Casey Handmer (PhD, Caltech, general relativity) is the founder of Terraform Industries. He is one of the most capable and ambitious geo-engineers on planet Earth!

Terraform Industries is scaling technology to produce cheap natural gas with sunlight and air. Using solar energy, they extract carbon from the air and synthesize natural gas, all at the same site.

March 2024: "Terraform completes the end to end demo, successfully producing fossil carbon free pipeline grade natural gas from sunlight and air. We also achieved green hydrogen at <$2.50/kg-H2 and DAC CO2 at <$250/T-CO2, two incredible milestones."


Steve and Casey discuss:

0:00 Introduction
00:31 Casey's early life and background, from Australia to Caltech
07:55 The academic path and transition to tech entrepreneurship
10:40 Terraform Industries
15:21 Solar costs, efficiency, and global Impact
24:25 A world powered by Terraform methane
31:27 The entrepreneurial journey: challenges and insights
35:01 Investor dynamics and strategic decisions for Terraform
41:28 The hard Reality of manufacturing and innovation
44:11 Navigating intellectual property and strategic partnerships
45:49 The moral and technical challenges of carbon neutrality
55:48 Looking ahead: Terraform's next milestones and the solar revolution

Music used with permission from Blade Runner Blues Livestream improvisation by State Azure.


Steve Hsu is Professor of Theoretical Physics and of Computational Mathematics, Science, and Engineering at Michigan State University. Previously, he was Senior Vice President for Research and Innovation at MSU and Director of the Institute of Theoretical Science at the University of Oregon. Hsu is a startup founder (SuperFocus, SafeWeb, Genomic Prediction, Othram) and advisor to venture capital and other investment firms. He was educated at Caltech and Berkeley, was a Harvard Junior Fellow, and has held faculty positions at Yale, the University of Oregon, and MSU. Please send any questions or suggestions to or Steve on X @hsu_steve.

Creators & Guests

Stephen Hsu
Steve Hsu is Professor of Theoretical Physics and of Computational Mathematics, Science, and Engineering at Michigan State University.

What is Manifold?

Steve Hsu is Professor of Theoretical Physics and Computational Mathematics, Science, and Engineering at Michigan State University. Join him for wide-ranging conversations with leading writers, scientists, technologists, academics, entrepreneurs, investors, and more.

Steve Hsu: Welcome to Manifold. My guest today is Casey Handmer, the CEO and founder of Terraform Industries.

Casey Handmer: Thank you for having me.

Steve Hsu: Welcome, Casey. I invited Casey because of some very high recommendations I received from some very serious technologists about what he does. At the time I knew nothing about him.

So I went home and looked him up and he's doing incredible stuff and has a fascinating background. So I'm very happy to have him on the show.

Casey Handmer: Thank you. It's great to be here.

Steve Hsu: Great. So I'd like to talk before we get into the bulk of the matter, which is Terraform Industries and our energy future and our carbon future, which I think you have a lot to say about. I'd just like to talk to you about your early life. you're from Australia and I think you went to Caltech for your PhD.

Is that correct?

Casey Handmer: Yes. That's all correct. yeah, I was born in Australia in the late 1980s. Which I guess makes me one of this kind of dying breed of millennials that has actually experienced how computers work. And then at 22 or 23, 23, I immigrated to the United States to pursue academia.

Steve Hsu: Now, when you first came to Caltech, were you thinking that your ultimate path would be in academia, like what, what was your idea when you started graduate school?

Casey Handmer: Yeah. So I applied to six grad schools in the United States. I did not apply to any safety schools. I really didn't. Didn't manage my process there very well. I didn't have any close friends or relatives who'd really gone through the academic process. So I just kind of yelled at it.

I was admitted to two of them. I was admitted at Berkeley and at Caltech and in 2010, Berkeley was in the throes of some fairly serious financial problems. And I thought, well, it would be a real shame to move halfway across the world and then spend four years wasting time because you can't get funding to do basic stuff. As it happened, I ended up working in a pretty low cost theoretical corner of physics, but it was by no means guaranteed at the time.

So I said, well, You know, I'm not going to change hemispheres to, you know, screw around. So I went to Caltech instead, which I thought was kind of, the grad students I met, they were much more focused on, I don't know, just like doing just the work. working really hard. And that's what I wanted. So it was good to have the choice.

I don't regret going to

Steve Hsu: You know, I, I, I was an undergrad at Caltech and I did my PhD at Berkeley, so I know both, both places

Casey Handmer: Oh, there you go.

Steve Hsu: Well actually.

Casey Handmer: Well, the best of both worlds, best of both worlds. you know, I, I, I spent more time with undergrads and grad students really at, at, at Caltech because I was quite heavily involved in student clubs and they're mostly undergrad run. Yeah, and it's, it's an incredible program. It's true.

It may, it may come back, but I think the Caltech Common Core Program is one of the few schools that really offers this like deeply rigorous background in all of science. And I know it's not for everyone and I know it's, it's challenging for everyone. But I think it's also, you know, at a certain point, if you, if you, if you, if you desperately need to become fluent in as much of a basic scientific knowledge as possible, you just have to go hardcore.

there's, there's no better time in your life to do it when you're, when you're young and still have time in your

Steve Hsu: Right. And you, you sort of did it another way because I think you have like, didn't you triple major as an undergraduate? I think I saw that on your CV.

Casey Handmer: Yeah. Yeah. I went to Sydney University, which is not super well known outside of Australia, but it's actually a pretty good, pretty good school. 50, 000 students. But their physics department in particular is quite highly rated and I was very fortunate to have some, some really good mentors there.

A shout out to, you know, Professor Martin and a few other people there who know that. Yeah and so it's kind of an interesting thing, actually, like I, at Caltech, I ended up teaching a lot of physics as well.

And I would say that, essentially all these classes are taught from the same textbooks. They follow the same material. At Caltech, maybe the students may be one standard deviation, more academically selective or something like that. But the actual rigor of the classes at the advanced grade level is pretty much the same with the exception of maybe a handful of seminars. And so I was, I basically just got my list of courses to choose from and ticked every box and then, and then ground my way through them in four years.

And actually mostly in three years and I don't regret doing it. It's kind of one of those funny things. Like if you want, Something done. You best give it to a busy person. And that was very, very busy. So I was able to get a lot of stuff done.

Steve Hsu: Yeah, I sort of got that sense from looking at your, your track record. So as an undergrad, you, I think your research was in optics and somehow you ended up doing computational general relativity. So was that an accident or was that something you knew you wanted to do when you went to Caltech?

Casey Handmer: Yeah. I mean, gravity was always on my bucket list, academically speaking, and there weren't the right kinds of opportunities at Sydney to work on that for me, I think. and that's mostly a reflection on my academic immaturity then, and probably now as well. But I think the underrated thing both for undergraduate research and grad student research is, you have to work on something that you're at least interested in, but you absolutely have to have an advisor that you, that you gel well with.

And, and that was, you know, a matching problem. And I, I really, you know, now I'm a manager, I can say, holy shit, like, how did I, at 20 or 19 or something, ever manage to find any adult who could put up with me? So again, credit, credit to the people who did. but yeah, I was really, really fortunate to, to fall in with the, the optics group at Sydney university, which then, and even now I believe it was, was doing really, really cutting edge stuff.

