California’s Emerging Lithium Valley at the Salton Sea: Will California Overtake Germany as the World’s Fourth Largest Economy?

The electric vehicle revolution, powered by lithium ion batteries, has begun, with much thanks to the founders of Tesla, Marc Tarpenning and Martin Eberhard, and to government funding from the Obama and Biden administrations and the state of California. The state of California is booming as its policies and funding propels the EV revolution. Yes, government does most of the risk taking and funds most innovation. As Dr. Mariana Mazzucato, Ph.D., professor of economics, says, “Every major technological change in recent years traces most of its funding back to the state.” For example, as we continuously watch the explosion of Tesla automobiles because, for one of many reasons, the autopilot system fails and crashes the car, leading to a battery explosion, government funded companies, such as Safecore in Carlsbad, CA, are focused to solve the problem that Elon Musk ignores. Also, the energy needed to recharge batteries will come from a number of sources, including solar panels that were invented at government funded Bell Labs, and the lithium ion batteries were invented by groups of scientists at the State University of New York and the DOE, after the whole field of lithium ion electrochemistry was started at Berkeley Lab in California in the 1950s. EVs need computers to manage their electrical system, and the transistor in computers was invented at government supported Bell Labs and later commercialized in California with support from CalTech professor Dr. Arnold Beckman, Ph.D. The next generation transistor, the 3D transistor, commercialized by Intel, was invented at UC Berkeley by Dr. Chenming Hu, Ph.D. an immigrant from Taiwan who was educated at Berkeley. Now, scientists at UC Merced and UC Santa Cruz have discovered that solar panel canopies over California’s massive canal system have multiple positive effects, including more efficient solar panels due to the cooling effects of the water on the panels and also that shading the water leads to much less evaporation and more available water. Working with the universities, the state of California, and the Trulock Irrigation District, the private company Solar AquaGrid in Marin County is spearheading this new project. Project Nexus as it is called, is innovative and will be widely deployed over the coming years and feed efficient solar energy into battery storage systems throughout the state of California. Monitoring and protecting the grid and all that is attached to it is a company called Siloxit in Concord. They’ve developed sensors and communication methods to monitor the integrity of the grid. If the Siloxit technology finds a problem, ALD Technical Solutions of San Diego can fix it with their new composite repair technology. Their technology was developed with the help of CalTestBed, a California funded program at UC campuses to support the development of green energy. Another innovation occurring in solar panels is the development of transparent solar panels originally invented at MIT and Michigan State University and being commercialized by Ubiquitous Energy in Redwood City. Under intense study, imagine the enormous amount of energy that could be generated by these organic solar panels if they covered the many “glass skyscrapers” in our cities. An enormous amount of capital and talent is flowing into the EV revolution. While some people spend their days on Twitter pretending to have founded companies and created the company’s technology, many others are quietly doing that actual work. As examples, Blue Current in Hayward, California was founded by UC Berkeley professor Dr. Nitash Balsara, Ph.D. and Stanford professor Dr. Joseph DeSimone, Ph.D. with $30 million from Koch Strategic Platforms. They are pioneering a solid-state silicon technology for EV batteries, an alternative to the massive lithium ion battery industry, and in Berkeley, scientists from the Berkeley Lab founded a company, Poly Plus, making a new lithium solid state battery with a glass (thin and conducts ions) protected lithium anode that greatly increases charge density. SK Batteries, one of the largest battery producers, has partnered with Poly Plus to develop this new technology for their batteries.

