renewables

Tesla’s Battery Day

Yesterday was Tesla’s much anticipated battery day where they announced some of their major new battery developments. They have a 16 minute video with Elon Musk and another guy on stage wearing black t-shirts giving a summary.

These developments sound very impressive to me. They appear to have found new manufacturing methods that will make major cost reductions.  They claim to have a better design that reduces heat and eliminates the use of cobalt, which has been a PR disaster. I was particularly impressed with the use of the small battery cases being used to form a honeycomb structural member. I think this will give battery vehicles a major advantage over hydrogen fuel cell ones. Musk makes what I think is a token mention of grid storage. I think the notion of battery grid storage is delusional. Once grid battery storage has been discharged, you have to find a dispatchable source or resort to the euphemistically named demand response.

I couldn’t help but notice a rather measured tone in the two speakers. It’s hard to tell how the future will pan out until it actually happens. I still remember the A123 debacle.

I don’t think Elon’s new advances are going to turn out like this, but there will likely be bumps along the way. I think Musk is to be congratulated.

I have a few more thoughts about Elon Musk. A lot of human advancement is driven by central figures.  These are people like Henry  Ford, Steve Jobs and Thomas Edison. I think of them as the Howard Rourkes of the world. Howard Rourke is the hero in Ayn Rand’s novel, The Fountainhead. In real life, they are not perfect as Rand has been criticized for making them, but I think they are very important for human progress. What is the best thing that can help advance such people? I think it is allowing them to become billionaires. When Elizabeth Warren says, “you didn’t build that”, she’s wrong in a figurative sense. I’ll end with my all time favorite commentary on Ayn Rand by Reason cartoonist Peter Bagge. Reason no longer has the actual cartoon posted, but you can see it on Pinterest.

22 thoughts on “Tesla’s Battery Day

  1. A lot of human advancement is driven by central figures. These are people like Henry Ford, Steve Jobs and Thomas Edison.

    And Jeffrey Skilling, Elizabeth Holmes, Charles Ponzi etc. How do you tell which is which at a distance?

    Musk has a history of not delivering anything like as much as he promises.

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  2. Mike, I was very much struck by the difference in tone between the two new threads I read here this morning: yours very upbeat, and Tony’s a horror story about Australian educational practices.

    To Chester, I would remind him of Edison. With regards to the light bulb, a long term failure, until…..he wasn’t,

    Liked by 2 people

  3. “How do you tell which is which at a distance?”

    You probably need the perspective of history. Henry Ford and Thomas Edison did have their sleazy aspects. Ford had his ant-Semitism and butt boy Harry Bennett. Edison ripped off the guy who made the La Voyage to the moon movie.

    I have to give Elon Musk credit for being able to maneuver through business and government and create a somewhat successful car company and a rocket company. I must say that when he announced his plans for a four door sedan, I had very low expectations. The model S, while expensive, turned out to be a stunning design. I also think those rockets that come back and land are a great boost to national moral.

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  4. Sorry to go off topic, but with Alan’s mention of Edison, I have to plug (pardon the pun) Joseph Swan, the Sunderland-born and much-overlooked pioneer of electric light, whose discoveries were made at the same time as Edison’s. They collaborated in a company commonly called Ediswan. Why Edison continues to get all the credit, and Swan is overlooked, particularly in his home country, has long been a mystery to me.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Swan

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Equally off topic: Tesla, after resigning from Edison’s employ (due in no small part to the fact that he would no longer put up with his employer’s low standards of personal hygiene) went on to develop equipment that could generate 40 million volts (at a time when the great European labs thought that 30 thousand was a big deal). He experimented with vacuum tubes and thereby discovered the radiological benefits of X-rays, though he failed to pursue this. Four years later, Rontgen did the same and stole the thunder. Having missed that boat, Tesla looked for other applications by sticking his head in the prodigously powerful beams he was creating. Amongst other things, he discovered that the experience left him in a chronic state of overwhelming lethargy. He published his findings, announcing to the world that he had discovered a safe alternative to narcotics. It didn’t catch on and he was left to find fame elsewhere.

