Monday, March 22, 2021

Monday Morning Links

  • A beta version of Tesla's "Full Self Driving" Autopilot update has begun rolling out to certain users. And man, if you thought "Full Self Driving" was even close to a reality, this video of the system in action will certainly relieve you of that notion. It is perhaps the best comprehensive video at illustrating just how morally dubious, technologically limited, and potentially dangerous Autopilot's "Full Self Driving" beta program is. [Road and Track]
  • [T]he physics we currently understand is not sufficient to deliver the kind of battery we need to make the future work without fossil fuels. Red flags go up for me when it is our understanding of physics rather than practical engineering challenges standing in the way—as serious as the latter can be. Physics limitations instantly present a much taller order to overcome. [Do the Math]
  • I can’t resist the temptation to ask: what is the minimum amount of lead that is theoretically needed to build the battery? The chemical reaction for a lead-acid battery is such that each interaction involving the transformation of one lead atom to PbSO4 liberates one electron at a 2.1-volt potential. This electron then is bestowed 2.1 electron-volts (eV) of energy, amounting to 3.4×10−19 J (see page on energy relations). One kilowatt-hour is 3.6 million Joules (1000 W times 3600 seconds), so that it takes 1025 lead atoms (where every one participates). If you remember that Avogadro’s number is 6×1023, we need about 20 moles of lead atoms. At 207 g/mol, this comes out to about 4 kg per kWh of energy, which is a factor of four less than the realized value above. Real implementations always fall short of theoretical ideals, so this isn’t new. We would do well to push for future improvements on this score, although we should bear in mind that lead-acid has had 150 years of development before we get carried away by dreams of perfection. Putting the pieces together, our national battery occupies a volume of 4.4 billion cubic meters, equivalent to a cube 1.6 km (one mile) on a side. The size in itself is not a problem: we’d naturally break up the battery and distribute it around the country. This battery would demand 5 trillion kg (5 billion tons) of lead. A USGS report from 2011 reports 80 million tons (Mt) of lead in known reserves worldwide, with 7 Mt in the U.S. A note in the report indicates that the recent demonstration of lead associated with zinc, silver, and copper deposits places the estimated (undiscovered) lead resources of the world at 1.5 billion tons. That’s still not enough to build the battery for the U.S. alone. [Do the Math]
  • Frankly, it’s a miracle that lithium-ion batteries as we know them scaled as well as they did. A cobalt-oxide sandwich and a bunch of graphitic carbon acting as electrodes for lithium? Electrolytes that only survive because their breakdown product is a stable protective layer? That is not an elegant piece of materials engineering, it’s a flammable poison-and-chicken-wire contraption held together with duct tape. [Do the Math]
  • Li-batteries can be designed in two different ‘veins’: enhanced capacity (like Tesla’s ones, or laptop or cell phones), or enhanced power (EV’s, or more important, hybrids). The former use thinner electrodes in a cylindrical envelop, inteneded to be used with no cooling, while the later ones are usually Li-Poly, with really thick electrodes, prismatic, thin, with lots of surface allowing good coolin, usueally by some liquid. That means that high capacity have usually shorter cycle count (usually in the 500 cycles range) and shorter life, while high power have much smaller energy density (due the thick electrodes) but higher cycle count (1K to 1K5 – real) and longer life (due better cooling). [Do the Math]
  • I did a back-of-the-envelope calculation of how much capacity degradation can be expected in different climates based on simple chemistry. The approach is very simple. I assume that the chemical processes that degrade the battery follow a simple Arrhenius equation with a temperature dependence of the rate of 2-fold per 10C. I then estimate the relative time a battery would sit at a given temperature given the location and then multiply this temperature-time with the temperature specific rate. I did this for four locations: Chicago, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Seattle. These are the total annual rates for the different locations (constant exposure to 20C would equal 1): Chicago (0.69). Phoenix (1.61), Los Angeles (0.81), and Seattle (0.58). The relative rates compared to Chicago are: Phoenix (2.35), Los Angeles (1.18), and Seattle (0.84). So it would seem that a substantial difference in battery degradation is expected for different locations in the US based on first order chemical assumptions. There is almost a factor of 3 between Phoenix and Seattle. [My Nissan Leaf]
  • “Intoxicants,” Siegel wrote, “have been a natural part of the diet of life ever since it began on this planet.” The desire to become “intoxicated”—what Siegel calls “the fourth drive”—he says, “is natural, yes, even healthy.” That’s why we need to try and formulate “safe drugs.” He rejects what he calls the “Calvinist psychopharmacology” of the drug war and he urges us to make safe, delightfully intoxicating drugs as a positive human project. [Ronald K. Siegel]
  • All this has an obvious implication that I have never seen discussed. If breathing two atmosphere of nitrogen is like having one drink, what would people be like if they were breathing a zero-nitrogen mixture?   The natural conclusion is that they would be one drink under sober. Technically, they would be slightly knurd. They should have slightly faster reflexes.  Actually, this is known to be true, from studies of pilots breathing pure oxygen. In other respects, you would expect that the changes would be in the opposite direction to those caused by intoxication.  Instead of  a warm glow,  a bit of dysphoria, Since a little narcosis causes a mild impairment in reasoning and judgment, you might see a mild improvement.  This could be important, since the world suffers from a glaring shortage of good judgment. [Greg Cochran]