Beyond the fact that CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere continues to rise, not to mention death-causing pollution such as PM2.5 (small, 2.5 micron particles that traverse through the lungs), weaning ourselves from vehicles powered by petroleum and gas is especially important during times when murderous dictators, such as Putin and even the Texas oilmen, lawyers, and bankers who support Putin, control much of the world’s hydrocarbons. Texas is the leading emissions producer in the US, accounting for 15% of greenhouse gases in 2019. Elon Musk is trying to make pollution in Texas worse by drilling for gas in the state. And, while Texas discourages, even punishes, companies who are moving to more sustainable energy practices, California promotes the movement of a clean energy industry. Moving clean energy forward in the US has been, and continues to be difficult in the face of conservative politicians who receive dark money from these dirty corporations. For example, the FBI charged Larry Householder, Ohio’s Republican Speaker of the House, with a conspiracy to pass a $1.5 billion bailout in return for $61 million in dark money. The racketeering was allegedly orchestrated by Householder and the utility FirstEnergy to kill Ohio’s renewable energy law and prop up aging coal and nuclear power plants. Despite the piles of cash funneled to Republicans from dirty energy companies, legacy automakers are now racing to catch the company that two engineers, Martin Eberhard and Mark Tarpenning, founded in 2003, Tesla Motors (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eblPwXFb7TE). The two made a great combination given that Martin Eberhard had trained as a mechanical engineer at the Univ. Illinois, and Marc Tarpenning had trained as a computer scientist and electrical engineer at UC Berkeley. The combination of talents was perfect for developing an electric car. Working hard and quietly, not spending their days on Twitter, Eberhard and Tarpenning had the vision, created the company using their own money, developed the technologies that underly Tesla’s success (e.g. motors, electric battery packs, and gearing), and led the team that designed Tesla’s first two models. Martin and Marc had been influenced to build an electric car when they drove the iconic tzero built in San Dimas by AC Propulsion, an electric propulsion company led by a number of CalTech alumni. The work at CalTech on sustainability will grow exponentially in the coming years as the university’s new $750M Resnick Sustainability Center has broken ground. Had the erratic Elon Musk not been so wealthy and able to take control of Tesla, Eberhard and Tarpenning would have built a better car than what Tesla currently makes. As Sandy Munro has said, “If that car [Tesla] was made anywhere else, and Elon wasn’t part of the manufacturing process, they would make a lot of money.” According to Consumer Reports in 2021, Tesla ranked 27th out of the 28 auto brands for reliability. Sandy Munro, who takes apart and reverse-engineers cars to assess quality, issued a brutal appraisal of the Model 3 citing “flaws that we would see on a Kia in the ’90s.” He noted inconsistencies such as uneven gaps between exterior panels and paint job issues, saying “I can’t imagine how they released this.” Musk, in a hostile takeover, gained control of Tesla and ruined what was once an innovative company making innovative cars. Now under Musk, Tesla “lacks a low carbon strategy” and “codes of business conduct,” along with racism and poor working conditions reported at Tesla’s factory in Fremont, California, led to the company being dropped from the S&P 500′s ESG index. Now that Musk has used government money from the US and California, taxpayer’s dollars, to monetize the company that others built, he doesn’t wish to share what we, the people, helped him to monetize. True to form, Musk moved Tesla from the land of innovation, California, to the land of where the technology was innovated elsewhere and monetized by Robber Barons, Texas. To better subvert free speech, and to self-promote and espouse libertarian values that enhance robber barons such as himself, Musk purchased Twitter and will take the company private. Once private and not a public company, the SEC no longer regulates the company and Musk can say and tweet robber baron proclamations without regulatory scrutiny. That’s a major sales and marketing tool for Musk, and a loss for intellectual discourse within a public forum. Controlling Twitter is also a great platform for creating the false narrative that he, Musk, founded Tesla and created its technology. Someone should give Musk a copy of Dr. Dacher Keltner’s, “The Power Paradox” so that he can learn how power and money creates what Musk has become. Professor Keltner explains, “My own research has found that people with power tend to behave like patients who have damaged their brain’s orbitofrontal lobes (the region of the frontal lobes right behind the eye sockets), a condition that seems to cause overly impulsive and insensitive behavior.” Thanks to his impulsivity, another problem Musk has brought to Tesla is his obsession with the self-driving system, a “disaster waiting to happen.” Sandy Munro has judged the Tesla self driving system to be “crap.” Thanks to the hard work of Eberhard and Tarpenning, and despite Musk’s technical inabilities, but thanks to his con artist capabilities, a so-called “snake oil salesman” who builds a cult of followers using Twitter bots, last year, 2021, Tesla sold 936,000 vehicles, most of which were built in California.

Solar energy the least expensive energy available today, will fuel this revolution by charging the batteries. In Oakland, California, a startup called Leap Photovoltaics is working on a redesigned solar cell that could cut the cost of manufacturing in half. The power of solar to electrify our grids was recently demonstrated by California when 100% of the state’s energy was derived from clean energy, mostly solar, sources on April 30, 2022. In 1995, the US made about 40% of solar panels worldwide, but today it’s about 5%. Technologically advanced solar companies in the US, such as Solyndra in San Jose, would lose market share and go bankrupt as Republicans in the US Congress failed to support our companies when the Chinese dumped cheap, subsidized solar panels on the market. Once the Chinese force the US solar companies into bankruptcy, it’s the Chinese who then buy the companies to acquire their technology and expertise. The Chinese continue to drive US companies into bankruptcy as Republicans continue to believe in something that doesn’t exist, namely “free markets.” This continues to happen today. Also in San Jose, Auxin Solar, a manufacturer of solar panels, acting through a petition to the Dept. of Commerce, continues to fight unfair Chinese government supported solar panel manufacturers. Although the Obama, Trump, and Biden administrations have placed tariffs on Chinese solar panels, the Chinese skirt these tariffs by selling their panels in the US through shell companies located in non-tariff countries. An easy bolster to US manufacturing, including solar panels, would be the Build Back Better bill in Congress, which won’t be passed because of Republicans along with Senator Joe Manchin who continue to allow the Chinese to surpass the US in technological capabilities. As an example, the US government has solar powered vehicles on Mars, including a flying helicopter, remotely controlled from Earth, while billionaire-led space companies, subsidized by NASA technology and by diminution of the billionaire’s taxes, recreate what NASA did 60 years ago, putting men into suborbital space. The transfer of economic output of the US from government technology programs to billionaire technology programs, where billionaires take polluting joyrides into suborbital space occurs as the Chinese government, using the old US playbook where taxes drive new technologies, new companies, and new industries, means that the Chinese now have their own space station, a successful lunar lander, and a space ship orbiting Mars. As the US has embraced Reaganomics, China has embraced the successful economics that Eisenhower and Kennedy used to build the world’s most advanced country. Sadly, the US can no longer even build the most advanced semiconductor chipsets as Reagan failed to support the building of new advanced fabs in the US, while Japan did. The trend continued until President Biden announced government funding to the US semiconductor industry to regain our lead in semiconductor manufacturing and design. EVs don’t work without advanced semiconductor chipsets. For example, Tesla uses chips from Intel and AMD, both located in the silicon Valley. The “government is not the solution, it is the problem,” and “I don’t want intellectuals in my government” mindset espoused by Reagan, and taken to heart by right-wing shibboleths, would allow the Japanese, Germans, and Chinese to overtake the US in most areas of high tech. Want the world’s most advanced semiconductors, go to Taiwan or South Korea. Want solar panels, go to China. Want lithium ion batteries, go to Japan (Panasonic makes the batteries for Tesla). And for innovation, as a country, Germany is the leader. The Reaganesque euphemism for allowing US high tech manufacturing to move overseas in quest of quick bucks would be, “we’re building a knowledge-based economy.” Dr. Andy Grove, Ph.D., the successor at Intel to Dr. Gordon Moore, Ph.D., Intel’s founder, both of whom were educated in chemistry at Berkeley, warned us many times about this “knowledge-based economy” nonsense. Once a country loses its high-tech manufacturing base, it forgets how to do most things, and loses its ability to innovate and scale in a new marketplace. The spoils go to those who retain a competitive manufacturing base, and that is now overseas for many high tech industries.