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  6. Mark, continuing your off-topicality and trying to answer your question about Edison and Swan: Edison was a better entrepreneur and was American, whereas Swan was probably the better inventor.

    A good example of Swan’s poor entrepreneurship (outlined in his Wikipedia entry) was when he developed a method of creating a vacuum within his light bulbs. He did this two years earlier than Herman Sprengel yet both Joseph Swan and Thomas Edison were reported to have used a Sprengel pump to evacuate their carbon filament lamps. Another invention taken over in people’s minds by another.

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  7. This thread seems to be moving towards the realm of Matt Ridley’s new book, How Innovation Works. I haven’t read it yet, but I’ve watched/listened to a lot of interviews he’s done on it. He’s big on the 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration aspect. My emphasis is on how capitalism allows big egos to become larger than life personalities that profoundly affect civilization. Major influential figures can also arise in governments. My favorite example would be Hyman Rickover creating the nuclear navy.

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  8. Mike,

    Hyman Rickover is an excellent example of someone who should be a household name, but isn’t. To put it in the words of nuclear engineer and author, James Mahaffey:

    “Admiral Hyman Rickover pushed his passion for a nuclear powered submarine as hard as he could without being formally charged with criminal intent, and he was rewarded with one of the most successful projects in the history of engineering.”

    His development of the US Navy’s nuclear power plant was a tale of technical ingenuity and relentless drive that could match any of the exploits of Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

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  9. One drunken Sunday about ten years ago I did the 1% inspiration thing and came up with an entirely novel form of fly-killer. I then perspired for a bit, made a couple of crude prototypes, tested them until all the flies in the house were dead, ordered some fly pupae online, waited for them to hatch and then murdered those flies too with the prototypes.

    At that point, I came over all Prince Andrew and ran out of perspiration. Perhaps there was something about the Falklands on the telly. Or Pizza Express. Whatever. The prototypes are still sitting in a tray gathering dust (and even a few dead flies).

    Does anyone want to do the 99% perspiration thing? I’ll give you 1% of the profits.

    Oh, all right. 2%.

    OK. Last offer: £50.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Vinny, I have my own experiences with ego fueled inspiration and insufficient perspiration. Back in the 90’s, I invented a keyboard to do one hand touch typing on hand held computers.

    After getting patents, making prototypes, going to trade shows and such, I didn’t get very far with it. The world’s most over-rated saying has to be:

    Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.

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  11. Alan:

    Mike, I was very much struck by the difference in tone between the two new threads I read here this morning: yours very upbeat, and Tony’s a horror story about Australian educational practices.

    Written four days ago but I’ve been on holiday! It struck me in turn both because Mike’s tone in this thread is a welcome surprise on my return (I haven’t looked at any Cliscep thread in around ten days) and because I was thinking about two very good things our own (UK) government has done in my absence: 1) in the transgender debate and legals: ruling out ‘self id’ and banning the phrase ‘born in the wrong body’ in schools and 2) proposing Charles Moore as the next chairman of the BBC. A climate sceptic and a board member of the GWPF, no less.

    There’s been other stuff the government has done in the period that may not have met every clisceppers approval but these two are really fine. How does one express that around here? 🙂

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  12. Pingback: Check Out my Posts at Cliscep | Canman

  13. The high point of my career was the first flight demonstration of my space launch concept using aerial towing, at Edwards AFB in California. I stood out on a runway intersection with my company co-founder, and watched in amazement as Air Force and NASA personnel prepared the C-141 tow aircraft and the F-106 Delta Dart supersonic interceptor (modified by my engineers) for takeoff. The level of activity was spectacular, and I was suddenly overcome by emotion at the simple reality: “I made this happen.”

    It wasn’t that I did all (or even much) of the work. I had an idea for commercial space transportation. I quit a lucrative job to pursue it, and proved it on paper to the extent that I convinced a number of investors to back me. I also attracted a large number of talented engineers from my former employer (TRW), who all had worked in various parts of our industry, and were eager to work for me – in many cases on a volunteer basis. My former bosses’ boss was Dan Goldin, who was the NASA Administrator at the time of this flight. He was an enormous facilitator. All of these people worked day and night to make the flight you see here happen.

