R&D Trends & the Future of Energy with Conner Prochaska

Ryan Morfin is speaking with Conner Prochaska, Chief Commercialization Officer of the Department of Energy (DOE), to discuss the various initiatives that the DOE is currently pursuing.
Ryan Morfin is speaking with Conner Prochaska, Chief Commercialization Officer of the Department of Energy (DOE), to discuss the various initiatives that the DOE is currently pursuing. Nuclear energy is the best-known way to attain carbon-free energy, and the United States proudly holds the “Gold Standard” for nuclear energy production due to the incomparable safety and reliability of our plants. However, as is the case with many forms of energy, storage is the key factor that limits maximum efficiency.

The Department of Energy’s name may be deceptive to those unaware of the true nature and scope of their dealings. The DOE is actually overseeing many research projects and holds great interest in space exploration and commercialization. With Prochaska’s Naval background, he sees trends in the newly announced Space Force that mirror the creation of the Navy. The United States views it as imperative to become the most prominent player in space in order to lay the ground rules before a less moral nation endeavors to do so.

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Ryan Morfin:                    Welcome to NON-BETA ALPHA, I’m Ryan Morfin. On today’s episode we have Conner Prochaska, the chief commercialization officer of the Department of Energy, talking to us about government R&D trends in the energy sector and the future of energy. This is NON-BETA ALPHA.

                                           Conner, welcome to the show, thanks for joining us today.

Conner Prochask…:        Absolutely. Thanks for having me, Ryan.

Ryan Morfin:                    So Conner, you work at the Department of Energy and you’ve had a lot of different roles, but right now you’re currently sitting in the office of commercialization. Maybe you can talk a little bit about what the Department of Energy’s doing to maybe dual use technologies or help us become, as we’ve become a net energy exporter, just become more efficient in how we use and generate energy.

Conner Prochask…:        Sure, yeah. It’s a great opportunity to talk right now about energy. It’s a really excited role that I get to sit in right now as the chief commercialization officer of the Department of Energy. The one thing I always like to tell people that don’t necessarily interact with the Department of Energy all that often is that the department is wildly misnamed. The department really is the department of nuclear weapons security and research science. We guard the stockpile of nuclear weapons when it’s not being used by the military or deployed, and maintain that, and that’s roughly half of what the $36, $37 billion budget goes to, is that role. And then we do $18 billion a year of research and development at the Department of Energy.

                                           And I always like to foot-stomp that a little bit. That’s a year, not overall, we’ve done $18 billion annually. So it’s a pretty large portfolio to say the least to look at and see how we can make this research and my role be more impactful. So the bottom line is, there’s a lot of titles that I hold, office of technology transition director, chief commercialization officer. The bottom line of it all is that we want to take that $18 billion of US taxpayer research and see how we can make it as impactful as possible for the US taxpayer, the economy, and in the end the world. Because it really is research that changes the world at the end of the day.

Ryan Morfin:                    Yeah, and so it’s interesting, so we’re big investors in the oil and gas markets, all of our viewers have allocations in oil and gas. And with the fracking technology that’s been the boom over the last decade or so, can you just touch a little bit on what you see going on in the supply-demand, or the demand destruction, the supply war between Russia and Saudi Arabia? How is that changing the economic calculus for R&D in the future? Because energy’s cheap.

Conner Prochask…:        Yeah, and this is something that I worry about, once again, in that research and development world, which is, it’s real tough and it’s a tough sell to some of the players in the, particularly the oil and gas space, to say in this type of market that you should be putting more money towards your research and development arm, which a lot see as an ancillary or secondary expense. It’s not, by the way. We wouldn’t be in this position if these companies didn’t invest in the research. The reason we are a net exporter of energy here in the United States now, and I always like to remind people as well, when Jimmy Carter in 1977 created the Department of Energy, it was because there were gas lines, and odd and even license plates got gas on a different day, and there wasn’t enough energy in this world to keep this puppy humming.

                                           Now we sit here 40+ years later, 50 years later, and we’re looking at being a net exporter and another point in the whole market, and we’re in a great spot right now as far as where we are in a geopolitical world. If you recall, Iran was doing some stuff in the Straits a few months ago, six months ago, if you will, and I remember when I was a Naval intelligence officer, if that had occurred, everything would have gone up in smoke. There would have been alarms everywhere, people would be deploying, it would be a disaster for our energy security.