Bolstering the slouching US, is the state of California where the state had more than 222,000 business startups from January 2020 through March 2021 – more than Texas and Florida combined. During this period, California accounted for nearly 16% of the country’s new business starts.  If California were a country, the state would be the world’s greatest innovator, but the rest of the US drags down what could be. Why does California lead the nation in innovation? One important reason is the world’s greatest university system, the University of California, the world’s leader in new patents. Remember, government funding creates whole new industries, such as the biotech industry when the DOE funded Nobel Laureate Dr. Donald Glaser at UC Berkeley to create the world’s first biotech company, Cetus Corporation, in Berkeley CA. That was back in 1973 before Reagan’s anti-government mentality hit the US. From the company would arise not only PCR (invented at Cetus by UC Berkeley-trained chemist, Dr. Kerry Mullis, Ph.D., a Nobel Laureate), the technology underlying many scientific advances, and many of the Covid-19 diagnostic tests, but the whole biotech industry would emerge in California and then spread to Boston and the rapidly growing San Diego area (biotech and tech sectors), the fourth biggest startup hub in the US. In the third leading startup hub in the US, behind San Francisco and New York, Los Angeles, government funding would create the internet, beginning at the University of California, Los Angeles. That was 1969, before Reagan’s “government is the problem, not the solution” mentality hit US Republicans. Thanks to recent, beginning in the 80s under Reagan, deregulation, privatization, and a drastic reduction in taxation of corporations and the wealthy, great mansions would be built in the US, but building innovation would be transferred overseas as the wealthy monetize what taxpayers helped to build. For many more examples of what government has brought us, read Dr. Mazzucato.

