Solid state, the Biden agenda, and congratulations

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Photo: Brian Patrick Tagalog/Unsplash

Each Wednesday, The Mobilist highlights reader articles on Medium, comments, and updates.

Solid state, this decade: Until very recently, dreams of using pure lithium metal in a solid state battery were just that — dreams. But at once, a number of startups have said they will commercialize such a battery by 2025 or so, including QuantumScape, Solid Power, and ProLogium. In a tweet, James Frith, head of energy storage at BloombergNEF, goes along with this forecast and says solid state will be much cheaper than liquid electrolyte cells.

Biden will put EVs and batteries center stage: In a note to clients yesterday, Dan Ives, the technology analyst at Wedbush, wrote that Joe Biden will put the promotion of electric vehicles and batteries at the center of economic policy. In an email, Ives told me there is “a 70% chance” that Biden will extend the $7,500-a-vehicle EV rebate, including for Tesla, for whom it expired when the company sold the maximum number of vehicles. Ives also expects tax incentives for the build-out of a fast-charging network across the U.S. …


A second-half economic surge will be the lone bright spot in another long, dark year

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Photo illustration. Images: Getty Images; Shutterstock

Around the middle of each January, I publish six forecasts for the year to come. Why the middle of the month and not the start? My experience is that a December or first-of-the-year forecast risks residual influence of the old — you are still at least partly immersed in the year coming to an end and less likely to be fully alert to important clues of what is about to unfold. And this year, the real start of something new is Inauguration Day, not New Year’s Day.

This is the ninth year of these forecasts. I base them on 15 common sense guidelines — I call them “rules” — that reflect how people have tended to behave over time. (Here are the first 14, from the Muddle-Along Rule to the Conspiracy Rule, and the 15th.) …


Good morning! Welcome back to The Mobilist.

Today we have the Wednesday Inbox, with Mobilist readers writing about solid state batteries, the Biden agenda, and taking up new posts.

Join: If you haven’t already, follow the blog here, and ask your friends to as well.

I’m interested in your suggestions, gripes, and thoughts. Email me here: steve@medium.com.

Here we go.


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Ultra high-voltage lines strung in Qingjian, China. Photo: Zhao Chen/Getty

In vision and scale, the idea is mind-boggling: In response to an expected doubling of global demand for electricity over the next generation, China is proposing a super-grid — a grand, world-spanning, cross-border, centrally managed network of power generation. By 2070, it would deliver green-generated electricity to 80 countries, from the United States to Southeast Asia to Russia, Kuwait, Nigeria, and all points in between. The electricity would be moved across advanced power lines operating at an ultra-high 800 kilovolts, providing the umph to push the power thousands of miles while losing little capacity along the way. …


In a dark moment, some predict a new economic and cultural boom. Here’s the reality

Vintage flapper girl photoshopped wearing a blue face mask, holding a cell phone with a money bill stack going up and down.
Vintage flapper girl photoshopped wearing a blue face mask, holding a cell phone with a money bill stack going up and down.
Photo illustration, sources: Vintage Images; Jasmin Merdan/Moment; Issarawat Tattong/Moment (via Getty)

In recent years, leading economists, investors, and journalists have painted a decidedly grim vision of our near future: The U.S. economic system and society itself are coming apart, these dystopian voices have said, beset by one of the darkest chapters in the country’s history, including a pandemic, a jobs apocalypse, and now a deadly attack on Congress.

Yet, in one of the most whiplash-inducing spiritual flip-flops in memory, the new zeitgeist for the next decade is shimmering positivism. The Economist is tantalized by hints of “a new period of economic dynamism,” and the Financial Times of “a once-in-a-century boom.” The Wall Street Journal foresees the best era for manufacturing since the 1990s, and even Nobel laureate Paul Krugman, one of the most convinced curmudgeons in economics, is foreshadowing a fresh period of expansion. …


From Airbnb to massive corporations, companies are openly taking a political stand. Will it last?

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Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images

After one of the most whiplash years in the history of the hospitality industry, Airbnb announced a difficult decision on Wednesday: It would cancel all reservations made through the app in the Washington, D.C., area next week when President-elect Joe Biden will be inaugurated. The reason: the threat of more violent protests by right-wing supporters of President Trump, some of whom stayed in Airbnbs when thousands of them stormed Congress last week.