The kind of technology spinoffs that were to come from that maybe didn't go quite as far or weren't quite as exciting as, as was hoped at the time, but it also gave me an incredible foundation for just knowing how to, how to analyze really complex problems, and solve them. And, and, you know, I, I still apply the fundamental physics I learned there almost every week nowadays cause optics is everywhere, you know, it's, it's really hard to escape from it.

Steve Hsu: Yeah. And I think your timing was really good at Caltech because the work you did in computational general relativity was actually used in the detection of gravity waves for the first time.

Casey Handmer: That's I don't think that's correct. I think I was maybe just a little bit too late for that, but, but I was certainly there at the time when all that was happening. I'd say at Caltech, actually, Caltech is an interesting place. but you know, for the right kind of student, it's definitely an incredible place to work.

and there's always something interesting happening at Caltech, right? Like maybe not every department is, like , fully cooking at all times, but, you know, a lot of the departments that are run by extremely competent and serious people, who are really, you know, they're not wasting their time.

And I was very fortunate again to kind of fall in with a group that, that you know, basically made up for my deficiencies and, and it was interesting enough for me to keep working on for many, many years, which is a bit of a challenge for me personally. And yeah, we, we, we. You know, we knew that LIGO was coming online and that these detections were going to occur.

And actually the first ever detection occurred September 14, 2015, which was my last day. in, at Caltech, like that was the day I packed up my desk and left and five years to the day after I arrived in Cal, in, in California. So it's my American birthday, September 14. Yeah.

And like, I mean, I don't want to, I don't want to go into too much detail, but, but my, my special little contribution to this piece was figuring out how to make the simulations. cause we run simulations of these processes to do what's called match filtering. So we could essentially, once we detected a signal, figure out what it was that made that signal.

and my contribution was making those simulations just slightly less bad. And I think, I think my work has been applied since in terms of that. Informational or pipeline, if you like, but, but at the time it really takes quite a lot of time to fully metabolize the new research occurring at the, at the margins into essentially it was like this generic waveform library.

That was, that fell to the grad students who came after me and had the misfortune of working on my work. By all accounts, they did a great job and they really extended it. and so, yeah, I, I'm definitely a fan of applying rigor wherever you can.

Steve Hsu: So on the road to becoming a founder, you're now a tech founder of a very ambitious company. You spent some time at JPL, which I guess one could regard as maybe sort of partway between pure academia and more applied things. Could you just talk about your journey, like what, what changed for you in terms of being more focused on a very purely scientific problem to something which is more applied?

Casey Handmer: Yeah. I mean, for me personally, by about 2011, I like probably one year into my PhD, I decided I didn't really want to be a professor. or like maybe there were other more interesting things going on in LA. Cause I, I got to visit SpaceX back then and, and got interested in Tesla and a few other things.

all, all kinds of things are happening around me, which aren't happening to the same degree that they were in Australia, for example. And I've always been a space nut, but, you know, Australia does not at the time have a space program. And even today its space program is still very kind of embryonic.

But, so, you know, the United States was the land of opportunity. And so, you know, working at JPL or working at NASA had always been something that I'd always desperately wanted to do, but it was not an option and is not an option unless you have a green card. So it took me seven years after I arrived in the United States to finally get a green card and another four years after that to get my citizenship.

So again, kind of shout out like the immigration process, even for someone as highly qualified and from Australia and well resourced as me, effectively consuming 20 percent of my working life. To get through, which is absurd. it's, it's a, it's a, it's a shame. And I know most of the news right now is about people crossing the border without paperwork.

you know, technically without permission, but having gone through the process officially myself I cannot blame them in the slightest.

given the choice if I was in their shoes, I would definitely not bother to wait around in some. You know, cons consulate or whatever in, in, in their country for like five lifetimes to get told, no, like, forget it.

the only one life. so, where was I? JPL. Yeah. I mean, essentially JPL was always on the bucket list and actually JPLs. It's kind of funny. Cause like, yeah, they build robots that fly on flying space and go to other planets. And that's super cool. And that's part of, part of what they do. They do a lot of other stuff as well.

but I wouldn't necessarily say that. That they're particularly industry focused. Certainly JPL is not run like a business. I'll put it that way.

Steve Hsu: So what, I guess so what actually prompted you to start a company? Like when, when did the idea first? it appears in your head that, yes, I could be a founder of a company. I could be a CEO.

Casey Handmer: Yeah, I think there is this, this kind of eager founders and, and slightly reluctant founders. And I put myself in the second group, even now, and it turned out way better than I had expected. Actually the same goes for parenting. I thought parenting would be much more painful than it has turned out to be at least so far, knock on wood.

It could always go worse, of course.

But you know, I kind of, I guess starting in the early 2010s was thinking, well, like, To solve the climate problem, it's going to have to be a technological advance combined with a business model, right? Like essentially you have to, in order to essentially take off and propagate through the economy quickly enough, it has to be something that you generate enormous value.

And it seemed pretty clear to me that it had to be on the energy front because We're not stocking to stop taking stuff out of the ground for energy unless we have something better. That's cheaper and easier. But I didn't really have a vision for what that might be or how it could work, but then, you know, in that intervening period and I was reasonably quick on the uptake, their solar started getting really cheap.

And so I was like, well, if you could do something, solar you know, solar and batteries. And I started looking into electric aircraft and stuff you know, essentially, like, I like hard problems, but eventually I read some books about, about fracking and about the oil industry in general. And I ended up writing a book about industrializing Mars, which I guess I wrote mostly in 2018 or 2019. I can't even remember anymore. but you know, essentially you had a chapter on, on different parts of the supply chain and, and and part of it is. Hydrocarbons, you need oil and gas on Mars too, to make plastics and things make fuel.

But as far as we know, there are no naturally occurring hydrocarbons on Mars, and it seems unlikely that there would be. So you're going to have to make it. And this has been recognized for decades at least. and people have even built small scale demonstration plants to show how this can be done. And the kind of the aha moment was realizing that solar had gotten so cheap that you could power this system on earth.

More cheaply than drilling holes in the ground to get oil and gas out. And I was like, Hmm, what if anyone else has noticed this? And it turns out a few people had so there's a startup in Santa Cruz called Prometheus by, started by a guy called Robin Guinness, who's a serial entrepreneur. Now he's done a couple of the companies and kind of based on a similar premise had set out to go and make better gasoline.

But you know, I, I, essentially everyone has their own aesthetic and their own technological aesthetic. And I was like, well, you know, I wish this would go well, but I think there might be an easy way of doing it. So I eventually realized that no one was, no one was going to do this for me. And I got some support from, from friends of mine who put some money into the, what became Terraform Industries and, and spend about a year in my garage, you know, simultaneously trying to figure out the technical problems with what became Terraform and, and also at the same time, essentially self immolating my, my, my clients. My JPL career. So in the end, it was an easy choice to make. And in retrospect, I should have done it a year earlier. Should have, should have jumped earlier.

If I, what I would say to people out there is like, obviously, if you have to be convinced to be a founder, you probably shouldn't be, it's, it is a tough job. It's a job that really challenges and stretches you. But at the same time, if you're a technologist and you have a vision for the future, that includes technology that does not otherwise exist and no one else is going to build it, and in particular, most likely it doesn't have a good business model behind it, but you can figure out how to do that. Then if you don't build it, no one's going to build it. you know. It's too easy to be lying on your deathbed and be like, well, gee, I wish I'd done that.

but by then it's too late. And the other thing, you know, like I think especially with these new AI tools and so on, it's not that hard to cobble together some software prototype, you know, just proof of concept pretty quickly, but hardware takes time, hardware takes time.

