed is small turboprop engines to replace the piston power plants from the last century. Much higher reliability, longer maintenance cycles, and significantly cheaper fuel. For business owners the airplane is depreciable like many other business assets.

        Reply
        • Newbie Jeff

          You’re not wrong about turboprops, but in line with Jack’s point, the “science” hasn’t really figured how to build a better box… most of the popular air-cooled piston engines are super reliable, albeit a little cantankerous… they’re light, they make adequate power at the required rpm without the need for a reduction gearbox. Continental O-200’s, IO-550’s, Lycoming O-320’s and 360’s… they just work.

          The general consensus now is to run piston engines way past TBO (Time Between Overhaul) with regular oil analysis… I think with proper use and care (again, recognizing they can be cantankerous), a solid piston engine will match a turboprop TBO. You’re absolutely right about the fuel… the environmental radicals hear “leaded fuel” and immediately feign brain cancer… but aside from that, turboprops are crazy expensive to operate and maintain. Again… those old tractor engines hanging off the noses of Cessnas and Pipers just work…

          Reply
          • NoID

            “…the environmental radicals hear ‘leaded fuel’ and immediately feign brain cancer…”

            I don’t think they’re faking it.

      • CJinSD

        The current base price of a Cessna 172 is $432,000. They cost $12,500 in 1970. Adjusted for inflation, that’s $87,234 today. The 172 was already an extremely mature product in 1970, having entered production in 1956. An article I read estimates average operating expenses today for a 172 at more than $72,000 a year, for an average cost of $161 an hour of flight time. When I graduated from college, we used to rent them for $55 an hour including fuel and insurance. 152s were cheaper, and I don’t think anyone was renting them out for less than their variable costs.

        Reply
        • Harry

          I am currently debating getting my GA license. The 172 or similar is what I am looking at. I am stuck on the math of it being worth it. I regularly make 10-12 hour car trips for work that are 200miles less as the crow flies (I realize Cessnas aren’t quite crows). The time/distance/cost is a bear to figure out. I have nearly given up on commercial aviation for those trips because it is usually a multi-hour drive on either end of the home to hub (sometimes second hub) to destination.

          Storage costs, maintenance and depreciation aren’t apparent to an outsider.

          I just haven’t been able to take the leap.

          Reply
          • Harry

            Thank you for the link, it gets way more complex when I try to add in fees at the destination, hours between overhaul, ect. Then trying to compare it to the cost of driving, an inability to properly value my time and the unknown of if/how much I will enjoy it.

            My daughter has expressed an interest. If she wants to follow through with it that will probably be a deciding factor, in a few years.

          • Jack Baruth Post author

            If you’re thinking about flying to save time… it often won’t. And the amount of time and hassle you’ll have worrying about weather will eat up whatever savings you do get.

            My wife’s father was the only person I ever knew to make flying work. He was an electrical contractor in New Mexico where you have flying weather year-round. But if you’re anywhere but the Southwest it can get dicey in a hurry. We take for granted that planes can fly in bad weather, and they can — if they are jet planes with tremendous power, weight, and stability control.

          • Newbie Jeff

            It will never work out cheaper to fly yourself in your own plane… you do it because the convenience is worth the cost. Almost all GA will beat the airlines less than 500 miles… if you add in the drive to the airport, parking, security, waiting at the gate, the flight, connecting at a hub, picking up a rental car at your destination… GA will likely win the race door-to-door. Especially if you can utilize small airfields to avoid driving to a larger airport with commercial service…

            But you really do GA because you love flying. I have a Super Cub on AK Bushwheels, it can’t really go anywhere fast but it goes damn near everywhere… it’s not really useful, it’s just a lot of fun…

          • Newbie Jeff

            CJ: “I’m not aware of the reason for the large down payment, having never purchased an aircraft”

            Aircraft loans are sort of niche between a car loan and a home loan. Underwriters recognize most GA aircraft as an asset that likely appreciates. You can typically get 10-, 15-, and 20-yr terms. 20% down is pretty standard.