                                           When it happened a few months ago, you didn’t see much happen in the market. You didn’t see much happen militarily, diplomatically. We wanted to ease the situation, obviously, but it wasn’t our lifeline any more. And so the research that was done and has been done over the past 50 years by the government and the private sector, can’t say that enough, the private sector deployment and research of the basic science that comes out of the government can never be undervalued. And I really worry, and hope this isn’t true, that we lose a decade, I don’t want us to lose a decade, because of this current crisis. It would be short-sighted, I think. But like I said, the reality of the market is, research is not always directly attached to the bottom line here and today. And so it is something that is troublesome when it comes to the research world.

Ryan Morfin:                    Yeah, and so technology has looked at, like oil and gas, for instance, the fracking, and it’s been primarily done here in the US, not globally. So there seems to be a lot of more efficient ways to extract oil. That was probably technology that was generated from R&D from DOE in the last 20 to 30 years. What’s your view on, now that energy prices are falling, do renewable projects still make sense? What is the strategic mindset for the country? Should we continue to start developing those geothermal, solar, wave, wind infrastructure assets? Are those critical parts of the energy portfolio?

Conner Prochask…:        Yes. The short answer is yes. But we need to also take this opportunity, and the administration is taking this opportunity, the White House and the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, is taking this opportunity to also shore up our base load power ability and our storage ability. Because this is a great opportunity to do that. And we want to make sure we’re finding the ways best to service the country when we do this. One of the things that I always talk about is, when we talk about renewables, when we talk about next generation energy production, how we’re going to move into a cleaner world, a lot of that is understanding that we have the luxury, and it’s also a problem in this country, of having very efficient, reliable, resilient power.

                                           The lights don’t go off every third day like they do in some countries. So we’re trying to rebuild a very reliable system, and the analogy I always use is we’re trying to rebuild an airplane while we’re still flying it. And we’re rebuilding the system, we have to make sure that it’s still safe, reliable, and clean and safe. So those are things that we need to consider. So right now it is a great opportunity to shore up our base load, to shore up our traditional power sources and make sure we’re in a good spot for that, because that will enable us to have that solid foundation just like anything, when you build something you want to have a solid foundation, to go try new and different things in the wind, the solar, geothermal, everything you just named.

                                           We are an all of the above approach, we’re doing research in all of the above. You can’t find an energy technology out there the Department of Energy is not still looking into. Carbon capture, I tell you, I think everybody thinks the real key to the next steps in any kind of renewable energy deployment is storage, which is a huge thing that we want to keep going forward and are going forward. Point to the $30 million DAYS project at the Advanced Research Projects Agency that came out a few months ago, where right now the department is working on what’s called the Energy Storage Grant Challenge, which is taking disparate efforts across the department, because like any big organization with tens of thousands of researchers and billions of dollars, there’s a lot of silos of excellence that we want to merge together to make sure that we can use all the power of the department to unlock what we think is important in energy storage, for instance.

Ryan Morfin:                    And so storage typically means batteries. What is the future of storage? How is that sector trending? Are there, you think, huge advances coming that are going to make some of these Teslas run farther and faster? Just curious where you see the future over the horizon.

Conner Prochask…:        Yeah, I think those are, to use your point, to make your Tesla move further and go further. That’s one part. But if we stay on electric vehicles, for instance, it’s not even just going further, but where’s the infrastructure that helps you do that? Are you able to travel cross country on your Tesla right now? Depends on where you go and how you map that out. But you still have to map that out, basically. And so there’s an infrastructure play there as well. And I’d take it a step above that in what we are really thinking about and concentrating on, is yes, we do want to get longer battery life. I always put in the plug that last year’s Nobel Prize winners for lithium-ion batteries, most of those researchers were significantly funded by the Department of Energy decades ago, and that’s where we got lithium-ion battery technology from, doing the basic research at the department.

                                           So we want to keep doing that, and we’re going to. But let’s talk about grid side storage. Let’s talk about hydro. Let’s talk about flow storage. Let’s talk about the things that can really help us at a grid level have more efficient storage and work harder. When you look at my home state of Texas, we have more wind in Texas than a lot of places in the world. And I think the old saying was, and I don’t know how true it is today, but it had been in the past, that over the past decade or so the state of Texas created more wind power than all but five countries in the world. That’s a lot of wind power. But we couldn’t fully utilize it because of storage. And so what do we need to do to unlock that type of power? That’s really what we want to look at, the big levels.