And, you know, Elon Musk is a very controversial character obviously, but it's important to realize that both Tesla and SpaceX are getting rich slowly. Like both these companies just hemorrhaged money for like 10 or 15 years before they even began to threaten to turn a profit. And I think in retrospect, we can say that they had a charmed existence. You know, a lot of other companies have tried to do the same thing and haven't gone as well. So, even with Tesla's example or space, SpaceX's example. So it does take a while, but so it helps to start now. Start now. The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.

And the second best time is right now.

Steve Hsu: I have so many questions. So, so you, you, I think that the process that we're going to discuss, the actual process that Terraform is going to instantiate at scale, hopefully.

Casey Handmer: Yep.

Steve Hsu: That had been considered already by other people as a possible process that would people Mars. Okay. And you became aware of it


Casey Handmer: Or even on

Steve Hsu: or on earth.

But I think when you first saw it, it was in the Mars context. Is that right?

Casey Handmer: I mean, I first became aware of it in about 1996 in the

Steve Hsu: Oh, 1996.

Casey Handmer: But

Steve Hsu: Yeah. A long time ago.

Casey Handmer: Yeah, I read, read the case of Mars by Robert Zubrin, he did a book tour in Australia back then. It was very formative. thanks. Thanks Zubrin. But, you know, the chemistry that underlies this was developed in the 1920s and 30s, you know, and, and, and very similar chemical processes have been adapted to massive scale.

It's like ammonia since this, for example, is an absolute colossal industry that drives fertilizers worldwide. And that uses pretty much exactly the same chemistry. That's what we're doing. So it's been done before.

Steve Hsu: So, at what point.

Having solar costs, solar energy costs already decrease to the point where this is economically feasible. Are you forecasting where exactly are we?

Casey Handmer: Yes, yes, and yes. so it's important to remember that hydrocarbon cost and access is not uniform all around the world. Obviously there's a, you know, a Brent crude barrel of oil price, but the industry itself is easily 10, 000 times more complicated than, than outsiders would guess at first, at first blush.

You know, most people's contact with this industry is that every week or so they fill their car up with a hundred bucks of fuel and they go, Hmm, that was expensive. But they don't, they don't think about the fact that the same amount of money spent on food, even from a cheap fast food restaurant buys 1 percent as much energy.

You can feed your entire family for the same price and, and the car consumes way more energy. And as long as the car runs, that's, that's all they care about. Right. But like the process to get it, there is every bit as exciting and weird and strange as like the process to make computers, make microchips, which is also like a deep law.

In some parts of the world, there are already hundreds of millions of people in terms of population where the solar resource is good enough and solar costs are low enough and hydrocarbon prices are high enough that what we are doing would be in the money right now, even without any subsidies. On top of that, most of these places have subsidies for green or less polluting hydrocarbons. And then there are some places like parts of Texas or parts of Pennsylvania that have extremely cheap hydrocarbons and that's probably going to be the case forever. Or at least for the, for the foreseeable future.

but ultimately I believe that the solar will get so cheap that even there we will be cheaper.

Steve Hsu: So in the places where you're in the money do you have to make assumptions about the ultimate efficiency of your process to decide that you're already in the money now. I mean, how sensitive are you?

Casey Handmer: You have to take that into

account. Yeah. So our process, we have a pretty good idea what our efficiency is because I can, I can tell you, you know, your listeners may be interested. We're about 30 to 35 percent efficient end to end. Which I don't know, like if you know what we're doing, you're like, actually, that's pretty good.

But if you're like, oh, wow, like two thirds of your energy is going out the door as heat. It's important to remember what we're doing as a thermodynamic conversion and thermodynamics is notoriously merciless when it comes to making you pay to do certain things. So for example, converting heat into electricity is typically about 30 percent efficient as well.

Your muscles, which convert chemical energy in the form of food into mechanical work that, you know, rides your bike or walks you around, are like 15 percent efficient on a good day. so that's just the nature of the

Steve Hsu: Yeah, I think 30 is good. So so so 30 percent means that I think you're You

Casey Handmer: early steam engines were less than half a percent efficient, for

Steve Hsu: Yeah, but, but, but, okay, to take your specific example. And so for the listeners so now we're, we're starting to really talk about Terraform Industries. For the listeners, I just saw a great episode on YouTube of a channel called Nerds on Patrol, which was really quite charming.

this, this, I don't know if they're a couple, but these two men and women visited Terraform. Yeah. Oh, not, they're not a couple. Okay. So they visited Terraform, they interviewed Casey, and then they interviewed a chemical engineer named, I think, Lucy, who's on your team. And they do a much better job of exploring really all the details of the process than I could do on this podcast because they're there in the, in the, in the castle where Terraforms, so I, I'm going to put a link to that in the show notes.

So anybody who really wants to drill down on what really fascinating technology that's involved here, take a look at that, but just to clarify that 30 percent number. So. If you have a kind of reference installation, which is, I think you said it was 500 acres of solar panels with a, with a plant attached, the solar energy that's hitting that surface area of the earth, 30 percent of that solar energy ends up as methane, as natural gas at the end of your,

Casey Handmer: That's not, that's not quite right. so, the solar array itself is about 20, 25 percent efficient and then our process is, you know, about 30, 35 percent efficient of the electricity that comes out. So,

Steve Hsu: Okay.

Casey Handmer: you know, end to end, that's about 6%. which is again, very good. So if you instead grow plants to eat and then use that food to think deep thoughts or move, move stuff around with your muscles compared to using that electricity directly with an electric motor or running it into our system and then using the natural gas to create heat. or, or, you know, make plastics or whatever, because you make plastics out of plants as well. it's still about a hundred times more productive. What we are doing is about a hundred times more productive per unit area. That's not really a mystery because like we can do things chemically at like 900 Celsius and plants obviously can't do that.

So like all of, all of the chemistry that goes on in a plant has to be at a hundred Roughly 30 degrees Celsius and, and in aqueous solution. And it's run by proteins that have to be produced from scratch. And the plant has to be self reproducing and self healing. And it spends an awful lot of its energy just staying alive, of the energy it can capture from the sun.

Photosynthesis itself is just not, not super efficient. It's really hard to yank oxygen. atoms off of a carbon dioxide molecule. And yeah, we use hydrogen and a catalyst in 400 degrees Celsius and high pressure and plants don't have any of that. So it's just tough being a plant.

Steve Hsu: Well, so you, you, you're building an artificial plant here that is able to. I'm gonna say this for the listeners, using solar energy, trap CO2 from the atmosphere, and as an output then, well, sorry, three, three different things. I'm gonna say this quickly for the listeners. So trap CO2 from the atmosphere, extract hydrogen from water and then react to the hydrogen with the CO2 to make methane, which is natural gas.

And so you're, you're, you're,

Casey Handmer: Yeah. That's how it works. I mean, the, the, the broad picture is it's a machine that makes oil and gas from sunlight and air. That's it. So like, all you really need to know about it is like right now, if you are burning gasoline, it's coming from an oil well somewhere. and instead pretty soon it'll be coming from a solar array with you know, pocket sized chemical plant attached to it somewhere.