            Insurance is a different problem, though. A lot of companies are pulling out of the market, and that consolidation has driven premiums up significantly. I’m paying $1500/yr for my Super Cub and it doesn’t get much cheaper than that… sky-high rates on a new 172 are because the hull value is so high. Used 172’s are much more reasonable to insure, but the used market is insane right now…

          • CJinSD

            “450 hours a year? That’s insane. Most people don’t DRIVE 450 hours a year.”

            450 hours at an average speed of 33 miles per hour is 14,850 miles. Ever check the cumulative average speed on a car with a trip computer?

            I have no idea why they picked 450 owner hours for their model. Plenty of planes seem to spend much of their time sitting, and they specifically didn’t factor putting the plane into a charter pool. Do new owners tend to spend lots of time flying before the novelty wears off? The social media accounts of some wealthy farmers I know suggest that they do.

          • Jack Baruth Post author

            My average speed is usually north of 50mph, but I spent a lot of time on relatively empty Midwest freeways.

          • CJinSD

            My personal car doesn’t record statistics, but I used to drive a fleet of cars and SUVs that did. The number was usually between 28 and 33 mph for vehicles operated around San Diego. I suspect that here in Virginia Beach the results would be similar. A meaningful percentage of Americans live and drive around complete dystopias like Los Angeles, Washington DC, New York City, and the Bay Area. Their numbers are worse.

  20. John Van Stry

    One thing has become very clear reading through some of these comments:
    Most people don’t know a damn thing about physics or any real science at all. Obviously they don’t teach the Laws of Thermodynamics in High School science class, or to anybody in college.

    Reply
    • Daniel J

      I took basic thermodynamics as part of my Computer Engineering degree. One of the reasons I went into the EE/CpE field was I had no interest in learning hardcore thermodynamics. I don’t even know if regular science majors really spend that much time on thermodynamics.

      Reply
    • NoID

      Thermodynamics and Heat Transfer primarily drilled unit discipline into me. I remember the principles fairly well, I can recall a few of the formulas, but damned if I don’t maintain a rigorous account for my units in every calculation I do nowadays, regardless of the physics.

      Reply
  21. Nick D

    You can always rent GA planes and see how it goes. Most places only charge while engine is on, so parking it for a few hours is neutral.

    Reply
  22. Edp

    I’m unimpressed by the thought process here.
    Like anything else, electric powertrains have certain advantages and then compensatory tradeoffs. Not every vehicle is good in every situation, and electric is no different.
    The technology available today is good, and I personally have one electric car now and am very impressed. I bought solar panels to go with it and the financials have worked out very favorably.
    In addition, battery technology will continue to evolve. Not only are there are many interesting ideas on the horizon to replace lithium, many people simply don’t care about range. The internet obsesses about it, but I doubt my wife has any clue what the range is in our car. This reflexive revulsion at change is unbefitting of a site that is supposed to be thoughtful….

    Reply
    • stingray65

      Glad you are happy with your subsidized EV and subsidized solar panel, but have you considered that technologies that require massive and continuing subsidies are perhaps not mass-market viable? Do you really believe that the big government push for EVs and renewables is based on reasonable and accurate assumptions about scientific progress in batteries and physics of battery chemistry, or about the environmental impact of all the mining and processing required for the raw materials, or reasonable assumptions about how millions of EV batteries will be disposed of at the end of their lives? 25 years ago the genius leaders of the EU subsidized and promoted “clean” diesel as the solution to climate change, and we know how that turned out because now they are banning them – so why will they be right this time?

      Reply
    • Jack Baruth Post author

      I don’t know how you read the whole article as a critical thinker then responded with

      “In addition, battery technology will continue to evolve.”

      That’s the whole point of the article: that there is no guaranteed evolution beyond incremental improvements.

      Furthermore, the subject under discussion here is not whether or not EVs work for some people. Of course they work for some people. Golf carts work for some people. Scooters work for some people. The subject under discussion is whether the current state of the EV, and the likely near-future state, justify a cessation in production of ICE cars. If you think that EVs can truly replace ICE cars in all applications using the foreseeable tech, your own thought process could use a tuneup.