    Last night, my wife and I watched “Steve Jobs,” and it was like reliving my past (without the billions in wealth) – especially the scenes where Jobs and Wozniak were talking about who did what, and Jobs took Wozniak into the orchestra pit. He described himself as the conductor. It was exactly on point.

    I know Elon, and like him a lot. In all of my dealings with him, he’s been straightforward, polite, and almost shy. My last hurrah in commercial space was as Chief Engineer of the Office of Commercial Space Transportation in the Federal Aviation Agency. I dealt with SpaceX a lot in that capacity, and tried to ensure that the federal “oversight” was not onerous. I have the utmost respect for SpaceX on a technical level, and for Elon as an orchestra leader – and more. I see what he is doing in these videos, and know why he is doing them. Been there, done that, though not on the same scale.

    Cut him some slack. The life of a visionary is not easy, and the life of a successful visionary (as Elon absolutely is in the world of space transportation) is demanding as hell. He may bet on some wrong horses. I thought Tesla was one, until I took a trip in a relative’s Model X SUV a couple of months ago….l have never, ever been “wowed” by an automobile, but that one left me agape.

    Judge the claims against engineering and physics, and adjust expectations accordingly. But don’t dismiss him. He has too many successes for that.

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Fascinating, thank you Dr Kelly! So much of our prosperity has been down to entrepreneurs like Musk – and like you. The ones that are less successful – even the ones that lost all their shirt – are a crucial part of the system that has benefited all of us. We should take a moment to be grateful for what we have experienced in the West for so many years since 1945.

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  15. Dr. Kelly, thanks for that story. I fixed your video so that it would show up. WordPress can be finicky. I found another video in that YouTube channel that looks like it might be from the same flight:

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  16. Thank the kind comments – and the field promotion (I actually only have a Master’s Degree)! The video you found, Mike, may be from the first flight. We did six total, and got more solid engineering data on aerial towing than I think has ever existed. My wife recently digitized all of our old video tapes, and I have all of the video NASA and the Air Force shot, and could probably figure it out. The best legacy of this test program was that our F-106 pilot, Mark P. “Forger” Stucky, went on to become the Lead Test Pilot/Flight Test Director for Virgin Galactic. Mark had heard of this crazy tow test project, and actually hired in at NASA just for the chance to be the pilot – and made it! One of the nicest guys I’ve ever known.

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  17. @ Michael (5:31 am) – your comment led me down a rabbit warren of wikipedia articles, from the F-106 to zero-zero ejector seats to the second Taiwan Strait crisis to Kinmen Island and the debate between Kennedy and Nixon in 1960 (how measured and sane they sounded…), on to the Lieyu massacre and finally somehow the “Anzio Annie” Krupp K5 railway gun.

    Funny how that sometimes happens with wiki, & that’s when it’s at its best.

    Liked by 3 people

  18. Here’s even more of a rabbit hole for you. The F-106 was an amazing aircraft. One of them, tail number 58-0787, went into a flat spin during combat training. The pilot tried every trick in his training books to recover, but finally ejected, and landed safely. The aircraft, on the other hand, recovered from its spin, and went on to make a belly landing in a wheat field outside Big Sandy, Montana. It was recovered intact, repaired, and returned to service.

    A colleague and friend of mine, Jim Van Laak, was an F-106 pilot at the time. He learned about the “cornfield bomber,” and eventually got himself assigned to fly it. He reasoned that any plane that could land itself when the pilot had to bail out was the plane for him. Jim was Deputy Associate Administrator of the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation when I joined it in 2010.

    There’s more: NASA commissioned Tom Tucker to write a Monograph in Aerospace History on the F-106 program, and he did a really good job. It is available at:

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  19. @ Michael: yes, I read about the cornfield bomber while tunnelling around. But having read about it is definitely trumped by knowing someone who flew the plane…

    On the same wiki page it says that the first 12 pilots to eject from the 106 all died (?possibly the text refers rather to the model of ejector seat?). So I suppose that’s something to think about next time someone says 13 is unlucky.

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