It's basically just an oil well, you know, from, from the outside, it's just an oil well, but it doesn't involve drilling holes in the ground. It doesn't involve new emissions of carbon from the atmosphere, emissions of carbon from the crust into the atmosphere. Yeah. And it, and it operates, you know, essentially independently off the grid.

so you can put them anywhere you want or anywhere where you have enough land, you can, you drop these guys down and start making fuel.

Steve Hsu: Yeah, and just to emphasize this point, which is central to your original motivation, which is that it's not expelling carbon that it got from under the ground into the atmosphere. It's pulling the carbon out of the air. And so, in a sense, if everybody was using your process for their natural gas, there would just be a recycling of the carbon into the atmosphere back into the natural gas into the atmosphere back into the natural gas.

And I think that was your, the climate change aspect was one of your main motivations, if I'm not mistaken.

Casey Handmer: Yeah. I mean essentially like it seems to me that it would be extremely difficult for us to solve the climate heating problem, unless we can find some way of building a fossil free hydrocarbon supply chain. But you probably want to build one anyway, because fossil fuels are fundamentally limited and 8 billion people on earth need a good quality of life and there's not enough underground to give it to them.

Even if it didn't cook the climate it's still too expensive and environmentally damaging to go and get it out of the ground. So we need to post fossil post drilling sources that need to be built. Now's the time. you know, this, this has fallen into my generation. You know, my parents' generation knew about the climate change problem, but there's nothing that they could do about it.

You know, we can complain about, you know, COP. you know conferences or whatever, being, being ineffective or the quota protocol being ineffective. But at the end of the day, like either you're burning the oil or you're not. And if you're burning the oil and the oil comes from underground, you're putting CO2 in the atmosphere.

And if you're not, then your life sucks. So like, those are your choices. and, and, you know, governments exist to serve their people, regardless whether they're democratic or not. There isn't a government on earth that has successfully managed to starve its entire population of oil deliberately and remained in power and not had that process reversed.

And there are a handful that have managed it through sheer incompetence and that people in those countries live terrible lives. I'm thinking of North Korea here. So, yeah, we, we actually, you know, Terraform our vision is we should increase the supply and decrease the price of hydrocarbons for humans forever.

And incidentally, getting around the fossil problem.

Steve Hsu: Now, if, if I extrapolate the declining costs of solar energy and also the declining cost and effectiveness, increase in effectiveness of batteries, is there a future where actually the amount of natural gas that needs to be produced by your processes is quite a bit lower than what you're expecting?

Casey Handmer: No, I mean, the use cases will evolve in the future as they have in the past. So for example, we use a lot more natural gas making electricity now than we did 50 years ago where we use mostly coal and gas is a superior fuel to commit to coal. But it's very strange to me. I guess we can make more of it, but like, assuming that it's fundamentally limited, we'd get this, this chemical out of the ground that we can make into anything.

We can make it into medicines, we can make it into plastics, pesticides, glues, you name it. And, and like three quarters of it, we just burn to drive cars around or burn to make electricity when probably for 10 years now, it's been, you know, a superior cycle, both on cost and efficiency to, and cost is the important one really, to you know, directly get electricity from renewable sources, primarily solar, and then charge batteries.

And so my expectation in 30 years is that, or even, even 20 years really, is that our grid will, the grid will change its kind of operating modality, there'll be a lot more local generation of solar and maybe some wind and storage with batteries. So instead of having these big diurnal peaks of, of usage on the grid, it will be pretty, pretty even, much, much higher utilization of the grid and then much lower utilization of those really expensive long distance grid assets.

Like they'll probably be deleted ultimately. Some people disagree with me on that actually. So that's, that's your disclaimer. and then we won't be burning, you know, Much oil, coal, or gas to make electricity because solar will be cheaper. So solar will be making most of the power. And then for transportation, people will be driving electric cars, trucks, and other ground transport will ultimately go electric.

However, shipping, maybe eventually aviation, is unlikely to go electric. directly, not like battery powered and rockets obviously. And then the chemical industry as a whole and then legacy heating of buildings and so on. Because for some reason in most of the West, we've decided that we should drop the rate of C city construction and reconstruction by about a factor of 10. It will probably take at least a century to fully retrofit our existing building stock with heat pumps or whatever. So they can be electrically heated. And so they're going to continue to use gas for heating and ultimately we'll make other hydrocarbon products as well. So essentially you name it, anything comes out of a refinery. We can make it cheaper.

We can make it. Less polluting. And, also we can make it locally. So if you're one of the N minus one countries on earth that doesn't produce enough of its own refined oil products for its own use, which is essentially everywhere except the United States of any, when we're talking about countries of any size, you, you depend on the U S Navy to keep the, so you can import oil from the Middle East or some other place.

And, we're kind of seeing the fragility of that system right now. And I don't have to tell, tell your, your, your audience here, but like we get calls almost every week from, you know, energy ministers and stuff asking like, yo, can we talk about your process? Because. It'd be amazing, you know, if we can locally produce our hydrocarbon needs, like not even to the country level at the city level, really unwind a lot of the major problems associated with, with oil and gas logistics, both security and pollution wise.

So all these things are pulling in the right direction, which I think is super exciting.

Steve Hsu: I've heard you use the number 400 million for this sort of reference installation, right? 500 acres. that 400,


Casey Handmer: Well, so 400 million times five acres so 4, 4, 000, 500 acres units, I guess, but yes.

Steve Hsu: And so where does that estimate come from? That's in a future where the uses of the hydrocarbons are for those things you mentioned, like legacy heating and cooling and jet planes, maybe ships, but not all the other stuff.

Casey Handmer: Yeah. Aviation in particular, I think, is poised for massive growth. Yeah. So like. Kind of the history of the modernization of particularly American life over the last century has been that on average, humans have consumed about a hundred times more energy now than they did back then. and that's bought us, you know, three times the life expectancy and a much better quality of life and much more wealth and opportunity.

And at the same time, like most of the energy we were consuming back then was, was Yeah, food, basically food for us, food for animals, and a bit of, a bit of wood or coal for heating. And that's pretty much it. And nowadays, of course we use a lot of energy for heating and cooling and, and air conditioning and increasingly for computation and, and obviously transportation.

but if you say, well, Steve, we're desperate here. We have to increase our per capita consumption of energy by another factor of 10. It's not clear how we do that because, like we already have all the appliances, we already have a house that's heated and cooled. Like what are the things that we do on a day to day basis that could easily consume 10 times more energy?

And really aviation is the major one there on a per capita basis. And then, and then the other one is, yeah, well, what if we increase the capitals? Like what if we increase the human population or population of sentient beings on the earth by another factor of 10 or a hundred or a thousand or a million principally by AI, like making like a lot of, a lot of AGI is running around in data centers, which could consume an awful lot of power as well.

So in order to get the 400 million number, 400 million. Megawatts is 400 terawatts, which is about 20 times more electricity than the world currently produces and consumes. The way to get that is you, you take the current world population and you assume that they each want to consume as much fuel as Americans do on average.

And actually even American consumption is strongly biased towards. The wealthy members of society who fly, fly planes a lot, for example most people on earth do not fly planes very much at all or, or, or, or at all ever. and then you multiply, basically multiply that out and you come to 400 terawatts and it could easily be half that or twice that in the final analysis.