                                           Now, that being said, we have programs like Beyond Lithium Ion, that’s the name of the program that we’re working on to get to the next generation of batteries, to get to the next generation of technologies. Those are very important to us as well. But when we’re thinking about energy in particular and the energy markets, we want to talk about grid side storage [inaudible 00:11:09].

Ryan Morfin:                    Well, and one trend we hear a lot about in the news is that rare earth minerals are a critical input, and they’ve been gobbled up by foreign countries. Do you guys look at that as a supply chain risk for future R&D? Or how do you guys look at the rare earth mining opportunities?

Conner Prochask…:        We take that very seriously. It is something that is on the forefront of what we do at the department’s mindset, because it is a supply chain, not just for research, it’s a supply chain issue that we need to be concerned about for everything. In defense purposes, in our civilian purposes, and just as I used the example of the way we were tethered to the Middle East oil and gas in previous 30, 50, 100 years, we want to make sure that we aren’t tethered to another region or country to these critical minerals going forward. And so we have projects, we have a critical materials institute at our Ames, Iowa lab, Ames National Lab, we have projects, once again, across the complex working on this. But we also work with our colleagues in the inter-agencies to see how we can use different tactics, different ways to safely and cleanly and environmentally get critical minerals.

                                           Because that is part of the reason. We have different standards here in the United States that we want to uphold as far as human safety and environmental safety that we are not willing to cross some of these lines to get these very important minerals, where other countries are. And so we need to balance that out.

Ryan Morfin:                    Well, back to the batteries, though, and less batteries but more storage, so grid level storage, what are these facilities? How do you store grid level, what is it? It’s not a … Maybe it is a battery, or is it just another way of transmission more efficiently? How do you look at that? I just, I guess, haven’t wrapped my mind around what is grid level storage.

Conner Prochask…:        Sure. It could be hydro and flow storage. Some people would say the biggest battery in the country is in the mountains of West Virginia between two lakes, that you use less power during one point to move water back up and then flow it back. And so how can we do that? And I’d say that when we talk about energy storage and security and reliability, really there’s one big piece that we need to address here in the country, and the President and the Secretary are doing that right now, which is our nuclear capabilities here in this country. We do not see the ability for us to get to a carbon free, near carbon neutral, anything like that or any of the goals that people want to accomplish without nuclear. We need it.

                                           And right now the nuclear industry in the United States is, I’m happy to report to say, is getting back on its feet, but we need to continue to do that. And I’d also address that part of the reason we want to be not just players here in the United States but internationally in the nuclear field is because of the same things I talked about with critical minerals. We have standards, we have the gold standard, for that matter, of safety, of reliability. You want a US power plant, nuclear power plant because of those things. You will pay a premium because of those things for your country. And so we want to be players in that, that’s an industry that we need to concentrate on here in the United States.

                                           It’s a difficult industry, no doubt about it, but it’s strategically important, environmentally important, and we’re all in on that. Another area I would say that has a lot of the same issues when it comes to, whether it’s public persona or even some safety issues or environmental issues, that is, is hydro power. Our hydro power infrastructure in this country is old. And what do we need to do to make sure that that can be safe, clean, reliable going forward as well?

Ryan Morfin:                    A few years ago we looked at investing in some hydro in New Jersey, actually, and I didn’t realize they’re still producing, hydro facilities in New Jersey that were built in the 1930s. And so this has long staying power, but I think some of those turbines have not been put back onto the grid. And so as you’re thinking about grid level reliability and increasing capacity, what are your thoughts on micro grids and the fragmented nature of distributed power like that? Is that a strategic plus, or do you think it’s better to have it more pulled in and more centralized control on the future of grid technology?

Conner Prochask…:        Well, you get into another topic here that’s important to think about when we talk about micro grids or macro. Should it be centralized, should it not? And that’s cybersecurity. When you start breaking this apart, there’s two issues. One, can you convince utilities, can you convince companies to go in if they can’t build at scale? If you’re building a bunch of things as opposed to just one big thing, okay, there’s an argument there and there’s a business model. It’s just different. And that really I would put up to probably, that’s a business decision that people need to make.