      Reply
  23. Mopar4wd

    Based on the limited progress on batteries from about 1890 to 1990 (yes yes there was new innovations in that time but nothing too crazy) The increase in density and reductions in weight in traction batteries is pretty remarkable. Will it increase forever? No, but other then quick charging and cost the modern EV’s seem to be doing pretty well as of today. Considering where we were at when the leaf came out and where we are at now is pretty impressive over a little more then a decade. I don’t think EV’s will disappear again, but I don’t think they will replace all combustion cars by 2035 either. 300 -400 miles of range seems to bring in a lot more people.

    Reply
    • Vladimir

      What’s troubling though is that those gains in the last few decades are entirely due to non-automotive markets (phones, computers, etc) and automotive subsidies. It’s easy to have a lot of gains when prior there was almost no interest or development. But those are the easy gains that will taper off quickly and leave you with slow, incremental change much like ICE cars have experienced in the same timeframe.

      Reply
      • Mopar4wd

        I agree the automotive market piggy backed on the work of other groups in order to get EV’s to where they are so quickly. And there is a decent chance that progress slows. But I think the current crop of EV’s isn’t too bad and are compelling enough to hold enough market share even if we end up locked in todays tech. Not good enough to replace all cars but enough to hold 10% or more market share I’m guessing (even without subsidies).
        Also Jack doesn’t really say it but throwing a bunch of money at something does sometimes work, it’s just not a guarantee.

        Reply
  24. Shortest Circuit

    I think I helped research a super battery back in 1993… you needed gold, some soggy macaroni and a bottle of wine that was buried by Thomas Jefferson if I remember correctly.

    Reply
  25. Ronnie Schreiber

    Ford CEO Jim Farley says that we’re going to have to resurrect mining in the U.S. if we’re going to have a reliable supply chain for EVs, and that they’re also going to have to figure out how to make EVs more affordable.

    https://www.detroitnews.com/story/business/autos/ford/2021/09/25/ford-ceo-urges-making-evs-more-affordable-bringing-mining-back-us/5852516001/

    I’ve read that we have ample domestic rare eath deposits to meet future battery needs but that current environmental laws, federal and state, pretty much put a kibosh on new extractive ventures.

    Speaking of which, I sometime watch videos by a “YouTube influencer” who bought Cerro Gordo, California, the site of what was once the biggest silver mine in the United States but is now a ghost town. He’s all about preserving the history of this mining town, but he’s up in arms about a company wanting to develop adjacent lands with open pit mining as there are still deposits that are financially worth extracting. The historic miners that he idolizes (and wishes he could find a pair of their Levi’s jeans) would probably want the new mine to be developed.

    Reply
    • stingray65

      The way to a clean future:
      Step 1: Ship coal and oil to China on oil burning ships.
      Step 2: China uses coal and oil to mine and process rare earths, make and form steel towers, manufacture generators and solar panels.
      Step 3: China ships “some assembly required” wind generators/towers and solar panels to “clean parts of world” on oil burning ships.
      Step 4: After several years of lawsuits by NIMBY types and environmentalists, “Clean parts of world” clear cut forests, level off mountains and deserts to create solar and wind farms on millions of acres of formerly pristine wild-life habitat and agricultural lands.
      Step 5: Wind and solar farms open up and owners collect huge subsidies from “clean country” taxpayers, which drive up electricity rates and put conventional power sources out of business.
      Step 6: On a cold winter day (or hot summer day) the wind stops blowing and the snow covered solar panels stop generating electricity.
      Step 7: Meanwhile, “clean country” citizens turn on their climate control systems to get some needed heat or cool and find they don’t work, because the wind isn’t blowing and the solar panels are covered in snow. Citizens start dying from hypothermia, heat stroke, or declaring bankruptcy after receiving their electricity bill.
      Step 8: Politicians and the mainstream media blame “Big Oil” and Putin puppet Trump for crisis, declare that the only solution is to build more subsidized wind and solar farms so it never happens again and creates millions of “green jobs” (in China).

      Reply
    • Daniel J

      Don’t we first need to resurrect making computer chips? While I know that’s off topic, chip making here in the U.S. has to happen if we want a steady supply of EVs and AI whizz bang autopilot cars.

      Reply
      • stingray65

        Making computer chips in the USA? Do you mean with Biden era unreliable and expensive renewable electricity, endless environmental impact studies, higher “fair share” corporate tax rates, DIE contracting and staffing requirements, and a work force that spent K-PhD learning CRT and how to hate capitalism but not how to read, write, or do math? Maybe it can work for potato chips, but I have by doubts about computer chips.