I kind of hope it isn't 10 times that because very quickly you start to run out of land on earth to provide this fuel. and it turns out that our development cost. Long term development cost will be probably on the order of a few tens of thousands of dollars per acre. But if you're developing like you know, current state of the art, one gigawatt scale data center, your development cost is more like 250, 000 an acre sorry, your development cost is. No, there's like two and a half million dollars an acre. So like your land acquisition cost could be a 10th of that. It's 250, 000 an acre. And like, it's very hard to imagine that land scarcity would become a major problem in terms of deploying more AI at that price.

and so I do wonder sometimes, like, are we going to, there's a turnout that like the way AGI kills us is not, is not by like paperclip maximizing it's by like us, us greedy capitalists you know, keeping on, keeping on building more eyes to make more money until we've paved the entire earth, the solar panels. We'll have to see how that goes.

Steve Hsu: Yeah. I'm not sure which one's going to win. so


Casey Handmer: I think there's room for both. Yeah. We'll get there sooner with the, with the fuel, obviously, but land is

Steve Hsu: you started the company, what did you think the major challenges were going to be? I think it's, I think it's,


Casey Handmer: Well, I was, I'd read a few books about, about businesses and so on, but there's some, some good books out there. Some, some minority, I have a blog post actually on, on various books I've read, but there's some, some good books out there on business. But the reality is that no one lives long enough to really gain a A full perspective on what it takes to build and run a business.

Even, even some serial entrepreneurs, it's on 10 businesses to successfully really not have insight into what it is, what, or what actually matters. It's all over determined, right? So, I didn't really know what I was, I was in for it. I knew that I didn't know, but I knew that I had to do it. So I just kind of plunged in and, and if I ran into trouble, I'd give a friend a call or, you know, read up on it, I'll think about it, figure out what to do.

What did I assume would be difficult? I was actually quite careful to make sure that none of the things we were doing required anything like a major miracle in terms of things that I've in retrospect found to be quite difficult. I would say that some aspects of management did not come naturally and had to be learned. fundraising is always more nerve wracking than you think it should be.

Obviously it'd be. I said that was not the case, but it just is. it turns out that you, you, it's a, it's a currency paid for in stress. the technical on the technical side, we've had, we've had a few kinds of full stars here and there, nothing, nothing we weren't able to kind of correct course on pretty quickly.

And if anything, I'd say now I'm much more confident on the tech than I thought I would be two years ago by now. So that's, that's gone better, I guess than I had expected. but yeah, overall it's been, I've been really lucky to have a great experience. I know not every founder does. And I also know that most startups go through multiple periods of near death experiences.

but if you just kind of keep on fighting, then you can, you can at least make it through the acute. The acute failures are the kind of chronic problems of poor product market fit or, or whatever, being crushed by competition or something more difficult to deal with, but I guess we'll take that across those bridges when we come to it.

I would say actually, I thought by now we'd have more competition. Yeah. Cause I mean, I've been pretty open about our technology stack. I've been putting a lot of stuff on, on, on the internet about what we're doing and how we're doing it. You know, Jesse

Steve Hsu: think it's a hard lift, which is why probably you don't have as much competition as, you know, the logic behind it is, you know, pretty sound, but to actually try to bite that off and get, you know, engineer these systems as well is tough, right?

Casey Handmer: No, it's a huge pain in the ass. That's for sure. And certainly if you're doing this in a conventional way, or if you had more experience in. In a chemical engineering startup or something like that, you would definitely think what we're doing is impossible. And if you had less experience, you'd probably be like, I don't know enough to try.

So you have to be a little bit crazy to try it. But also like the math doesn't lie and I'm very lucky that, that, you know, I can do some, some sorts of calculations well enough with my physics background to know for sure that something will work. And so one of the things I like to say is that, even if Terraform ceased to exist tomorrow due to a catastrophic earthquake or something, the reality is that like the fundamentals.

Design that I've laid out on the blog post, has been demonstrated to work already. We've demonstrated it, but like, it will work financially as well. So, yeah, so like drilling stays numbered. And, and, and really the question is like, can we be smart here and accelerate that process a bit and make money in the process?

It's like, you know, there was never really any doubt in Elon's mind, for example, that like electric cars would win sooner or later. The question is like, how much sooner? Can we make it if we try really hard? And so that's what we had to do.

Steve Hsu: So how, how far would you say you are from your first prototype installation?

Casey Handmer: That is a good question. Ultimately the speed of execution at that scale is capital limited. So that's why we've been great and fortunate to work with some investors. You've been able to basically keep our lights on and keep us working. And, actually in some ways, I think if someone had written me a hundred million dollar check two years ago, we'd probably be worse off now because, it's essentially impossible to make necessary engineering investments and organizational trade off decisions without constraints. and economic constraints are great for that.

But at the same time, you know, if this was a Manhattan project and we had infinite money, I think we could probably move a little bit faster. But I would say at this point, I think we have a product like prototype done by the end of the year. whether we decide to burn toward that or not is still TBD because if it turns out that building a product like prototype is And we can put in the field and demonstrate by the end of this year is the, is the most wise thing we can do with our resources for maximizing future growth, then yes, we'll obviously do it.

But if it's not, then we won't. If there's some other thing that we should do that will Increase our odds of success in the short term, then I would say increase our, like basically increase the area under the curve of the probability of success integrated for say the next 10 years. then we will, we will do that.

and that's actually one of the, one of the more challenging decisions. Cause at the end of the day, that's a decision that I have to make and I have to live with. and there's no, even in retrospect, there's no way of knowing if you made the right

Steve Hsu: Is this partly driven by what some potential investors want to see from you before they can commit? Is that driving some of these decisions over the next year?

Casey Handmer: So it's always very tempting as a startup founder to, kind of dance to the tune of, of your perception of investor logic or investor preference. But thus far at Terraform, we have always done what we thought was right. And the investors who have joined us have been aligned on that front. and so you, I don't think you'll ever find us devoting major resources to stuff that's designed to look glitzy and glamorous to attract a certain kind of investor, and, and at the same time, I think there's, there's enough sophisticated technology folks and investors out there that they recognize that, like, we're not here to generate hype.

And unfortunately, you know, part of the reason that I'm, I'm dead set on doing that is that there have been a number of fairly prominent companies in the last, well, forever, basically. But like, let's say over optimized for investor attractiveness at the cost of their fundamental business. And, it did not go well for them or for their investors.

And so I think, you know, as I said, we only get one life. I want to use it on, Stuff that maximizes our probability of success. And to the extent that impressing the shit out of investors does that, then great. But to the extent that we're lapping, you know, I don't know, like going, going way out of a way to satisfy some set of a criterion, which we probably don't even have very good insight into anyway, because none of us investors, is I think a little bit, a little bit silly.

It's really important that we be brutally honest with ourselves and with the outside world. The stakes are too high to screw around.

Steve Hsu: So just so I can understand, like for you to get from A to B, is it the case that, okay, there, there are a bunch of things you need to accomplish, say at an engineering, in an engineering sense, and you just have to try different things To see which one works and so it's sort of iterative

Casey Handmer: Hmm. At this point it's, yeah, I mean, at this point it's mostly just iterative improvement of the underlying design. So like everything currently works. It's just, In my view, it's a little bit too complicated and a little bit too expensive. it's actually pretty close. So like one of the traps that I see hardware startups get into is they like, they build their, their big demo, right?