Those government funded solar panels aren’t the only way to collect solar energy. In Pasadena, Department of Energy-funded Heliogen is using AI-controlled mirrors to concentrate the solar energy to produce heat and other forms of power such as hydrogen. Also in Pasadena, a consortium of California universities, the Liquid Sunlight Alliance, led by CalTech is working on the molecular capture of solar energy in liquids. Stay tuned on this – even the conformational change of a molecule in liquid is a means to store energy for later use. Other new technologies, such as fusion power, will help make the energy to charge batteries like that being developed by TAE Technologies, spun-out of the University of California, Irvine, in Foothill Ranch, California and in close-by Irvine where Kronos Fusion Energy is located, and at the National Ignition Facility in Livermore, CA. Fusion reactors will create energy in the same way stars do, without toxic waste, and produce the electrical power in the coming years (about 2035 according to the Natl Academies of Sciences) needed to recharge the batteries of electrical vehicles. Some of the obstacles to be overcome in a commercially viable fusion reactor have been discussed, and include parasitic power consumption. General Atomics, in San Diego, has been doing fusion research since the 1950s, and makes many of the key components , including magnets, for the reactors. The infrastructure for these clean energy storage systems is now being built using 3D concrete printing techniques developed by RCAM Technologies in Los Angeles. Autonomous, electric construction equipment to finish the project is being made by Canvas in San Francisco. The physical layout of the construction site can now be made, more accurately and much faster, using an EV made by Dusty Robotics in Santa Clara. Other promising energy generating technologies include Low Energy Nuclear Reactions as explained by chemist Dr. Robert Tanzella (who trained at UC Berkeley Chemistry and was a scientist at SRI International in Menlo Park), currently being developed for commercialization at Brillouin Energy in Berkeley, CA. As I understand it, Brillouin Energy is using an electrolytic reaction that use hydrogen and palladium, and has been found to yield excess energy levels of between 30-400%. Another technology to store excess energy from solar and wind sources is carbon capture of thermal energy, being pioneered by Antora Energy in Sunnyvale. If you need to quantify the thermal conductance in your thermal energy storage device, look no further than Quantum Design in San Diego. Working to make solar panels more efficient by capturing and storing heat energy in the solar panels is Icarus RT in San Diego. In San Carlos, Swift Solar, founded by Drs. Joel Jean, Ph.D and Max Hoerantner, Ph.D., who trained in electrical engineering and physics, is developing perovskite solar cells instead of silicon solar cells for more efficient solar panels. And wind power is now benefitting from new vertical wind turbines by California Energy & Power in Ontario, California. Their wind turbines are more efficient than previous designs and can be easily and safely deployed close to the end user. Uprise Energy in San Diego is designing and manufacturing portable wind turbine-battery systems for mobile deployment. Among others, the US military is backing their technology. A long duration zinc bromine flow battery for the grid, called the EnergyPod, is being developed to store renewable energy by Primus Power in Hayward, CA. And, of course, green hydrogen is another means by which energy will be produced and used to charge batteries. Verdagy in beautiful Moss Landing, New Hydrogen in Santa Clarita, and Bloom Energy in San Jose, founded by a NASA scientist who developed fuel cells for spacecraft, Dr. KR Sridhar who has a Ph.D in Nuclear Engineering, are using electrolyzer technology to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. Dr. Wilson Hago, a physical chemist, has created Hago Energetics, located in Thousand Oaks, to use carbon capture technology to make green hydrogen from biomass waste. In San Diego, Oberon Fuels is converting waste to low- and negative carbon fuels, including hydrogen. Mote Inc in Los Angeles is making hydrogen from wood waste, and injecting the CO2 waste into the deep layers of the geological formations that underlie Kern County’s oil fields. Calwave, a spin-out of UC Berkeley and Berkeley Lab and its Cyclotron Road incubator, is harnessing the constant power of ocean waves. All of these technologies, along with solar from companies such as Spectrolabs in Sylmar and NanoSolar in San Jose, likely have a place in generating clean energy for charging EV batteries. Companies such as 8 Minute Solar in Los Angeles implement the latest technologies into solar systems that include battery storage. While lithium ion batteries are dominant in the EV application, and new lithium ion battery technologies, such as a new mechanical wave technology from UCSD spinout, SonoCharge in San Diego, other battery technologies may also work well, and complement lithium ion. For example, Enzinc located at the UC Berkeley Richmond Station in Richmond CA, has developed a new 3D sponge technology that allows zinc to be safely and efficiently used as the battery’s ion. While lithium may have a greater energy density than does zinc, the zinc sponge battery has less energy loss than the lithium ion batteries. Enzinc is funded by the CalSEED program, which is The California Sustainable Energy Entrepreneur Development Initiative, a $24m grant program created to help early stage California clean energy startups bring their concepts and prototypes to market. CalSEED is administered by CalCEF Ventures, in Oakland, on behalf of the California Energy Commission. Sodium ion batteries have already been commercialized by Natron Energy in Santa Clara, and a sodium all solid-state battery system is being developed by Unigrid in San Diego. In San Francisco, NDB is developing self-charging batteries, the so-called Nano Diamond Battery, that is powered by recycled nuclear waste. CO2 is produced to some degree in most manufacturing processes, including green manufacture of solar panels. To capture the CO2 that is generated during manufacturing of these technologies, Twelve, located in Berkeley, has a process that is capturing carbon from CO2 in the air for use in making industrial chemicals, part of the circular economy. And in nearby Pleasanton, Kiverdi, led by Dr. Lisa Dyson, a physicist at Berkeley Labs, is using carbon capture to make a number of commercial products, including food at its subsidiary, Air Protein. Carbon capturing algae is used to make a substitute for plastic, algae pellets, by Loliware in San Francisco. Green, synethetic fuel is being made by Prometheus Fuels in Santa Cruz using carbon capture, with a large investment from BMW and venture capital, while algae is being used for carbon capture to make synthetic fuel by Viridos in San Diego, with manufacturing plants at the Salton Sea. Spun out of UCLA is CarbonBuilt in Los Angeles, using carbon capture to make concrete. And in San Carlos, Ebb Carbon uses an electrochemical technique to draw carbon from the air and sink it into the ocean. Organic waste is converted to hydrogen by Kore in Los Angeles, and also in Los Angeles, stuff in the dump goes to the pump when Wasteful converts garbage to fuel..