                                           What is not a business decision is cybersecurity. We need to make sure, and the Department of Energy is the SSA, or sector specific agency, for grid cybersecurity. So that is the responsibility, and the department recently, just two years ago, created under Secretary Perry, was the cybersecurity office called CESER, cybersecurity, electrical, security, and emergency response, I think. Don’t quote me on that. But the CESER office is there to address just that, how can we maintain and focus on that? And so when you break it up into micro grids, that’s one of the things that you need to understand, and people do understand, I think, that you’re also creating a lot more vulnerabilities and a lot more opportunities for something bad to happen.

Ryan Morfin:                    And people are saying that there has been maybe an uptick in cyber events globally. Is that something you guys are seeing? And has the coordination evolved and gotten better, more efficient between utilities and the federal government? Or is it still a work in progress?

Conner Prochask…:        Well, I think that’s part of what the office is meant to do, is to centralize that and to work on that. And I think that has been occurring, it’s something that Secretary Brouillette, the current Department of Energy secretary, is concerned about and discusses a lot. But his leadership is really focused on, how do we bring those to coordination, information sharing, to ensure that we can, as a team, which is really in that world what it is, is a team effort between the federal government and our private partners across the country, work better together and more efficiently?

Ryan Morfin:                    And so solar’s been with us for a long time, and it’s had its heyday maybe 10 years ago, and then now there’s been a lot of distress in some of the solar manufacturing, maybe because some foreign countries have decided to subsidize manufacturing. But what’s your view on the future of solar energy? And has it reached efficiencies and scale that will make it a competitive option going forward?

Conner Prochask…:        Well, solar is in some ways a victim of its own success. And what I mean by that is, decades ago there was a challenge, and not even decades ago, about 10 years ago, the solar challenge at the Department of Energy. Wanted to get price under $1 an hour. It’s down to the penny level in some places of the country. And so it’s so cheap, which is great. I’d say from a research standpoint, which is where I look at it, the question is, “Okay, what research is left to do?” And there is, there’s definitely more to do. But it’s been a success story, bottom line. Now, when we talk about footprint of large scale solar plants and solar utilities, there’s a discussion there that goes beyond the technology area and goes to how we can work.

                                           So I think solar, I think there are research opportunities, we continue to do research at it, there’s a solar office at the Department of Energy. But I once again would veer toward the energy storage application to, once again, just like any other, wind and solar in the same situation there, which is large footprints and we’re getting some great efficiencies out of them, but how do we store that to make them worth our time and while?

Ryan Morfin:                    So one question is, switching gears on you, going to maybe R&D around high energy physics, we’ve got a great set of national labs. What’s your view on the future of funding for large scale particle accelerators? Are we going to be able to move to that next energy level? And if so, when? And how has high energy physics research been maybe slowed down by not investing in that Large Hadron Collider that was supposed to be here, I think, at the University of Texas?

Conner Prochask…:        Right. Part of what I would say is that over the past few years Congress has been very generous to the Department of Energy’s science mission. There’s been large bipartisan support for that, and we are working hard, as you mentioned, for those that don’t know, at the Department of Energy we have 17 national labs across the country. These are the crown jewels, and it’s one of the, if not the largest research complex and effort in the world. And that is where a lot of the great advances that you see go in. One that right now is under way is the DUNE project out of Fermilab outside of Chicago, which is the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment. And this is just a great example of the great research that goes on and the reason the Department of Energy does it.

                                           Which is, for those who don’t know, a neutrino is an extremely small particle. You with your background, Ryan, know and could probably explain it better than I did, because it took me a while to wrap my head around it. But the fact is, neutrinos travel through your body all the time, but they’re so small they don’t usually interact with anything or each other. To give you an idea, think about throwing yourself out into space. And you could probably go for a long time, if ever, without hitting another planet or asteroid or anything out there, because it’s so vast and you’re so small.

