The Luke Workman “Zero Battery Guy” Battery Interview: InsideEVs’ Take (w/videos)

APR 17 2015 BY TDILLARD 38

Much has been made of the recent story on interviewing Luke Workman, “battery guy” at Zero Motorcycles.  Before we go any further, there’s not much you can say about Luke, (AKA liveforphysics on the forums and almost everywhere on the web) that isn’t amazing and complimentary.  He’s been at the very forefront of this EV stuff for a really, really long time, and if you can say he’s busted into the public domain, it would be with his “Death Bike” in it’s various incarnations.  See it wiping the floor with a Tesla here.

Here’s some fun.  None other than the legendary Cedric Lynch on an early version of the “Death Bike” from Luke’s YouTube page.

Cedric Lynch, of Lynch and Agni motor fame, taking a spin on the Death Bike

Cedric Lynch, of Lynch and Agni motor fame, taking a spin on the Death Bike

Also, let’s not miss the point that this interview appears on  Mainstream, non-EV-centric, gas-burnin’ motorsports audience.  So it’s bringing the love to the people, there’s no denying it.

ca. 2010 Zero Molicel battery pack (photo © Ted Dillard, all rights reserved

ca. 2010 Zero Molicel battery pack (photo © Ted Dillard, all rights reserved)

That said, there’s a bit of that video we feel the need to clarify.

In the early minutes of the interview, Luke talks about where batteries were when he started at Zero, and his work to improve the Zero pack.  What he says there is this: “…in my first iteration, we went up by a factor of something like over 2x…”, and goes on for another “2x”.

What he doesn’t say is that battery chemistry work made some serious leaps in that time, with Zero starting that period with the Molicel pack made up of cylindrical cells hot-glued together, to the current Farasis NMC packs built from large pouch cells – which, for the record, Brammo is using as well.  Workman’s accomplishment, as he goes on to explain, was to reconfigure the packing of these new cells to take best advantage of the space available, as well as beefing up the strength and sealing of the pack.  “…our battery design…  it’s the highest percentage of cells, there’s the least amount of dead space and weight to support this given amount of cells.”  And he’s done an amazing job, along with the rest of the Zero team.

Here’s the complete interview:

He also went on to talk about the future of battery technology.  Unfortunately, his comments have been latched onto by a lot of the EV, as well as general motorsports community as a prophecy of “Things to Come” from “the battery guru”.  We’re taking his comments with a hefty grain of salt, and as some speculation and hopes from a guy who’s committed his heart and soul to this technology, but not without a fair degree of wishful thinking.

Here’s what we’re talking about.

As we’ve discussed, there are a whole bunch of factors to consider when talking about battery tech, and certainly, energy to volume and energy to weight are two very important factors, especially in a motorcycle.  However, there’s also the big one – power to weight.  There’s also safety, reliability, and more mundane factors like manufacturing processes required, reliable supply lines, oh, and the big one, cost.  Just to throw out one example, A123 cells and chemistry pretty much check everything else out there into the cheap seats on just about every metric…  except cost, because of several factors, not the least of which is the required manufacturing process.  Are you wondering why these cells aren’t being run in the Zero?  Look no further than that, for at least a hint.  Here’s a graphic we presented once before, comparing only a few metrics:

Battery "star chart" comparison

Battery “star chart” comparison

For more on batteries and bikes, don’t miss the story on batteries on the “Electric Motorcycle Primer” series, here: Electric Motorcycle Primer “InsideEVs Style” – Part 3: Battery Care and Handling (the BMS)

Meanwhile, our go-to source for the last word on the current state of battery development and EV applications?  Well, we love Luke’s enthusiasm, but we started with none other than Elon Musk, talking at MIT about the Gigafactory, battery development, and the weekly newsfeed of “miracle batteries”.  We ended up at “The Powerhouse”, a look in the trenches of the “battery wars”.  Read more about that book here, and hear Musk’s comments in this video:

So, Luke’s comments of “…’thousand mile charge electric motorcycles” as a “normal thing”?  Maybe in the same time frame as making it to Mars, but “…a few years from now”?  We’re not betting the farm on that one, sorry.  As far as “…a lady with … working, solid state, laminated film battery cells…” Well, just be sure to include the comment “…or at least she’s claimed, I haven’t been able to get a sample yet…” and we’re pretty much on the same page.

Categories: Battery Tech, Bikes

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38 Comments on "The Luke Workman “Zero Battery Guy” Battery Interview: InsideEVs’ Take (w/videos)"

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This is great. I’d love to see more interviews from insiders like this. Very informative and gives these people & companies exposure.