        Reply
  26. trollson

    There was actually a lot of science that happened in the Manhattan project. The theoretical power of a chain reaction was known previously, but how to actually trigger it on command and not have the whole thing immediately blow apart required incredible scientific and engineering advances.

    Despite multiple efforts in multiple countries, only the Manhattan project actually figured it out. And through leaks became the basis for every other country’s bomb program.

    Even still, the Hiroshima bomb was crude and extremely inefficient. It only used something like 10% of the fuel for the chain reaction. The rest was blown apart into radioactive dust.

    Fascinating stuff actually.

    Reply
    • stingray65

      Even more interesting – the B-29 program was the most expensive weapons program of WWII, but without it the Manhattan project results would have had no delivery system.

      Reply
    • Jack Baruth Post author

      It’s my understanding that the Hiroshima bomb only needed the Manhattan project for raw materials.

      Trinity/Fat Man was the focus on the project.

      That being said, in all cases the basic science was known and the cost/effort came in implementation. There’s no super-battery tech right now that is as well understood as the idea of an atomic bomb prior to 1942.

      Reply
      • trollson

        If I recall correctly, thin man and to an extent little boy were based on the idea that you could shoot a blob of plutonium at another blob and thus cause a sustained chain reaction. This was a flawed idea because once the reaction starts, the fuel is blown apart before any significant energy is released. So that was a dead end.

        The breakthrough was the spherical arrangement with an explosive wave that would apply uniform pressure. This was a combination of brilliant minds in physics, chemistry, and engineering.

        But you are right in the sense that fundamentally, the idea of chain reaction was understood. The implementation was damn near impossible though, and that was the big leap that happened in the Manhattan project.

        The fuel production was another big piece of the puzzle, and from what I can recall that was possible due to an enormous amount of cash, basically scaling a very inefficient process at the time.

        I don’t know enough about battery science to comment whether this is an apt analogy or not, or if an undertaking the magnitude of a Manhattan project could produce a competitive product.

        My hunch is no, since battery science appears to have well-defined limits, but I don’t know if there is an engineering or chemistry puzzle in there that holds the key.

        My comment was mostly to object to dismissing the Manhattan project as simply an engineering exercise when in reality it was the result of an incredible amount of innovation by astoundingly competent scientists.

        Reply
        • Ronnie Schreiber

          The Allies also did what they could do to prevent the Axis powers from developing fission weapons. There were multiple bombing raids on German’s secret weapons facility at Peenemunde as well as attacks on the heavy water facility at Telemark, Norway. The story of the Norwegian commandos who successfully bombed the Telemark facility is one of the great stories of human endurance.

          Reply
          • Newbie Jeff

            “The story of the Norwegian commandos who successfully bombed the Telemark facility is one of the great stories of human endurance”

            …and as a companion read, look up “Operation Freshman”… one of the most tragic stories of ultimate sacrifice that has become virtually forgotten.

    • Vladimir

      The success of the Manhattan Project wasn’t because American/Allied scientists out scienced the Axis, it was because they out-produced the Axis. Much like the rest of the war, in fact. There were plenty of smart men in Germany, Italy and Japan that given the resources could likely have put together an atomic bomb of some sort in time. But what they didn’t have was the most productive and economically developed country in the world at the time, which also coincidentally was virtually immune to enemy attack, filled with people and an excellent transportation network and with loads of free industrial capacity. The Los Alamos/university part of the project was the easy part. It was the vast virtual cities that were built up with immense plants consuming loads and loads of power and resources that was hard.

      You literally could have taken the plans, and every single piece of data and research and science from the Manhattan Project and delivered it to German/Japan on a silver platter and they would have absolutely no way to make use of it. They simply didn’t have the capacity or resources to devote to such a project.

      Reply
  27. baconator

    You’re correct on the facts of energy density, of course. And I’m hoarding ICE trucks accordingly. But that all feels like talking about processor power when Apple knows that user experience matters. And Tesla has demonstrated that you can tart up battery range in a way that satisfies the people who can swing a $700/month lease payment.