But they do it using processes that they know cannot scale. And so like at the end of the day, their engineering team spends a year or two or five, getting really good at making the, you know, just the one time only demo work, but they don't actually spend any equity or any time, like figuring out how it has to be solved at scale.

And this is a mistake, right? Like the, the prototyping environment should be as close to the production environment as possible. And there's no shortcuts. So you just have to do it, do it the hard way and, and learn and, and invest that time and effort in making your team know how to actually build stuff.

And we've done that all the way along. So we're actually very, very close on that cost already. Surprisingly so.

Steve Hsu: That's great.

Casey Handmer: I ran the numbers last week and I was like, Hmm, that's actually pretty good.

Steve Hsu: Great. Is there an investor that you would love to meet with, but you haven't yet been able to get access to?

Casey Handmer: ah, that's a good question. I was actually like, everyone should write a blog and having written a blog, a lot of my, not all my blogs, but some of them turned out to be quite good in hindsight. And I think word has gotten around. So I've been quite fortunate that the investment community, particularly in the West coast, the United States has, has really opened its arms to me, at least in, in terms of meetings and in person, which is, which is the first step.

and, and a good number of them have opened their wallets for us as well, which is nice. You know, it's one thing to think that like, Oh, Casey probably has alpha when it comes to some obscure corner of, of of industry that I'm not that interested in investing in, but I like talking to smart people or talking to people with contrarian ideas and I can do that all day long.

It's, it's another thing to be like, and this is something that I'm going to deploy my investors money behind, obviously. It may be harder to justify, and there are certainly aspects of Terraform that are not necessarily very attractive to an investor. but yeah, I think I've been, been super fortunate on that, on that front.

it's, it's actually pretty cool, pretty cool, not without its flaws, obviously, but a pretty cool culture of, of trying to build, build new things and build good things. And I think, especially now, I think maybe in some ways for the last 10 years, Silicon Valley kind of spun its wheels doing, solving problems that weren't all that important.

But they didn't really have a vision for, for what to do or how to apply themselves in a new way. And we're kind of seeing this, this hard tech or hardware tech renaissance right now, in part driven by energy, is getting really cheap. We're going to get back on the Henry Adams curve and and, and, you know, really take that next step, the next 10 X and energy consumption per person.

And the logical end point of that is that we have. You know, multiple major airlines worldwide flying supersonic planes and fairly routine transport to low earth orbit. And, then we coexist with, with a lot of sentient AIs. That's pretty rad. It might all happen in the next 10 years. And of course our hydrocarbons will be synthetic, but that's, that's, that's our little contribution.

Steve Hsu: Those physical advances were the kinds of things in science fiction books, you know, that I read by Robert Heinlein when I was a kid. So it is a little surprising to me that it's taken so long for us to get there.

Casey Handmer: Well, it's much easier to write a book about it.

I think that again, people underestimate just how hard it is to make stuff. And for example, like in software, we have a pretty good stack right now. With the exception of the sort of nasty problems that I spent my PhD specializing in. But like for most consumer facing software, as I said, you can kind of cobble together a prototype pretty quickly.

which is some way of like, I think that's analogous to saying that there's a fairly dense solution set to known problems in that space. And actually in many cases you can solve that problem by spending money, which is the best kind of problem to have, right? Like, you know, exactly how much it costs.

You can just spend money. All the stuff we're doing here. We're building a bunch of hardware in house. It's not stuff where you can just buy something off the shelf that does it if only, but it turns out building, building is technology is really hard. And sure, we live in a world where we mass produce all kinds of stuff.

You know, these headphones are mass produced, for example, but like almost, almost every factory. Is designed specifically to produce one kind of thing in one kind of way. And it's not very versatile and sure. If you're a manufacturing like technician or something, engineering designer then you probably have a pretty good idea about how everything is made, you know, there's only like 30 or 40 standard processes that you can use and kind of cobble together, but like Legos, but that's, that's still a very, very long way from saying that, like.

I have this idea from a Heinlein book and now I want to make it reality and make it pay for itself. Wow. We're not there yet. It's actually super exciting. I saw that Hadrian raised a hundred, almost 120 million late last year. And they're doing kind of a prototype of a next generation factory.

But again, like what they're doing is really, they're machining certain kinds of metal in certain kinds of ways for a very certain slice of high margin, insensitive customers.

Steve Hsu: This is, this

Casey Handmer: It's not quite the same as having a,

Steve Hsu: This is CNC stuff. They do


Casey Handmer: Okay. Yeah, CNC lathe mill, but like it's, that's a long way from being like, oh, I want a machine where I like to prompt it with a, you know, print me a laptop and then outcomes, a laptop kind of situation. and again, people don't realize this because again, their contact with it is I go on Amazon and I click the button and pay the money and it shows up at my house a couple of days later. But you know, YouTube exists. You can always go and look at videos of how these factories work.

Steve Hsu: it's

incredible. Yeah. Incredibly. It's mind boggling for me. I mean, actually like when I watch those videos, I can only watch for a little while and then I have to pause because I have to digest what I've seen. Actually figure out, you know how they're actually doing it.

Casey Handmer: Adams don't want to do what you want them to do. They're very indifferent to you, to your needs and desires.

Steve Hsu: Adams are tougher than bits.

Casey Handmer: mean they allow you to do different things than bits allow you to do as well, but it's just like the process required to take a rock out of the ground and turn it into something that people will pay money for is like, yeah, it's tough.

Steve Hsu: So I'm sure investors ask you this question as far as the defensibility of what you're doing, how much of it will be IP and patents that you filed and how much will be sort of just know how or trade secrets.

Casey Handmer: As of now we filed no patents. I was actually just thinking yesterday, maybe we finally invented something that's worth patenting. And I had a little browse around on Google, but, but I, I really do believe that like This is a contrarian viewpoint, but like, we're not the sort of business that would be defended by patents.

What we're doing is not particularly defensible in general because. Strategic access to hydrocarbons is the sort of thing that governments nationalize in a heartbeat. So like, yeah, and China doesn't respect patents anyway. So like what, what are your odds? Like really, if, if someone came up and said, hey, we're going to infringe on your patents and, and copy your thing, I'd be like, how can I help you? Please. Can I invest? I'd love, I'd love it. If you like in house some aspect of what we're doing here and we don't have to do quite as much stuff. Let's talk. No, one's done that yet. I mean, we have LOIs with a number of companies that have other reactors and types and things like that. And that's great.

And I, you know, we're very excited to help each other out, but at the end of the day, this kind of new air based chemical platform really depends on getting super cheap electrolysis, a super cheap DAC. And to the best of my knowledge, as of the 1st of March, 2024, No one else is really approaching this problem in the way that I think is congruent with success.

And that's why I started this company because I surveyed a hundred companies in this space. And I was like, well, they're all mostly run by well meaning smart people who are trying their best, but they haven't necessarily thought about this problem the right way. And I think I have, and of course I may be deluded,

Steve Hsu: if you weren't trying to source the CO2 from the atmosphere, but you were just buying it from an industrial source, would that change your, like, would that make your process much cheaper?