Luke should really reconsider the whole Ted-Kaczynski/Unabomber look that he’s got going on.

Nah man, that’s hip these days. Check out Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks. He looks like a wookie.

My airplane stays aloft for 4+ hours on a tank. The present electric aircraft being demonstrated are 1 hour aloft. Thats not even in the ballpark. Sorry.

“Not even the same sport!”

My Navy’s Nuclear submarines can run for 25 years without refueling. 4 hours seems pretty pathetic by comparison. Sorry Scott.

My helicopter can fly indoors. There is no way my wife would let me fly a gas powered one in the house. Sorry Scott.

Your comments indicate that a different product does one thing better in a different environment. What was your point? Sorry Scott.


Scott’s point may be that chemistry doesn’t allow for batteries coming close to the energy density of gas, 33.7 kWh per 6.3 pound gallon. Yes I know that you can easily make an EV drivetrain three times as efficient. So effectively 11 kWh per 6.3 pound gallon. This means battery need to get ten times a s good to match gas. Not going to happen.

As for Luke’s “thousand mile charge”, we are again talking five times the very best motorcycle effort, so far. That would be his buddy Terry’s streamliner, which is currently running a 27 kWh pack, 22 kW onboard charging, 120 Wh/mile at 75-80 mph, and just under 1000 pounds.

I don’t think any intelligent person disputes the fact that gasoline has a higher energy density than batteries, or that nuclear fuel has a higher energy density than gasoline.

Scott’s post used an irrelevant (to this article) fact to make a derogatory comment about electric vehicles.

Luke’s comments were in reference to a theoretical limit of approximately 10 times the energy density of current batteries. That alone could give Terry’s stream-liner a 2000 mile range. You would not be adding weight, just increasing the capacity.

I don’t see anything derogatory about his statement. He was making the point that there is a huge gulf in the capabilities of batteries vs ICE.

Terry’s bike has a full fairing, which doubles the normal range of a motorcycle. That is like the VW XL1! Everytime a car like that appears on here, there are peels of laughter. No “real” men would ever drive that! Motorcyclists aren’t going to ride bikes with full fairing, right Ted? That means they would require ten times the density. Ten times is a theoretical limit, not a practical limit. The Joint Center for Energy Storage Research is describing their 5-5-5 plan as a “Manhattan Project” for batteries. Does that sound like ten times is doable in your lifetime?

i don’t view scott’s statement as being “irrelevant” to the comments made in the video. in the video, luke prattled on about how inefficient the energy chain was for the gasoline engine. and while what luke says is mostly true, it is also the case that gasoline has an energy density so much higher than batteries that you literally has “energy to burn”. think about it: the chevrolet volt battery has the equivalent energy of about a half gallon of gasoline. look at how much space the battery takes up and compare that to the volume of a half gallon of gasoline. of course, it is also true that the volt uses the energy in that equivalent half gallon several times more efficiently than an ICE would use the energy in an actual half gallon. but the significance of this has to do with range: you can build ICE vehicles that have much more range that EVs. as much as being rave about the range of the tesla model s, there are ICE vehicles that offer twice the amount of range. that doesn’t mean that EVs are workable, but it does mean that people should be realistic about EV technology,… Read more »

Congrats on the misquote of the day.

Never say never!
But it might take a long time.

If you’re not following the battery news, then sit back and learn. Solid state batteries are on the way. Look for those before telling us that current problems won’t be solved in the NEAR FUTURE.

Yup. Solid state batteries will very likely be the next big leap. There are at least four outfits working on them. In five years they could be in consumer electronics. In ten years in cars. Guesses are they will double the energy capacity of batteries. Even greater savings from their inherent safety, no more need for 200 pounds of aluminum armor plate on OEM battery packs. That should put a nail in ICE for passenger vehicles.

Will most people be able to afford a car in ten years? Will car rentals become the norm? Who knows.

I think this is the Solid State battery tech he was referring to.

Interesting, but I also don’t see 10x or 5x improvements in any battery parameter within “a few years” (especially with motorcycles, which are a tiny niche market compared to cars).
I really want an EV motorcycle, but until it can handle a day’s sport-touring ride — not going to happen.

Before working on radical battery tech, much lower hanging fruit for Zero is
1) DC quick charging (which they don’t currently support in practice)
2) Increasing range in highway- and sport-touring riding, by reducing drag: offering faired bikes (the commuting range at (sub)urban speeds is already reasonable, with the current Zero S ZF12.5 doing over 100mi).

To have any significant effect, you need a fairing like Craig Vetter’s. He, and Zero have looked at the market for efficient fairings. It is essentially zero, pun intended.