    With China and the EU frog-marching automakers to an EV-only future, it will be very difficult for automakers to achieve cost-effective economies of scale with ICE cars.

    Maybe full-size pickups with ICE engines will still sell enough units to soldier on as US-only products. OTOH, maybe the in-town contractors and suburban weekend warriors will be quick to embrace EV trucks. The remaining used ICE trucks will be sought after by men of a certain sort, as diesel Excursions are today.

    Reply
  28. viper32cm

    This article on the “trust the science” idiocy was published in early 2015 in a mainstream political rag — https://theweek.com/articles/443656/how-botched-understanding-science-ruins-everything

    I remember reading this article at the time it was published and thinking it was one of the best things I’d ever read on the topic.

    Now, the “staff” at the same publication selected the linked political cartoons for the week — https://theweek.com/political-satire/1004914/7-painfully-funny-cartoons-about-americas-endless-vaccine-fights. Note the common theme in the cartoons. (I’d pull real a real article, but there’s a limit on unpaid views with newer articles).

    I know, editorial staffs aren’t monoliths, and it appears the gentleman that wrote the first article hasn’t written for the publication in three year. However, the juxtaposition reminded me of this quote — “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”

    Reply
  29. Eric H

    It’s hard to trust the math when they can;t even get the number of liters per gallon right.
    It’s 3.78, not 4.5 for US gallons.
    When you see that it makes you instantly wonder “What other simple facts did the author get wrong?”

    Reply
  30. Eric H

    It is also quite disingenuous to talk about total energy storage without taking into account the efficiency of taking that stored energy and turning that into useful energy.

    Your typical low-tech large displacement (Mah V8!) motor (on a good day) turns about 1/3rd of the energy from the fuel source into locomotion. Scale that with the drivetrain losses (Mah RWD!) and you end up with maybe 27% of your stored gas energy into propulsion.
    Now take an electric car. A decent size three-phase motor has an efficiency around 95%. The VFD driving the motor will have 90% efficiency minimum. There are no transmission losses, so you’ve got at least 85% of your stored energy going into propulsion. AT this point, electric cars get some back with regenerative braking, but that’s highly dependent on driving conditions. Around town? 20% back if you’re good at managing it. All highway, none back, so let’s just ignore it.
    If you take the ratio of electric efficiency over gas efficiency you get around 3x actual go from the stored energy in an electric vehicle.
    With a 60l tank you can store about 534KWh, but how much of that do you use before refilling? Perhaps 50l? So usable storage is around 450KWh.
    Take your new Tesla with a 100KWh usable capacity and run the efficiency numbers and it’s a lot closer. 121 (450*.27) vs 85 (100*.85). Sure everyone knows electric vehicles don’t have the ultimate range per ‘tank’ but with the continued progression of battery storage (~10% a year for the last 50 years) it won’t be long until that’s no longer true. Battery packs will get smaller and cheaper and EVs will have batteries that are big enough for what consumers want.
    Now I’ve skewed these number to make ICE vehicles as favorable as possible while hedging on EV efficiency. Where I claimed around 85% electricity to mechanical, in reality it’s well above 90^ and ICE vehicles not operating at WOT are far less than 33% efficient.

    Reply
    • Don Curton

      You’re conveniently ignoring the losses going from coal to boiling water to steam to electricity. Conveniently. We don’t pump electricity out of the ground. Duh.

      Reply
      • Eric H

        Don’t ignore the energy required to drill the well, pump that crude out of the ground, transport it to the refinery, refine it, then transport and pump it into your tank.

        We were comparing in-vehicle storage.

        Reply
        • Don Curton

          Ok, then you’re also ignoring the loss of energy when charging and discharging the battery. If we ignore the charging losses (cause I guess you’re drawing a line around the problem that ignores a lot of losses on the EV side, one of which is the energy to mine the coal and transport it, cause remember, we don’t drill for electricity and you’re driving a coal powered car – MAH EV!), then the discharging is still not 100%. Since I’m not an electrical engineer (only a polymers engineer), I don’t know the formula involved. But I do know if I use my laptop or phone for extended periods, the battery gets hot. Really hot. That heat is wasted energy. So what percentage of the battery’s storage is wasted on discharge?