                                           So same idea with a neutrino. So we’re going to shoot neutrinos out of the accelerators at Fermi National Lab outside of Chicago and try to catch them a mile underground with a giant neutrino catcher in an old abandoned gold mine in South Dakota. If we can do that and if that project is successful, we will uncover what had happened after the Big Bang. New types of car batteries, nobody really knows what we’re going to find out. The scientists have an idea, but that’s a great example. No private company’s going to take that, no private company is going to go use that, or go chase after that technology, I guess. Because it’s so basic. Once we get it, who knows what’ll happen and who knows what we’ll discover? But it’ll be something that’ll be good for humanity to understand, we’re pretty sure.

Ryan Morfin:                    Conner, I actually worked on MINOS project, which was the Minnesota mine. And I did all the scintillator testing with a robot and a nuclear source. But that was a fun summer. But that is the next energy level, that impacts the standard model and a whole bunch of science is going to pour out of that. So a lot of people don’t know a lot about high energy physics, but one of the cool things that’s starting to happen is, at CERN they did these micro dark matter experiments. Are you at all concerned about creating a micro black hole?

Conner Prochask…:        Yeah, you know, there’s a lot of these what ifs that float around, and it’s not just in this particular discipline. But right now the Department of Energy is going headfirst, if you will, into quantum and quantum information sciences. And there’s a lot of hypotheticals about quantum and what could come out of that. But it’s our responsibility to go out and find those things. So no, I’m not worried about opening up a black hole and sucking us all in. I don’t know if our quantum technology’s going to create time travel or not. But I think it’s an exciting time to be at the Department of Energy, and it’s an exciting time to be, as a non-researcher and as a lawyer and a finance guy in my past, it’s exciting to be able to stand on the shoulders of giants and really look over the shoulders of some of these research giants as they are doing some amazing stuff that’s going to change the world.

Ryan Morfin:                    Yeah, no, I feel like we’re really living in the pre-Industrial Revolution in terms of energy and science of it. So quantum’s going to change the world, quantum computing, edge computing. How close are we to getting a commercially available quantum computing? Are we 10 years out, are we 20 years out? Or is it still in infancy?

Conner Prochask…:        Yeah, so there’s two answers to that. It almost seems like it’s the classic, how close are we to fusion power? And if anybody’s been around the fusion market, the answer is, we’re 25 years, 20 years away, and we’ve been 20 years away since 1970. I don’t think that’s actually true, we are moving in a big way, and that’s a good success story as well at the Department of Energy, that there is a fusion industry out there of startups, fusion startups, who would have thought? But that’s because of the basic science and research that has been done at the Department of Energy, particularly at Princeton plasma lab, national lab.

                                           But as far as quantum is concerned, it’s the same thing. Where are we right now? Some people, most people would say a decade out. Now, where will we be with the investment that the Department of Energy and the US government is putting into quantum? That could narrow that substantially. It may not. We may find different issues with it. But we believe that quantum is a national security imperative for us to have the upper hand. For those that don’t know about quantum, when we move from what is currently digital computing to quantum computing, if we do, things that take thousands of days for a computer to do now can take a matter of seconds, minutes, and hours. And so when you think about large data that exists out there, your personal data, and the implication for someone else to have the upper hand first of quantum, it’s pretty scary and something we need to pay attention to.

                                           And we plan on doing that. And I’d say what’s also unique about the quantum industry, and when I say that, there is a quantum industry, what’s interesting about that is the industry is happening simultaneously with the research. And what I mean by that is when the Internet was created by DARPA, it started with a few nodes at some universities and then slowly grew as a research network. But it took decades for the commercial industry to realize, “This is some great stuff, we can use this for a lot of great things. This is a great tool.” Quantum, we’re not seeing that. Large financial institutions have already brought in quantum experts to start talking about how they’re going to use quantum. Companies across the board of many different stripes are talking about quantum at the same time.

                                           In fact, there’s a Department of Commerce, through NIS, quantum consortium that has been created of private entities, so that we can work, and this once again is a unique industry being built, we can work simultaneously. The Department of Energy is going to create a quantum network amongst our national labs. We’re putting out funding right now for hubs. We’re doing it because it’s going to really help us do research. But we’re going to do research on the quantum network we’re using for our research in other areas too. And it’ll be a simultaneous and very interesting ecosystem to build with industry and with the department as we go forward. So that’s really something exciting that we’re looking forward to.