Many EV manufacturers call the state of California home, including the four different Tesla factories in the Fremont area, currently covering a floor area of almost 7,000,000 sq/ft (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Tesla_factories) and plans to greatly expand even more in California. The electric motors themselves are becoming more efficient for many reasons, including additive manufacturing technologies that replace coil winding in the motors, produced by Elmworks in Berkeley. Energy management systems for these EVs is critical to their performance and has been developed for many of the cars, including Tesla, by AutoMotivePower in Los Angeles. Some of the other EV companies include Lucid in the Silicon Valley. The Lucid Air, with over 500 miles range on one charge, was awarded Motor Trend’s 2022 Car of the Year. Lucid uses a Nvidia, located in Santa Clara, chipset to implement its self-driving technology. Peter Rawlinson is the CEO of Lucid, having left Tesla, where he was VP of Vehicle Engineering before leaving because of Elon Musk’s bizarre behavior and huge ego. Mr. Musk creates competition for Tesla by bleeding talent. Parenthetically, Musk is not only not the founder of Tesla, but also not the founder of reusable rockets. Masten Space Systems in Mojave, CA first developed reusable rockets, which captured the imagination of Musk (at 4 min into the video, the reusable rocket is shown). Masten is currently developing a lunar lander for NASA along with a GPS system for the moon. Faraday Forward in Los Angeles, who has their manufacturing plant in Hanford, CA, which is on the California High Speed Rail line, is expected to begin production Q3 2022. California’s high speed rail, will be all electric, and the cars will be built in Sacramento by Siemans Mobility, which builds hybrids and all electric trains. Faraday Forward is led by Dr. Carsten Breitfeld, a doctor of engineering and founder of Byton and former VP of engineering at BMW. As one might expect of a company led by a doctor of engineering from Germany with experience at BMW, the Farady Future is technologically advanced, more so than the Tesla vehicles, well engineered, and has been reviewed very favorably by industry technologists. Some of the other EV companies include Zoox in Foster City, Karma Motors with its design center and manufacturing in Moreno Valley, Rivian in Irvine with its highly rated truck (the aforementioned Sandy Munro loves this truck so much that he bought one) and another company in Irvine is Alpha with its much talked about Wolf, Fisker in Manhattan Beach, Mullen Automotive in Brea, Eli Electric Vehicles in Long Beach, Indie EV in Vernon, Edison Future in Anaheim, Seres in Santa Clara, truck makers XOS in Los Angeles, Motiv in Foster City, Battle Motors in Venice, Boulder Electric Vehicles in Chatsworth and Vantage Vehicle in Corona, Green Power Motor Company in Los Angeles building purpose specific trucks, such as school buses, Taylor-Dunn in Anaheim building electric utility vehicles. Phoenix Motorcars in Anaheim builds medium duty electric trucks and forklifts. In Harbor City, Balquon is building large drayage EVs, buses, and EVs for use at ports. Aptera in San Diego and Humble Motors in Los Angeles both build solar/battery designed EVs. Aptera’s solar car uses a radical design, including a fuselage-like body to reduce aerodynamic drag, and 3 wheels with motors at the wheels to reduce mechanical friction. If you live in beautiful San Diego, where the Aptera is made, the sun shines almost everyday for at least some part of the day- meaning you’ll never need to plug-in your car because the solar panels do the charging. Ampere Motors of Santa Monica offers three-wheel electric vehicles. EV companies also include the bus makers BYD and Proterra in SoCal, electric tractor makers Soletrac in Santa Rosa, Monarch Tractor (a CNBC top 50 disruptor) in Livermore, and ZTractor in Palo Alto, small electric commercial vehicles made by Karrior Transelectric in Gardena and by Biliti Electric in Culver City, motorcycle makers Zero Motorcycles in Scotts Valley (Santa Cruz area) and Lightning in San Jose, small last-mile delivery bikes made by URB-E in Los Angeles, VEO in Santa Monica, an e-scooter and e-bike-sharing startup, Razor making escooters in Cerritos, Boosted making electric skateboards and skooters in San Rafael, Electric Bike Co in Costa Mesa and Bird Bike in Santa Monica making electric bicycles, Eglide making electric skateboards in Santa Monica, and Siemans Mobility in Sacramento building electric trains in a solar powered factory. Parallel Systems in Culver City, CA, is working on electric trains that are fully automated. Need to deliver a package locally, but don’t have time to drive the package to its destination? Faction, in South San Francisco has a small driverless car that can do it for you. Nuro of Mountain View has also commercialized a robotic delivery vehicle, and the next time you order a pizza for home delivery, Nuro may be the carrier. In Los Angeles, Coco has developed a small battery powered delivery cart for local use, while Serve Robotics in Redwood City has a similar tehnology. Udelve in Burlingame has developed a fully autonomous EV for multiple deliveries, which is in operation in San Mateo. Cruise in San Francisco is building the Cruise Origen, a self-driving city automobile. And, if you need a custom designed electric vehicle, including battery design and powertrain, Evolectric in Long Beach can do it for you. Slip on your Rothy’s of San Francisco driving shoes, made of recycled plastic water bottles or your Blueview shoes, created by UC San Diego professors, made from algae that are fully recyclable, for the next car. If an EV supercar, capable of well over 200 mph is what you need, Drako Motors in San Jose can build it for you. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, Open Motors is focusing on the MaaS market. Mobility as a Service, where cars are made for and sold to large fleet companies, such as Uber Technologies in San Francisco, and not at the retail level, is forecast to be a huge, perhaps, dominant market. Even legacy automakers, such as Mercedes-Benz and Ford have EV research centers in the Silicon Valley. While Apple’s Tim Cook has said an Apple Car is being developed, and rumors say it will be launched in 2024 or 2025, no details have been forthcoming. Google has also been working on its own car for over a decade, and Waymo, located in Moutain View, is now Google’s self-driving car company. They also have self-driving trucks through their program called Waymo Via. TuSimple in San Diego, led by Dr. Xiaodi Hou, awarded a Ph.D. from CalTech in Neural and Computer Systems, has developed self driving cargo trucks (Class 8) that currently operate between Dallas and Phoenix. With a 2021 IPO valued at over $8.5 billion and the only company operating self driving trucks carrying cargo, TuSimple is the leader in automated driving. Embark in San Francisco and Plus in Cupertino are also self-driving cargo truck companies. In San Francisco, Pronto is is making self-driving commercial hauling vehicles. Another company in San Diego developing autonomous driving systems is the wireless communications giant, Qualcomm, who recently announced a collaboration with BMW. Also in San Diego is the Brain Corporation that produces small robotic, electric powered vehicles, such as industrial floor cleaning robots and delivery tugs. Electric motors and drivetrains for EVs are designed and made by AC Propulsion in San Dimas. Another type of EV is the Virgin Hyperloop, based in Los Angeles, and planned to allow passenger and cargo vehicles to travel at 1,000k/hr in a vacuum tube running between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The hyperloop was originally conceived and patented in 1945 by Dr. Robert Goddard, Ph.D., the famous physicists who is the originator of liquid fuel rockets.