Casey Handmer: No, for two reasons. Well, the moral reason is like industrially sourced CO2 is probably not carbon neutral.

Steve Hsu: Right, right.

Casey Handmer: and, and the volumes required it, but then the technical problem, the technical cost problem is that, is that CO2 and hydrogen are both really hard to transport. And the transport adds a huge amount of cost to them so much that you will never make money making fuel if you have to transport them, which is why the terraformer is this modular system that sits inside the solar array.

So we're not paying money transporting electricity and we're not paying money transporting hydrogen or CO2. The only thing we're paying money for transporting is the product methane, which we have an existing supply chain and product. Sweet for transporting and which is valuable. So people want to transport it.

But you say, well, why didn't you just use commercially available CO2? Well, there's not enough of it and getting it to where you need it. It's too hard. so, and then, and then like you say, well, okay, I've built a plant that uses commercially available CO2 and I've solved the supply chain in these handful of corner cases.

But now again, you spent three years of your life optimizing or optimizing around this corner case that won't, won't extend, won't scale. You know, this is our response to people who ask about, you know, Carbon capture, which is usually construed to mean capturing carbon out of like coal plants, smokestacks or something like that, which is like, okay, great. Now, if I want to build these things, I've got to go and find a place where I can put down a shitload of solar. And it also has to be next to a coal plant that also wants to talk to us and also won't be shut down in five years. Like, no, thanks. I would rather like to solve the general problem and the general problem means no marginal constraints. Like the only thing you need is land.

And then, you know, transporting the methane away from the site. There's a bunch of different ways of doing that, but that's a customer's problem. At the end of the day.

As it is today. I mean, like essentially where oil and gas occurs underground is not something that was particularly intentional when it came to when we cited it as it is.

So, like figuring out how to transport that away from the side is something we've put a lot of effort into as a species. but yeah, hydrogen, just the cost of compressing and transporting hydrogen is more than the cost that we can afford to pay producing it, which is

Steve Hsu: It just occurred to me that you should definitely try to speak with the sovereign wealth fund of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia because.

Casey Handmer: So actually they've installed a lot of solar and I'm actually super bullish on the use of desalination as well. So like one of my pet projects is, is, is trying to induce, you know, major desalination projects here in Southern California, like, like multi gigawatt scale projects, I think it would be, we'll have to do it sooner or later. We may as well do it sooner. But yeah, I mean, our door is open. If the Saudi wants to talk to us, we're happy to, happy to clue them in.

The, there's different kinds of investors, so it's important to remember that when you take money from someone, you know, the best investor is one that gets out of your way. But not all investors see the world the same way you do, and some of them will ask you to do certain things that it may, may not otherwise want to do or think is a good idea to do. And, and again, we've been very fortunate thus far that that our investors have, have been. pretty well aligned. but yeah, once you start taking money from solving wealth funds, they start expecting you to show up at their events and, and and, and building demonstration plants in their backyard.

And, and that may not necessarily be the best deal for us, but it might be, I wouldn't, I wouldn't rule it out. They certainly have the money.

Steve Hsu: Something you said just triggered a memory of, I now remember how you came up in the conversation. I think before we started this interview, I was telling Casey that he had been recommended to me by some very smart people as somebody worth interviewing. And what had happened is I was talking to these guys who are all hardcore technologists about, you know, as the price of solar gets low enough, we'll just start desalinating huge amounts of water. And we were discussing that as something that's going to happen relatively, I mean, in the near future. And then someone said, oh, you got to talk to this guy, Casey.

Casey Handmer: Yeah. I wrote a couple of blogs on it, but I mean, so one of the consequences of climate change, which were unlikely to be able to, you know, to fix is that certain river flows are going to get less reliable and these river flows support billions of lives and tens of trillions of dollars of economic activity.

And so when you look at that, you say, well, I know desalinated water is more expensive than water that falls from the sky for free, but what is the counterfactual, like what is the alternative to do nothing? Like obviously you could have a humanitarian catastrophe, but even if like, let's say the Colorado's flows dropped by a factor of two over the next 30 years. That's a major problem, right? Colorado supports $1.4 trillion dollars of annual activity. So you say, well, if I could spend $1 billion a year to solve that problem, would it be worth your while? Yes, obviously. Right. Like not even close, just, just pure tax revenue. Probably the Colorado River generates 10 tens of billions of dollars a year.

So obviously it is worth your while to allocate some of that towards making sure that gravy train does not stop. And then you say, okay, well, how much would it cost to desalinate enough water to basically replicate the lower Colorado's extraction for, for, for Nevada, which takes almost nothing actually, Arizona and California, which takes almost all of it.

And the answer is probably like 20 years to build out. A very, very, very large desalination plant, and it has a bunch of other wider economic benefits. So like you put a desalination plant down in the Imperial Valley or the Coachella Valley, and um, and now you can solve the Salton Sea. So like this, this area of Southern California, which has a perfect climate and is otherwise uninhabitable because it's a festering environmental disaster and really a blight on Californians in general.

You could just fix it. It becomes the world's largest swimming pool. Like you, you regulate it's, it's, it's level and its salinity essentially by fiat as a side project here, you also make a shitload of light metals you can recover a bunch of agricultural chemicals and reuse them. and, and at the same time increase water, water flow to Mexico, which kind of got the roar into the deal on, on the Colorado's water and there's an area, you know, essentially right across the border in the Imperial Valley, which, which should be just as productive as the Imperial Valley, but there's nowhere near as productive because they don't have enough water. They have salinity issues. And so you solve that problem as well. And like, well, why shouldn't we do this?

It's going to cost half the cost of Twitter, like half the price that Elon paid for Twitter. We could solve water scarcity in California forever. Even with today's technology and Arizona, similarly, that would probably require an act of Congress because it would require, you know, renegotiating aspects of these, these border treaties.

but the amount of money involved is pocket change. It's like, like one year of NASA's budget and NASA does not spend a lot of money in the grand scheme of things. And it would basically solve this problem forever. And then more generally, like you could do this. There's a bunch of rivers around the world, but essentially.

Yeah, these rivers might be a thousand miles long, but almost all the economic activity happens either very, very close to the ocean or very, very close to sea level, where, where the river kind of spreads out and there's Bolivia areas where people can live and that's, that's close enough to the ocean that you can just pipe water there from the ocean, you don't have to pump it all the way up to the Himalaya or whatever.

We should definitely do it.

Steve Hsu: Am I wrong in thinking that it would only take 1 or 2 orders of magnitude less money than that to get you to the finish line? So your company could get to the finish line for. You know, if someone put a billion dollars into it.

Casey Handmer: Oh, we could productively spend a billion dollars. So, so yeah, I mean, we're not planning on raising a billion dollars anytime soon, to be clear, we're not quite that delusional, but but you know, we're looking to raise some more money this year and, and that I wouldn't, I wouldn't rule it out, but I think it might be possible with our next fundraise to be able to get to profitability.