Ryan Morfin:                    And a lot of our viewers, I don’t know, so we’re talking about quantum computing and we’re talking about the fact that that computing power is so robust that it can really break encryption keys. And so when I talk to people who are talking about Bitcoin and this and that, I’m like, well, those keys can be broken if you have a quantum computer. And that’s probably the worst question you could ask somebody, an entrepreneur in Bitcoin or in some of these blockchain technologies, is, how are you going to solve for that? And huge national security implications, huge commercial implications. Because if you don’t have a quantum encryption program, anybody who does, whether it’s a nation-state or a bad actor, can really get into any of your firewalls and your systems. Is that the main risk you see?

Conner Prochask…:        It is. It’s very scary. There’s that, there’s the other side of it, which is, once again, and why we believe it’s a national security imperative to move towards quantum at the department and the federal government in general, which is, if you are the first to quantum in communications, those are secure. You win, for lack of a better term. Though it’s a different type of encryption, you can feel secure and safe and sleep well at night. And so it’s two sides of the coin. It can be a great tool, but it is potentially a threat as well.

Ryan Morfin:                    So Conner, maybe you can chat a little bit about another very exciting industry, and today there’s going to be the SpaceX launch, hopefully, fingers crossed. But the space industry has really been taking off, the private space industry working with NASA. I know Department of Energy has a role in that, and can you maybe explain what parts of the industry you guys are focused on working on R&D or working on creating some infrastructure for?

Conner Prochask…:        Well, as everybody knows and can talk about right now is that the Trump administration, President and the Vice President, have been all in on getting us back into space and being able to launch American astronauts from American soil. But beyond that, which there’s two things that get a lot in the news, which are the manned launch that hopefully goes today successfully, and then the other portion, which is the building of Space Force. Which is a very interesting, as a Navy veteran, I always think it’s a very interesting development to watch as Space Force develops. Because the entire industry is happening very similar to the reason we got a Navy in the first place in 1700s, which is, right now we’ve got satellites floating all over the place and we want to make sure we can secure that area against any kind of bad actors that are out there and set some rules of the road so we can set the norms versus someone else.

                                           That was exactly the thought behind, our ships started getting raided in the Mediterranean by the Barbary pirates, and Congress said we need to protect them and we need to set some rules of the road. And so it’s a very interesting evolution to see this all happening again very similarly to the history of the Navy. That being said, the third part that people don’t talk about, they talk about manned space flight, they talk about our Space Force creation, is the emergence of the commercial space industry. This is an entire industry that’s being built, companies that are being created. The launch is a great example. Everybody knows it’s SpaceX and a private company that’s in collaboration with NASA. But that commercial space industry is a really exciting place. And people don’t normally think that the Department of Energy is a big player in that. The Department Secretary Brouillette sits on the space council, which is chaired by the Vice President, with a number of other cabinet secretaries and military individuals and leaders.

                                           But the reason we are is because of the vast amount of research we do. So we’ve done radio isotope thermal generators, RTGs, at Idaho National Lab, which is our civilian nuclear lab. We’ve done those for 40, 50 years. Those are still on Voyager rockets, or Voyager satellites, that are out in space right now. That’s the normal way that people think about Department of Energy interacting with the space industry. But we also can do health sciences. We can run data through our supercomputers. The Department of Energy owns four of the 10 fastest computers in the world at last check, and the two fastest, I think.

                                           We can do material science. We can do hardening, radioactive hardening that we do to protect our nuclear weapons and our researchers. There’s solar panels. If we do decide that the best route is to mine the moon to take us even further places in space, we can do that. That is an area where Department of Energy can lend our expertise. So there’s not many places in the space exploration or space commercial effort that the department wouldn’t be taking place, or be a part of. So it’s a pretty exciting time to be part of that commercial industry that’s building right now as well.

Ryan Morfin:                    And so there’s a lot of focus right now on rockets and engines, new engines, new generation of propulsion systems. And one question is just, where are we with development of plasma fusion engines, and what is the focus of the private space industry’s R&D, do you think, to get that propulsion to maybe go to Mars or have interplanetary travel?

Conner Prochask…:        Yeah, so the term that’s used a lot is that we want to go to Mars and back on one tank of gas. And that includes getting more into fusion and fission in what we can do. So there are some great, as I mentioned, companies and startups that are being built for tens of millions of dollars, not hundreds of millions of dollars, that are looking into this. And so it’s a pretty exciting time and place to be doing that. Particularly companies, I try not to get into where each individual one is, but I can just tell you that it’s exciting and I think it’s worth anybody that’s watching or listening to look into some of these exciting places across the country that are doing exciting research that’s going to change the world.