Electric airplanes, space ships, drones, and helicopters are part of the California EV revolution too, such as Wright Electric in Los Angeles, Surf Air in Hawthorne, Joby Aviation in Santa Cruz, Kitty Hawk in Palo Alto, Archer Aviation in Palo Alto, Wisk Aero in Mountain View, and Ampaire in Los Angeles (currently flying commercial flights in Hawaii). Robinson Helicopter in Torrance, for the past six years, has been working with Tier 1 Engineering of Santa Ana, CA, flight-testing and refining an electric-powered version of the Robinson R44 — the world’s best-selling general aviation helicopter for the past 22 years — with more than 7,200 delivered. M4 Aerospace Engineering in Long Beach, working with UC San Diego, the #8 rated public university, has been funded by NASA to develop an electric powered air taxis. San Diego County not only has 3 top tier public universities, but for a variety of reasons, is rated one of the best places to start a tech comapny. Commercial drones are made by Hitec in San Diego, Inovadrone in San Diego, and Skydio in Redwood City, and commercial heavy-lift hybrid drones by Parallel Flight Technologies in Santa Cruz. Autonomous, electric air and sea vehicles for defense are made by Anduril in Irvine. Software for autonomous flight of the drones is made by Auterion in Moorpark. Another clean technology for aircraft is hydrogen power, such as that being developed by Universal Hydrogen in Los Angeles. Leaving the surface of the Earth for space can now be accomplished with electric pump rocket engines pioneered by Rocket Labs in Long Beach, CA and New Zealand. Rocket Lab’s Rutherford Engine uses a lithium ion battery to power the engine’s pump, a first in the industry and a game changer. In nearby El Segundo, part of the world’s largest space hub in the Los Angeles area, Impulse Space, founded by the co-founder of SpaceX (in Hawthorne, CA), Tom Mueller, who developed most of the propulsion systems for SpaceX, including the Merlin rocket engine, is developing new propulsion systems for ships that are already in space. Battery and solar will be part of the mix. Once you arrived to your destination, the moon perhaps, get onboard the battery-solar operated FLEX vehicle from Venturi Astrolab in Hawthorne. Currently flying through the skies fighting murderous Russians in Ukraine is the battery powered Switchblade drone made by AeroVironment in Simi Valley. A more secrete EV drone, called the Phoenix Ghost, deployed in the Ukraine comes from Aevex Aerospace in beautiful Solana Beach, part of North County San Diego. Analysts speculate that the Phoenix Ghost is a comparatively small weapon that could be hard to see against the cloud cover that shrouds much of Ukraine in late April and in May. Medical supplies are being delivered to remote areas by drones manufactured by Zipline in South San Francisco, and Wing in Palo Alto is delivering food and medicine throughout the world. If you need to travel on the water or under the water, EVs are available. Bedrock in Richmond, CA, is developing electric submarines and Lear Boats in Garden Grove and Arc in Los Angeles can make for an electrifying experience on the surface. SeaSatellites in San Diego makes small sea-going solar-EVs for data collection. Of course, electric boats for use in the harbor have been available for years from Duffy in Newport Beach. Bigger electric boats, including ferries, are being built in Alameda by Switch Maritime. Last year, electric vehicles became California’s No. 1 export. When you order yours, don’t forget to look for the vegan leather option for the interior. Companies such as Mycoworks and Bolt Threads, both of which are located in Emeryville have pioneered making leather from mushrooms (certain mushrooms form much collagen, the same material that forms the dermis of the skin and composes animal leather), an eco-friendly, renewable source of leather.

Batteries play an important role at EV charging stations too. As an example, for rapid charging and to better keep charging stations off of the grid, companies such as Freewire in Oakland, ChargePoint in the Silicon Valley, Volta in San Francisco, Noodoe in Irvine, EV Connect in El Segundo, EV Safe Charge in Los Angeles, Sema Connect in Santa Barbara, KIGT eChargers in Ontario, Webasto in Monrovia, Amply in Mountain View, Envoy Technologies and Chargie in Culver City, and EVgo in Los Angeles use batteries, including recycled EV batteries, to generate the energy needed to recharge your EV. Rapid charging and discharge used for rapid power delivery is implemented by using super capacitors made by Maxwell Technologies in San Diego and Licap Technologies in Sacramento. Qmerit in Irvine sets-up integrated charging stations, and has partnered with Lucid. Recycled EV batteries are being repurposed by RePurpose Energy in Fairfield. New battery technologies have emerged in California too, including the solid-state lithium battery makers, QuantumScape, Sparkz, and Sakuu. Sparkz has developed a lithium-phosphate battery that it hopes will challenge the Chinese dominated manufacturing of these batteries, and is building a new manufacturing plant in Livermore. A number of new lithium ion battery technologies are being developed, for example, by Sienza in Pasadena, CA. They use a technology originating from CalTech, where the architecture of the battery increases the area of charge and decreases the distance of charge movement. Battery Streak in Thousand Oaks is developing lithium batteries based on a new technology developed at UCLA, the #2 public university in the US, by materials scientists Dr. Bruce Dunn and Dr. Sarah Tolbert, that enables fast charging times. They’ve been funded by the National Science Foundation. Battery Streak uses Niobia that charges more like a capacitor than a chemical battery where the battery charges without chemical phase change. This new material yields faster charge times, less generation of heat during charging, and extended battery life. In San Leandro, at Coreshell Technologies, a group of scientists and engineers who trained at UC Berkeley, the highest ranked university in the US, have developed a new thin-layer electrode technology for lithium ion batteries. Coreshell’s new technology looks so promising in the short term that Tesla cofounder, Mark Tarpenning has invested. Ensurge in San Jose develops microbatteries using precise semiconductor manufacturing technologies. In Santa Clara, Gridtential is making batteries with a new silicon wafer technology. A 3d battery technology has been developed by Enovix in Freemont, and a 3d printing technology was developed by Sakuu for its sold-state battery production, a manufacturing process that saves about 30% in weight and space and makes the batteries more efficient (https://3dprintingindustry.com/news/sakuu-corporation-starts-work-on-new-pilot-facility-for-3d-printed-solid-state-batteries-194778/). New materials for batteries are developed and tested in San Diego at Wildcat Discovery Technologies. Imprint Energy in Alameda is making ultrathin, flexible, printed batteries for IoT (internet of things) devices, sensors, wearables. One of the companies making the 3D printers to manufacture these parts is Carbon in Redwood City. Safer and more efficient lithium metal batteries are being developed by Cuberg in San Leandro. In San Diego, UCSD-spinout, South 8 Technologies, has developed a new Liquified Gas Lithium Electrolyte technology that provides stability of the lithium electrolyte. They’ve been funded by the US government, State of California, and a number of private companies. To enhance battery design, AI is used by Chemix, located in Mountain View. Mitra Chem in Mountain View is developing new cathode technologies for batteries. Rapid, robotic battery swapping in EVs is being developed by companies such as Ample in San Francisco. This allows you to pull into a battery station, much the same as “paleoliths” did with their ICE vehicles at gasoline stations, and rapidly change your battery and then drive-on. Once installed, batteries are typically difficult to diagnose for remaining battery life and wear. Rejoule in San Diego makes battery diagnostics easier and is developing the means to revitalize operating batteries. To better distribute energy during times of great demand, energy can be stored in EV batteries during low demand periods from sustainable sources, and then, using a technology from Nuvve in San Diego, send the energy from the vehicle to the grid, so-called vehicle-to-grid technology.