And of course, after profitability, you continue to raise money, but, but it's a lot easier to raise money once you're profitable. But, you know, the question that I sometimes ask myself is, you know, by, say, 2040 will be done. Hopefully, by the early 2040s, you know, the world will largely be on synthetic hydrocarbon supply chain and will no longer emit atmospheric, sorry, crustal CO2.

but right now the world is emitting something like 500 gigatons of CO2 per decade. You know, not all of that ends up in the atmosphere. Some of it's absorbed straight away into plants and things, but it's quite a lot. and so if we're able to accelerate that, that date from say 2045 to 2035, then we probably save the world 0. 4 degrees Celsius of temperature rise or something, which will probably save at least tens of millions of lives from either death or really bad stuff from climate change. If you divide 10 million lives by 10 years, it works out to a few thousand lives per day. So I'm strongly motivated to find ways of solving this problem.

There are other technical problems out there, for instance, that will solve many, many more lives than that. So for example, if we were able to have the rate at which humans age it would say 50 million lives a year which is, you know, More than a hundred thousand lives per day. So like, that's obviously something that I hope smart people are thinking about.

but, but as far as climate change goes, like we're just kicking ourselves in the shins at this point, there's no reason for us to go on getting carbon out of the crust, except that we, Terraform and society in general can't necessarily ramp up technology quickly enough, but everything we're doing here is about making sure that, that we can start building these factories that produce Terraform as quickly as possibly can.

And there will come a day, probably later this decade, when actually our scaling constraint is not the rate that we can produce terraformers. It's the rate at which other factories can produce solar panels. And that'll be a very interesting time. This happened to Tesla, for example. So when Tesla started out, they were, you know, almost nothing in terms of global battery supply chain.

But, last time I checked, they were like 80 percent of 18, six fifties used in Tesla's. So, they kind of outgrew that, outgrew that aspect of the supply chain, which is pretty, pretty

Steve Hsu: Yeah, that's incredible.

Casey Handmer: So yeah, if someone wants to write us a billion dollar check, I'm pretty sure I can shave, you know, four or five years off that.

Off that timeframe. Yeah, that would be quite extraordinary, I think. But I, I think, I think realistically speaking, we've made amazing progress and we still have there are still proof points that our, that our team will, will need to bring forward to show that we're worthy of, of that level of capital allocation in a, in a sane and rational world. Of course, investors in general are not necessarily rational, but we will.

Steve Hsu: Well, I know at least a handful of billionaires and investors who listen to the show. So let's hope some of them hope some of them like the

Casey Handmer: Hi, I'm very investable. I promise.

Steve Hsu: Great. Well, hey, Casey, this has been a great conversation. We're nearing the hour mark.

What's the next thing people who follow terraform should be on the lookout for? What are you gonna announce? What's a hint of what you're gonna announce in the next year?

Casey Handmer: what, what, what, what hint can I drop? I would say you don't have to wait for a year depending on how quickly SpaceX gets around to blowing up the next rocket you might hear this month. But yeah, so we, we've, we've worked really hard over the last year and we've hit a bunch of really critical milestones and we're in the process of hitting a few more right now.

And we're, we're going to make a huge song and dance about it because, yeah, essentially, you know, this kind of science risk and tech risk and financial risk. And we've retired a lot of that. I can't be more specific, unfortunately right now, but yeah, my, my confidence right now is that we're not going to hit any major, any more major technical hiccups or something is like a hundred percent.

Like we've basically cracked it. So this is, I'd say like if we were a rocket company, we'd be pretty close to the static fire. That's not quite the same as flying into space, but or making money while flying into space. But, but once you've built the rocket and put it on the test end and static fired it, you're like, well, we can, we can make this thing work and all the pieces work and it doesn't explode.

And that's actually further than 99 percent of rocket companies get. So I'm super proud of the team. They've, they've really. I don't know. It's like you call it a miracle, but like you pull out a miracle every week. It doesn't feel like a miracle anymore, but they have, they've really really shown their, shown their quality and shown their worthiness of this, of this task over the last few months.

I'm really impressed.

Steve Hsu: That's fantastic. Well, it's been fascinating talking to you and I wish you guys all the best. I will maybe check back in with you in a couple years when you're using up all the solar panels on the planet.

Casey Handmer: Yeah. Yeah. We'll have to fight with the open AI for access to solar panels. but No, it's super exciting because like, like right now the United States uses like tens of millions of acres to grow biofuels and, and other like basically poor uses of food and we can rewild all that land and, and still have more fuel and cheaper fuel and better fuel and stuff that's better for the environment.

So like, it's just a win, win, win. I just put out this blog post on the environmental impact of terraformers and like, I'm quite serious in saying that the solar, solar electric, solar chemical Supply chain for humanity will enable 10, 10 billion humans to live terrific lives alongside essentially a restored ecology for 90 percent of our surface.

And it's hard to imagine a better outcome than that. You know, especially looking at where we were 10, 20, 30, 40 years ago, where it looked like we were just going to cover everything in, in mall outlets and, and asphalt and, and extinction of every, every other species. Yeah, I think, I think we're gonna, we're gonna snatch victory from the jaws of defeat as far as human development goes here.

We're gonna, we're gonna pass the great filter. it's gonna be, it's gonna be awesome. hang on. That crazy thing is like, we're already a decade into this, like solar has already been critically cheap for a decade and it's been kind of growing in the background. But, you know, last year, for example, the United States deployed more solar than it has ever built nuclear, for example. And that's the same at the global scale as well. And the capacity factor is a little bit different, but, but yeah, solar is astonishingly cheap, astonishingly astonishingly more productive economically and energetically than agriculture. It's really like agricultural revolution 2. 0 it's

Steve Hsu: It's funny because just a few years ago the great stagnation thesis was pretty popular, but now it looks like with AGI and energy innovations like yours you know, it might become apparent soon that there's no great stagnation.

Casey Handmer: No, no, we're going to solve a bunch of problems. I have a blog post called, you should be working on hardware that has basically a bucket list of problems that I'd be working on if I had infinite time, and, and I'm quite confident that we're going to. We're going to solve at least half of those in the next 20 years.

And that's, that'll be a radically more exciting future. And I think, I think more people need to talk this up because I think, I think tech's really, really got kicked around for the last decade and yeah, tech made a few mistakes. but but at the end of the day, like the thing that separates our lifestyle from that of, of, the paleolithic people who were hunted by sabertooth tigers and, and other, other hominid species and, and, and live short, desperate lives plagued by, by you know, child mortality and, And, and just other horrors that are beyond comprehension for most of us today, is, is technology.

And yet, like we can, we can build it and we can, we can use it. We should, we should accelerate it. I mean, like the crazy thing to me right now is the single biggest break in the United States that's preventing the deployment of solar power, which saves about a hundred lives per gigawatt per year in terms of avoiding pollution from legacy coal plants that are being displaced.

Is the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency? The Environment Environmental Protection Act is. Is, is slowing, slowing down these, these deployments, which are going to occur anyway, sooner or later by years. And it's killing thousands of people every year.

More more than more than a nine. More than a 9/11 of people are killed every year from avoidable air pollution caused by the United States, slow rolling the deployment of solar power because of restrictions that have been, they're not even in the text of the Environmental Protection Act. They've kind of been added by regulation since that, that slows the shit down. It's absolutely infuriating. but we will, we will ultimately prevail. We will, we will break through and we will deploy enough solar to give every man, woman and child on earth, the lifestyle they deserve despite the best, best attempts of, I think people making an honest attempt to enforce regulations that have passed the use by date.

Steve Hsu: Great. Well, that looks like a good place to end it. Casey, I thank you again for being on the show.

Casey Handmer: Most welcome. It's been a pleasure.