          And Danio below also has a good point about not driving until you’re completely empty also applies to MAH EV.

          Reply
    • danio

      You should really compare the nominal capacities of both storage vessels instead of shaving the gasoline one but not the electric. Neither will fully deplete their capacities under normal use in most scenarios. Also many cars that compare to a 100kwh Tesla are fitted with bigger tanks than 60L.

      Also of consideration is cold weather operation which matters to a significant portion of people. In a BEV heat comes directly from usable range, along with degradation from battery conditioning. In an ICE cabin heat is obtained from the previously “wasted” energy.

      Energy density considerations are especially magnified with vehicles like trucks, where if marketed for actual work, are an incredibly bad application for a BEV considering how much energy is required and how poorly a battery pack stores that vs a liquid fuel considering size, weight and cost.

      Still, you brought up some of the rough efficiency considerations that were glossed over which is important to note when actually comparing powertrains. However like Jack’s article points out, the advancement of the tech tree won’t progress in a linear fashion. What’s left with currently viable tech is mostly cost reduction through scale of about 20%-30% from where we stand today.

      Reply
      • stingray65

        Another factor I rarely see mentioned in BEV vs ICE discussions is the fact that an empty battery weighs the same as a full battery. So you are always lugging around 1000 lbs of dead weight in your Tesla, but a half-empty gasoline tank weighs about half the full weight, which increases efficiency and carrying capacity flexibility.

        Reply
        • Eric H

          That is a good point, although battery packs do get lighter as they discharge, I think it’s measured in fractions of a gram for the whole car.

          Batteries are currently quite heavy, but so are the parts of the drivetrain that EVs don’t need, and an electric motor is quite a bit smaller and lighter than an ICE of equivalent power. It’ll be a decade or two before EVs weigh the same as a current ICE vehicle.

          Reply
      • Eric H

        Danio,
        The incremental improvements in battery technology are ongoing, there doesn’t need to be a “game changer” but there will be. Solid state batteries are nearing production from a few manufacturers and should be another good boost in storage, then they will improve incrementally.

        Right now, heavy trucks and hauling are just not in the wheelhouse of battery tech. Wait ten years and see how far battery tech has gone then re-evaluate. Cell density (W/Kg) has tripled since 2010. If that continues (chances are good) either batteries will be 1/3 the size or trucks can carry 300KWh with today’s sized packs. Rivian has said to expect 50% range (150miles) when towing a full load (11,000lbs) If in a decade you can get a pickup that can tow 450 miles on a full charge that’s pretty good, and would certainly work for us towing our race trailer to all the races we go to.

        I don’t think anyone is claiming the EVs solve every transportation problem right now, but as they currently exist they solve the vast majority of the people’s daily use cases.

        Reply
        • stingray65

          But you are again assuming the magical improvements in battery density and cost/weight reduction will continue on a steady path indefinitely which is far from a certainty, and is the point of Jack’s essay.

          Reply
        • Jack Baruth Post author

          Your optimism regarding solid state batteries isn’t shared by any automotive engineer with whom I’ve spoken. The common belief is “We might be able to start productionizing them in 2032-2035, which will take a few years.”

          Batteries aren’t processors; you can’t just shrink the process and get more out of them.

          If the magic batteries arrive, then all of these concerns are moot, but make no mistake: you’re discussing magic right now, not any known science.

          Reply
          • Eric H

            Do you really think a trend that has been going for over 50 years is going to stop, even when more research effort than ever is going into finding improvements? If so, that’s an extremely pessimistic attitude.
            None of this is magic, it’s the result of hard work by teams researchers. Do you think the tripling of batter density over the last decade was luck? Do you think the perfect battery has already been invented and that no further improvements are possible?
            With the attitudes you’re espousing you would have dismissed cars by 1900 as not better than horses at everything and expecting anything better is wishing for magic beans.
            We’re 13 years into the modern electric car era, It’s ain’t over for ICE vehicles, but the fat lady is warming up off stage.

          • Jack Baruth Post author

            I assure you that if the federal government had MANDATED the choice of horses over automobiles then my 1900 predecessor would be just as annoyed as I am now.

            If there really is battery magic on the way, then we don’t need a governmental mandate to make EVs popular, because as you have accurately stated a good EV would handle all the use cases for most people.