Co-locating the lithium supply with battery and battery pack manufacturers such as Amprius in Fremont (they have been battery specialists for California’s huge aerospace industry of 760 companies), Sila Nanotechnologies (silicon anode technology) in Alameda, Evolectric in Long Beach, Octillion in Richmond, Romeo Power in Los Angeles, Ampcera in the Silicon Valley, OneCharge in Irvine, Totex in Torrance, SimpliPhi Power in Oxnard, Zeronox in Porterville, Enevate in Irvine, Trojan Battery Co in Sante Fe Springs, Zelos Energy in San Leandro, TerraWatt in Santa Clara, Totex in Torrance, and Flux Power in San Diego County, and EV manufacturing in a single area is a terrific opportunity for developing an environmentally friendly supply chain and removing 20 or more inefficient links from that chain. To this end, California-based Statevolt plans to build a $4 Billion EV battery gigafactory with 54 GWh output planned at Salton Sea area, supplying 650,000 electric vehicles annually. This is a new company, so how well it performs remains to be seen. Implementing these batteries into the EV is complicated, and the battery packs for EVs are a big part of the complication. CelLink in San Carlos, makes high-conductance circuits that integrate busing, fusing, voltage monitoring, and temperature monitoring wiring systems into a single circuit. This circuitry saves space and weight over traditional wiring systems. Meanwhile in Santa Clara, AyarLabs has developed a new optical input-output (I/O) technology to integrate different circuits. By forgetting wires, connectors have more speed and bandwidth, and are lighter. The company was part of UC Berkeley’s Citrus Incubator, and has garnered $130M in Series C funding and established a number of significant partnerships. Solar-battery systems are made by YouSolar in Santa Clara. Working to make existing lithium ion batteries more efficient, using a simple drop-in additive is Sili-Ion, also funded by CalSEED, in Riverside.

Lithium is a key component of the lithium-ion batteries that power electric vehicles and is currently in short supply with shortages to become worse as the world moves to electric vehicles. While other battery technologies show promise, such as trivalent Aluminum ion batteries with a large and readily available supply of aluminum, after 30 years of development they are still not commercially viable and have many disadvantages compared to lithium ion batteries that must be overcome. Lithium demand is estimated to grow 8-10X by 2030. As Dr. Ned Mamalu, Ph.D., a former geologist at the US Geological Survey, teaches us, the USA has all the minerals it needs for battery (and other) technologies, but we don’t extract those minerals for many reasons. The US government and the State of California have enabled the mining of critical minerals necessary for EV production through a number of means, including funding and tax incentives, but as Dr. Mamalu argues, more must be done to better survey what minerals are present in our lands and laws and regulations must be carefully implemented to allow extraction of those minerals. Mining those minerals on US soil is more eco-friendly than having those minerals mined in parts of the world where regulations are lax that allow massive pollution to occur. Because the US has a number of volcanic, magmatic, plate tectonic, and other geological formations, all minerals are here in the US in abundance. One of these active volcanic fields is at the Salton Sea in Southern California, and has the potential to meet 40% of the future global lithium demand (https://www.energy.ca.gov/data-reports/california-power-generation-and-power-sources/geothermal-energy/lithium-valley). The lithium brine 7,000 ft below the Salton Sea has significant advantages over mining lithium from rock sources- namely, the lithium is already in a brine, whereas when mined from Pegmatite rock, much energy is required to put the lithium in a brine. Every 20,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate per year that can be produced through a small well at the Salton Sea represents an entire open pit that does not need to be quarried and eliminates the environmental impacts of pits. (https://www.jadecove.com/research/dlecambrianexplosion). Due to the thermodynamic characteristics of producing lithium chemicals from solid rock compared to brine, millions of tonnes of CO2 emissions can potentially be avoided by unlocking more brine resources that were previously considered uneconomic because not enough people understood that there were mechanisms to produce lithium chemicals from that brine (see jadecove.com). Thus, the lithium brine in the Salton Sea allows for a difficult, energy intensive and expensive step to be skipped, and makes for a “greener” source. And, speaking of green, having the source close to the factories that use lithium-ion batteries is another step in making the process greener. Now, in a project sponsored by the Dept. of Energy, scientists from Berkeley Lab, UC Riverside, and the Geologica Geothermal Group, Inc. in San Francisco, are quantifying and characterizing the lithium in the hypersaline geothermal reservoir at the Salton Sea. Companies currently extracting lithium from the Lithium Valley include Controlled Thermal Resources in Imperial, Berkshire Hathaway Energy and San Diego-based EnergySource Minerals. Another important “green” factor is that lithium ion batteries can be recycled, and using the recycled materials to produce new batteries works well. Companies, such as KBI in Anaheim and Repurpose Energy in Fairfield, have been recycling batteries for years and are working on new methodologies for better lithium ion battery recycling. In Carlsbad (San Diego County), Smartville is developing end-to-end, distributed solutions for EV battery reuse and recycling. The Imperial County Board of Supervisors has recognized the revolution that is occurring in the county, and has established an extensive plan to foster their natural resource. Tax incentives for businesses to build extraction plants, battery production, and battery recycling facilities are included in the plan, along with the establishment of a new Cal Poly Imperial County university to provide the educational needs, such as engineers and chemists, for the emerging energy sector in the Salton Sea area.