Airbnb is shouldering the cost of the cancellations, but in a way, their hand was forced. In an action unprecedented in modern memory, Airbnb is more or less simply going along with an uprising by a critical mass of companies against Trump and his congressional allies. By one count, 43 mostly blue-chip companies have denounced and halted political contributions to the 147 Republicans who voted not to certify Biden, or paused donating to all politicians entirely. …


A supercautious Sujeet Kumar is attracting positive reviews for his silicon anode

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Photo: Anastasiia Krivenok/Getty

In 2015, I published a book called The Powerhouse, which followed a group of researchers at Argonne National Laboratory as they attempted to create a super battery. Two members of this group had invented NMC, which later became the industry’s go-to battery chemistry, used by everyone except Tesla. Now, it was trying to move to NMC 2.0, a turbo-charged advance of the formulation.

But on the sidelines, a Silicon Valley startup called Envia Systems was racing to accomplish the same thing. Envia had licensed Argonne’s invention, and gotten GM intensely interested in its version of the chemistry. So interested that GM cut a deal to use Envia’s NMC 2.0 in its first new pure electric vehicle — the Chevy Bolt. It was a gargantuan vote of confidence in Envia, and stood to make its executives and investors wealthy. …


The Supercar, China, and a slew of awards

Outgoing mail in green mailbox with a red flag in upright position.
Outgoing mail in green mailbox with a red flag in upright position.
Photo: madisonwi/E+/Getty

Each Wednesday, The Mobilist highlights reader articles on Medium, comments, and updates.

Much is said about the speed of the electric car: In Ludicrous mode, the Tesla S goes from zero to 60 in 2.3 seconds. The Lucid Air does the same in 2.5 seconds, and the Porsche Taycan Turbo S in 2.6. Super cool for the new age of electrics. But what about tradition and the original supercars as conceived by the Italians — the Ferrari, the Lamborghini, and Pininfarina? …


The president’s savior complex was central to my annual list of geopolitical forecasts

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Photo illustration: Paul Spella; image sources: Getty Images (1), Reuters (1), Shutterstock (4)

In September 1996, the Taliban captured the Afghan capital of Kabul. In a strike of unexpected speed, thousands of fighters streamed into the ancient, mountain-ringed city aboard Toyota Hilux pickups. One group of them knocked at the gate of a well-known United Nations compound housing Mohammed Najibullah, the much-hated former Afghan president. The men killed Najibullah, fulfilling a promise the Taliban had made years ago, and dragged his body through the streets. Then they hung it from a traffic pole outside the presidential palace.

Americans may have only just avoided a Najibullah moment last week when a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol: At least one rioter threatened to kill House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Two men carried zip-tie handcuffs, and the FBI is currently investigating whether there were plans to take members of Congress hostage. One video shows a group of rioters chanting, “Hang Mike Pence.” No one knows whether the rioters would have actually carried out the threats if they came face to face with the vice president or any members of Congress. But the severity of the attack, in which rioters murdered a police officer by striking him with a fire extinguisher, battered others with bats, furniture, and other objects, and threw yet another down a flight of stairs, suggests that Pence and Pelosi may have indeed been in danger. …


Step aside, Tesla and QuantumScape

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The NIO ET7, the flagship sedan for the Chinese electric car manufacturer, during its launch ceremony in Chengdu, in China’s southwest Sichuan province. Photo: STR/AFP/China OUT/Getty Images

For a good part of last year, lithium-ion batteries attracted perhaps more fanatical attention than at any time since their invention four decades ago. From Wall Street to Omaha, people parsed the latest battery advances by Tesla, a Silicon Valley startup called QuantumScape, and legacy players like GM. Some of the hottest IPOs were startup electric vehicle companies, which sold billions of dollars in equity.

Widely overlooked, though, is that these companies — while first-rate competitors in the high-stakes electrification race — are not in fact the cutting edge in commercial advanced batteries. For two years or so, mostly under the radar, Chinese companies have stolen the West’s thunder when it comes to the super-battery. …

About

Steve LeVine

I am Editor at Large at Medium with interests in ferreting out the whys for the turbulence all around us. Ex-Axios, ex-Quartz, ex-WSJ, ex-NYT, ex-FT.

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