            If there isn’t any battery magic on the way, then we are looking at a regulatory nightmare and a complete reimagining of what it means to have personal freedom in the next decade.

            I can tell you what I think is more likely, but you know that.

    • Crancast

      ‘Sure everyone knows electric vehicles don’t have the ultimate range per ‘tank’ but with the continued progression of battery storage (~10% a year for the last 50 years) it won’t be long until that’s no longer true.’

      Since 2014, has the battery situation changed, much less doubled at your ~10% y-o-y improvement? No. How about a 60% improvement over the past 5 years then? Still, no. What are all of the manufactures gravitating towards over the next 5-10 years? More batteries, more weight, very slight packaging improvements for range and pushing for faster charges. They are not banking on the magic bean for a reason.

      EV’s, ICE, and PHEV’s work together, from my viewpoint – must work together. There is no reason regenerative, one pedal could not be available across the board in the same way EV’s could be supplemented with a portable on-board generator when necessary. But real solutions do not provide the desired sound bites.

      Here is a fairly pedestrian use case – 130 mile highway radius from the DC suburbs to the west. The west being rural Virginia, West Virginia, MD Panhandle, South-Central PA. That is one of many EV deadzones all across the US. Could you take an EV on that round trip, sure. And then when there is a huge accident on I-70 West like yesterday and you are backtracking in the woods, you are screwed. We have two EV’s, really enjoy them, and we drove our minivan with a full tank and arrived back at home with half a tank. Driving either EV 70-80+ mph and then the accident major re-route, would have been at least 2 stops praying and hoping the very few charging stations actually worked. And that is the the fall, try the same hitting a ski slope during a brisk winter day. These are nothing trips turned into a charge-navigation puzzle.

      Please keep in mind, we enjoy our EV’s and are fortunate enough to be in a financial position to own them, but if having to choose one vehicle, it would be a very easy choice – an ICE minivan or crew cab truck.

      Jack – my one critique of your EV stance is that you seem to favor nostalgia over today. Most EV topics or reviews seem extremely jaded. Thank you for the subject here all the same, agree with larger premise.

      Reply
      • stingray65

        I love the YouTube videos of EV fanboys showing how they can do long trips with their Teslas or eTrons or i3s (challenging), and half the video is planning the route around charging stations. Typical dialog “the Tesla navigation system says we should drive 80 miles and then charge 10 minutes, then drive 120 miles and charge 15 minutes”, and invariably they get to some station that is out-of-order or very slow and they pray/white knuckle their way to the next one hoping it works, and then need to sit 45 minutes charging because they deep discharged the battery. Of course during the 10, 15, 45 minutes charging breaks they can do some video content offering some spellbound commentary on how they are getting getting 80 miles of range in only 15 minutes, but does the average non-YouTuber car owner want to stop every 100 miles for 10 minutes of charging and orient their whole route around charging networks? Answer: EVs have 2% market share.

        Reply
        • Eric H

          How good was the refueling situation a decade into the 20th century? I’m sure anyone who owned a Model A or T could have just jumped into their car and droven cross-country on a whim.

          Reply
          • stingray65

            The difference was that the early automobiles only had to compete against horses that also had very limited range and very difficult feeding and maintenance schedules. The first gasoline station opened in 1913-14, and by the late teens every little town had a gas pump so yes you could drive cross-country in a T or A on a whim – assuming there was a passable road to drive on.

          • Vladimir

            Fuel availability predated the automobile, actually. By the time automobiles were in widespread use (~1900-1910 was the big jump) you already had decades of internal combustion engines chugging away all over the country. In fact they were likely more common than they are now in most uses simply because rural electrification wasn’t really a thing at the time. However, having a hit-and-miss engine, hot bulb, early tractor, etc was very common. A rural farm in 1900 would be using something like that as both a replacement for horsepower as well as a replacement for steam traction engines. Pretty much anywhere you’d be able to drive to in 1900 already would have a rail link and a Sears catalog. Local general stores in podunk towns would stock kerosene, gasoline, fuel oil, solvents and the like both for motor fuel as well as other applications. As cars became more affordable and people drove more and roads improved you got actual gas stations. But long before that fuel wasn’t the concern of early automobile owners. If anything it was tires. Odds are you’d run out of functional tires, or otherwise break down or get stuck/reach an impassable road before you’d be worrying about running out of gas.