California is the innovation hub of the world, receiving about 50% of all venture funding – that’s as much as all of the other states combined. Despite the right-wing shibboleths who will tell us that low wages, no regulations, no taxes, giving cash to companies (part of the Texas strategy), and anti-union policies are what makes a business-friendly environment, California booms by doing the opposite and does not impose regressive laws, like Texas does, that include limiting the freedom and reproductive rights of women. As the fifth largest economy on the planet, and in a major growth phase, California is a leader in new housing starts (Trump slanted the 2020 census to diminish California’s population count for political purposes, leading to a massive undercount of non-whites), new business starts, and the Golden State has no peers among developed economies for expanding GDP, creating jobs, raising household income, manufacturing growth, investment in innovation, producing clean energy and unprecedented wealth through its stocks and bonds (Winkler, 2021, Bloomberg). By adding 1.3 million people to its non-farm payrolls between April 2020 and June 2021 — equal to the entire workforce of Nevada — California easily surpassed also-rans Texas and New York. California accounts for 63% of startup Unicorns (startups with a market cap of $1B or more) in the US, with a total market cap of 79% of that for Unicorns in the US. Further, California household income increased $164 billion, nearly as much as Texas, Florida and Pennsylvania combined, according to data compiled by Bloomberg (Winkler, 2021, Bloomberg). Between January 2018 through June 2021, California created or had 133,503 companies move to the state, by far the most in the US. Of the 6,924 corporate locations in California, 18% are research and development facilities, a ratio that easily beats the U.S. overall (11%), China (15%), U.K. (14%) and Japan (10%). Only Germany, at 19%, has a higher rate, according to data compiled by Bloomberg (https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2021-06-14/california-defies-doom-with-no-1-u-s-economy). And, let’s not count out Germany. As erratic and poor decisions are made by Musk at Tesla, Mercedes is about to launch it’s new EV that has over 620 miles of range on one charge. The engineering on the new EQXX is excellent and the car is beautiful. As Volkswagon sells more EVs in Europe than any other manufacturer, Sono in Munich has a new solar car coming, along with BMW moving fast on new EVs. Munich is Germany’s Silicon Valley, indeed many California companies are investing there. The world’s fourth and fifth largest economies are the world’s two great innovators.

While California is home to 12% of the U.S. population, the state attracted 47% of the most sought-after investment dollars deployed nationwide last year, according to National Venture Capital Association data. The investment in California is not big simply because the state is big, because California received nearly four times its share per capita of all such investments in the USA. Add in the emerging Lithium Valley at the Salton Sea, and all that will follow in the coming green revolution that depends on Lithium, California may be poised to overtake fourth place Germany in terms of GDP. To push forward the Lithium Valley, and the EV infrastructure in general, Governor Newsom has called for reform of The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), a California statute passed in 1970 and signed in to law by then-Governor Ronald Reagan, that slows down building important, green infrastructure. Indeed, the Democratic led legislature has made reforms and Newsom has signed them, but more reform is needed. A big thank you to Martin Eberhard and Mark Tarpenning whose vision and hard work at Tesla for many years began this revolution, along with the state of California’s help, including many laws supported and signed by then Governor Jerry Brown, and the US government under the direction of President Obama and VP Joe Biden who, through the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing loan program, provided Tesla with $465 million during a pivotal time in 2010. Two engineers, Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning, working in Berkeley, CA, using their own money along with the help of private funding from Elon Musk, who would later become CEO and diminish the quality of the cars, and funding from the State of California and the US government began this revolution, which has now expanded to the beautiful, stark, mountain rimmed desert lands of the Salton Sea.

Published by Dr. Greg Maguire, Ph.D.

Dr. Maguire, a Fulbright-Fogarty Fellow at the National Institutes of Health, is a scientist, innovator, teacher, healthcare professional. He has over 100 publications and numerous patents. His book, "Adult Stem Cell Released Molecules: A Paradigm Shift To Systems Therapeutics" was published by Nova Science Publishers in 2018.

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