Ryan Morfin:                    Well, I’d asked you to maybe, given the seat that you’re sitting in, and right now it’s volatile times, but what makes you optimistic about America in the next five years? What are some silver linings that you’re seeing that people that are watching just the day to day news may not be paying attention to, but are secular shifts that are going to be very positive for the country?

Conner Prochask…:        Well, I think the positive of all this, and we’re very aware that people are hurting and that this is a tough time, and my thoughts and prayers go out to everybody as they work to get through this, but the silver lining is, we’re in the United States of America. And it couldn’t be more true today, and it will be true tomorrow, that this country, when times of strife, stress, and challenge come across, we come out on top because of, not because of our politicians, not because of our wealth, the reason we have wealth is because we innovate, because we come up with new ideas, because the United States is free to innovate and to make things that nobody else can think about.

                                           And so while we’re sitting here, and one of the things that I constantly think about, is what is the state of innovation going to be as we leave this? When you think about incubators, are they going to exist? A lot of them are based on a coworking method. We want to make sure that those still exist so that these great ideas can continue to pour out. But I’m shocked, and I guess I shouldn’t be because of what I just said and my true belief in the American spirit and the American entrepreneur, but there are great ideas pouring out across the country all the time on how to fix this, what the next innovation is, and what it looks like.

                                           I don’t know if it’s just people sitting at home just getting to think a whole lot more, or if it’s the challenge itself that’s ahead of us, but I think the bright spot, as I said, as somebody that gets to, my role as chief commercialization officer at the department, I get to sit in the catbird seat and look at a bunch of different innovations across the country. And there is no lack and there’s nobody calling it in right now. Whether it’s the great civil servants that we have in the federal government that are working overtime on how best to handle the situation and help people, our innovators across the country and researchers that are there in the government and just sitting in their garage or at a university, people are working overtime and there’s going to be some amazing things that come out of the United States.

                                           I’d also say that I think we’ll come out stronger. I think there’s going to be a reevaluation of, what is the business proposition and the value proposition of building, making, and doing business here in the United States and employing the American spirit, versus maybe someplace else in the world.

Ryan Morfin:                    And so Conner, are there any books you’re reading that have really intrigued you over the last 12 months, or anything you’re reading now that you’d like to share with our viewers?

Conner Prochask…:        Yeah, so a couple things that I’ve got a chance to sit back, and there’s one that’s more businesslike, and then there’s one that I’m just doing for fun, which the fun one is connecting back to American history, and reading right now Sam Houston and the Alamo by Brian Kilmeade, which I think is just a great series. It’s fun, it makes history easy to read and tells you some great stories that you don’t always know about. There’s a whole series out there that I really enjoy. And being a Texan I’m excited about the Sam Houston one. And then right now I’m actually rereading A Passion for Leadership by Dr. Gates, Robert Gates. I call him Dr. Gates because I knew him as President of Texas A&M back in the day.

                                           But Robert Gates, he has a couple great books out there, and the one I’m reading right now, like I said, is A Passion for Leadership. It really is potent right now because it talks a lot about how to effectuate change, specifically in the federal government, and how to work through the bureaucracy that is the federal government. But it applies to any large institution, any large group. And the real challenge is, it’s a very relatable book for someone currently sitting in a leadership position [inaudible 00:39:42].

Ryan Morfin:                    Fantastic. Well, Conner, thanks so much for joining us on a weekend. We appreciate your time and your insights. Would love to have you back in the coming months ahead, and just to connect back. I know it’s a very dynamic time, and a lot of positive things going on in the energy industry. So thank you so much for being on the show.

Conner Prochask…:        Ryan, thank you for having me, and as I said, I hope everybody stays safe and looks forward to being out on the other side of the current COVID issues. But we’re going to be in a brighter and greater America before it’s all said and done. Thanks for having me.

Ryan Morfin:                    Thank you. Thanks for watching NON-BETA ALPHA. And before we go, please remember to subscribe and leave us a review on our Apple Podcast or our YouTube channel. This is NON-BETA ALPHA. And now you know.

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