  • There are no robust data on the real onset of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection and spread in the prepandemic period worldwide. We investigated the presence of SARS-CoV-2 receptor-binding domain (RBD)–specific antibodies in blood samples of 959 asymptomatic individuals enrolled in a prospective lung cancer screening trial between September 2019 and March 2020 to track the date of onset, frequency, and temporal and geographic variations across the Italian regions. SARS-CoV-2 RBD-specific antibodies were detected in 111 of 959 (11.6%) individuals, starting from September 2019 (14%), with a cluster of positive cases (>30%) in the second week of February 2020 and the highest number (53.2%) in Lombardy. This study shows an unexpected very early circulation of SARS-CoV-2 among asymptomatic individuals in Italy several months before the first patient was identified, and clarifies the onset and spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Finding SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in asymptomatic people before the COVID-19 outbreak in Italy may reshape the history of pandemic. [link]
  • Nearly twice as many ILI visits were reported during the beginning of the 2019–2020 flu season than were reported in either of the two previous years. By December 2019, there were over 80,000 US patients seeking treatment for flu-like symptoms — long before Chinese authorities reported COVID to global health organizations on 31 Dec 2019. Many of the Americans reporting flu symptoms had one of the six strains of ordinary, seasonal flu routinely monitored by the CDC. However, those cases do not account for either the timing nor the dramatic increase in ILI this year. Subtracting the weekly positive seasonal flu tests from the total number of ILI visits for each year reveals that in late 2019, tens of thousands of Americans per week were complaining of a mysterious, unidentified illness that acts enough like the flu to be included in flu surveillance data. [AJ Kay]
  • This brings into question the maxim that High growth businesses grow into their high valuations thus multiples are justified. This lacks nuance. SOME high growth businesses SOMETIMES grow into their high valuation and thus SOME multiples are SOMETIMES justified. It’s only in hindsight that we can be sure which ones and when. My belief is that if you see a great, high growth business today trading at excessively high multiples, just wait a while. Companies always encounter challenges, go out of favor, make stupid mistakes, and are subsequently punished; often disproportionately. The higher their valuations going in, the greater the punishment. There is no good reason to pay a huge price today for what you will likely be able to buy at a more reasonable price tomorrow; especially when it's possible to find the unjustly punished today by looking elsewhere. [Hermann Peterscheck]
  • Over the past few months, bonds have had one of their sharpest selloffs in history. This should be no surprise. JPOW and Yellen have been quite clear that they intend to create epic levels of inflation and shred bondholders. History is replete with paper currencies getting debauched. As a result, I expect that our clueless band of inflationeers will succeed beyond their wildest dreams—especially as there is no one in congress interested in acting as a brake on the spending side. Those who aren’t mortified, either aren’t paying attention or aren’t particularly good at their understanding of history. Where will interest rates go? They’re going much, much higher—though I suspect a counter-trend pullback first. The Fed will try Yield Curve Control (YCC), they’ll try to prop bonds up, but at some point, increased issuances and inflation will swamp their bid. It isn’t a question of if, rather it is a question of when they lose control of the bond market. However, this is going to play out over many years—it isn’t a today sort of trade. [Kuppy]
  • We can now recast the hedge fund investing game. Consider the small cap value manager of 1990. Sitting in an office with a rented Bloomberg terminal, he had access to more financial information, available instantaneously, than any previous investor in history. Technology took something scarce (financial information, access & attention) and made it more abundant. The manager, discovering a $500M small-cap stock trading below book value at a 6x P/E was certainly quite the find. He purchased the stock, collected a very high earnings / dividend yield, and waited. His high return was realized when another value investor discovered that same stock, thinking it must be worth 10x P/E, and paid him a handsome profit. Conversely, it could also be the case that the stock formerly sold at 10x P/E, was sold down, perhaps due to a forced sale, to 6x P/E, and then picked up by the value investor. In either case, the investor was trading against another participant in the stock market and had to be at least partially right, if earnings collapsed in the interim the math wouldn’t work. And time was an accelerant. Reading the early Greenlight or Tiger Management letters during their heyday, one realizes it was not rocket science, and the hurdle was low, but they were first. [Geoff Yamane]
  • Before it capsized, the MV Golden Ray shuttled cars through the auto industry's global supply chain for two years, leading a nondescript existence in the world of modern shipping operations. More than two football fields long and 17 stories tall, this roll-on/roll-off vehicle transporter makes your double-decker pontoon boat look like a bath toy. With its massive 17,335-hp 5522-liter two-stroke diesel inline-seven turning at a relatively lazy (for this magazine, anyway) 77 rpm, the Hyundai Glovis–owned ship plied the seas at a max speed of 20 knots (23 mph). [Car and Driver]


Stagflationary Mark said...

Where will interest rates go? They’re going much, much higher—though I suspect a counter-trend pullback first. The Fed will try Yield Curve Control (YCC), they’ll try to prop bonds up, but at some point, increased issuances and inflation will swamp their bid. It isn’t a question of if, rather it is a question of when they lose control of the bond market. However, this is going to play out over many years—it isn’t a today sort of trade.

I agree that it’s a question of when. When interest rates go much, much higher, it is my hope that I’m dead and buried.

From 2013:

Yet various international economists now say the biggest risk for Japan comes from its antithesis: hyperinflation.

It’s been 8 years. Timing is everything. It is a valid concern though. Makes it difficult to prepare for both deflation and inflation simultaneously. That’s the main reason I like I-Bonds. Rise with inflation but can never deflate, They are always worth at least as much as they were the previous month.

Allan Folz said...

'Do the Math' is pretty grim.

I can see how a bunch of mid-wit futurist types in the Elite class would decide the only way forward is bringing Earth's human population down to 1-2B.

Let's see... global pandemic, factory meat, global LEO surveillance mesh, orbiting escape pods for a fail-safe in case your calculations are off and your virus pulls a "Morris."

Anything I missed?