      • Mopar4wd

        I was curious about this so I asked a colleague about WH/KG development (he works in engineering battery standards.) He said 20 years ago there was very few commercially available batteries over 100 WH/KG. Now batteries over 150 WHKG are very common and many are over 200 WHKG ( like Tesla which he said is around 250 WHKG). So we have seen a doubling of effective density in about 2 decades. He also stated he has seen several labs running consistent testing on 350-400 WHKG batteries (including some field testing) , so that seems to be known science too that throwing money at will probably solve. He said above that there are a number of working prototypes but not much he thinks will be production ready soon. So we are kind of at a point where we will likley see increasing density, I think the harder part will be cutting down on charging times.

        Reply
  31. Vladimir

    Case in point: Theranos. The idea that tech can be brute forced with capital and positive press is stupid enough, let alone medicine.

    Reply
    • Jack Baruth Post author

      Rather hilariously, Elizabeth Holmes was smarter than everyone around her; the only flaw she had was greed. A wiser person would have sold and bailed around the “Uncle Klunker” period, but she really thought she could run the ball all the way to a multi-billion-dollar endzone before people got wise.

      Reply
      • Eric H

        Holmes’ problem is she’s a sociopath.
        She know the tech didn’t work, she knew they didn’t have any clue when it might work, and then took money from sick people anyway, even farming out some of the testing to actual reputable labs while lying about it to everyone.

        Now she’s claiming it’s not her fault because her mean boyfriend told her to do it.

        She’s no dummy, but she has no conscience.

        Reply
        • stingray65

          Holmes got away with so much because she was a good looking female with a tech story to sell in a world full of feminist journalists eager to break glass ceilings by promoting a female Steve Jobs or Bill Gates.

          Reply
      • Vladimir

        And if it was a tech company she might have succeeded, too. It’s like she got so high on her own supply that she forgot that there’s a difference between pushing software to market dominance and actually creating new physical technology. You can fake it ’till you make it if you are Facebook or even Amazon. There’s nothing new about either, 99% of the value is just that they are a monopoly. So pushing, lying, cheating, stealing your way to monopoly makes sense. However when you are trying to actually invent something at some point obviously it has to work. A monopoly position on home distributed mini-lab testing is pretty worthless if your machine doesn’t actually test the blood correctly.

        Reply
    • John C.

      Wasn’t the Theranos machine approved by the government for one of it’s applications with other applications still pending when the bottom fell out? And didn’t her competing CEOs, her journalist antagonists, the people that were shorting her stock, and even the aging actress who is playing her in a mocking manner all share one trait that I can’t seem to recall but only 2 percent of Americans share. I suspect there is another side to this story.

      Reply
  32. gtem

    On a related note, this “gem” of an Op-Ed just popped up on TTAC:
    https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2021/10/opinion-when-it-comes-to-ev-range-520-miles-are-too-many/

    What an absolute brain-dead take. Long range to me is a feature of any “serious” car, whether its a truck/SUV hauling cargo, a luxury car or grand tourer, etc. These contrarian “hot takes” are inevitably bad and not even worth reading, to be honest. Pure click bait to rile people up I suppose.

    I remember driving a rental 2016 Passat 1.8TSI from Indy to Kansas City a few years ago and I still had a quarter tank rolling into town, the VW was returning right around 40mpg on the open road with adaptive cruise set to 76-77mph. With the LACK of range anxiety, Teutonically stable steering and suspension setup, and adaptive cruise, that thing felt much more luxurious and relaxing to me than its US-oriented, cost-cut design might otherwise suggest.

    Redditor alert: “Twenty-eight minutes. That’s barely enough time to take a good, bathroom-based Reddit scroll and stuff a McSubway King combo meal in your face.”

    When I’m trying to make time my stops are strictly based on my bladder and I’m in and out of a rest area in less than five minutes, the fewer fillups the better. I stick to beef jerky/pork rinds and limit fluid and caffeine intake to the minimum required. The “Reddit man” wouldn’t understand.

    Reply

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