The OEM car makers can’t even get people to consider cars as radical as the 80 year old Tatra, or Chrysler Airflow. Heck, most whine about the appearance of the Prius, which is hard to tell from the rest of the rolling furniture on the road.

WTF is this article on about.

“Just to throw out one example, A123 cells and chemistry pretty much check everything else out there into the cheap seats on just about every metric…”


LiFePO4 has vastly inferior energy density, hence why it is used in very few EVs, and the majority of future vehicles in the near future will rely on NMC or NCA, just like Farasis. Your “Cost” metric is misleading, since it’s based on power, not capacity.

When you spec an EV to get decent range, the pack size large enough to give decent power output. Thus your power density figures become less relevant unless you’re building a drag bike. Best example of this is Tesla, uses the closest thing to energy cells over power cells.

In terms of cost per kWh, NMC is similiar to LFP.

Also Farasis now have 27 Ah version in the same package, around 200 Wh/kg.

I’m not saying EVs can’t work, or aren’t practical for most driving. I am saying we will have to make some compromises. Insisting that they will be able to do everything an ICE vehicle does, and we can go on as usual, is a recipe for failure.


That is why i like Elio’s approach: don’t buy it as your primary car.

Electric aircraft will also have to be honest to succeed. Training craft is a good start role – short flights, low maintenance and operating costs. Brilliant for skydiving also.

Be honest in your marketing and there will not be any bad things to say about your product.

Elio-style vehicles would need to be a backup for days you are too sick to ride your bike. Aircraft will be going away, except for the military. We should do all this now, voluntarily, to make the transition easy. We won’t, so it will probably be left to some dictator.

Will this all happen in 20 years? Who knows, maybe 50, or 75. Physics is a b_tch.

a PHEV can do everything an ICE can do.

At an absolute minimum, every new vehicle should be required to use start-stop technology. The small additional cost would eliminate all the gas wasted idling.

Did anyone else find the presentation of the interview a little odd? It seemed to me that Luke was trying to recall a memorized speech that had been rehearsed before. Being a representative of Zero, I am sure that all of his comments were previously vetted by Zero management. That is why his mention of that new battery technology company by name couple of times also seemed unusual to me. You would think that Zero would not want to specifically promote a particular battery company (other than the one that made the batteries that they were using in their bikes)unless it was a company that they had invested in, or otherwise were connected with. It was an interesting interview and I am glad that Luke was able to talk about his favorite subject, it was just a little strange – in my opinion.

i agree, luke’s presentation did seem like he was trying to state rehearsed lines; but he didn’t rehearse enough to make them sound natural. his body language was also a bit of a giveaway – with his stiff, locked arms.

that said, aside from a bit of EV “cheer leader” rhetoric, that seemed a bit over the top at times, i didn’t think that he said anything that was grossly outrageous.

Can’t he just be a geek, more comfortable with tech than talk? Occam’s Razor, you know.

luke is an EV enthusiast, no doubt. i have also read that there is research that is believed to lead to batteries with 10x density of current battery technologies, but to say that product realization of these technologies is “just a few years away” depends on your timescale. while it might seem reasonable to think that products might be developed within a decade that reach this 10x (current) technology limit, i am a bit hesitant: energy break even on plasma fusion reactions has been “a few years away” for more than 3 decades… an important feature that luke seems to miss in his enthusiasm for EV technology is that even if you did develop a battery that provide 1000 miles of range, it would also take a long time to recharge. you have to think of vehicles as something that you want to be able to use every day, so if your driving uses up more charge than you can recover by recharging each day, then eventually you are going to run into a situation where you can’t drive your vehicle. in one sense, this is no different than what happens in an ICE vehicle today: you typically drive to… Read more »

The other thing that no one can predict is how industry standards and government regulations will control (and limit) the direction and future technology of battery development.

government regulations will almost certainly be very favorable to alternative energy development for the transportation industries. they aren’t, however, guaranteed to specifically favor BEV development.

for example, i just don’t see how BEVs can be practical for the trucking industry: EV enthusiasts may not mind sitting around for and “relaxing” for an hour for every 3 or 4 hours of driving, but if you are a truck driver, time is money, and those hours of “relaxing” come out of the regulated operating time that a driver can drive each day.

You’re missing the point.

Batteries are in demand from laptops, phones, cameras (still and video), watches, earpieces and other wearables, and things-of-the-internet that might move. Basically everything Silicon Valley does, plus EVs and grid storage. So far, EVs haven’t forked from CE (though grid storage is still shaking out). There’s no reason to think we will fork any time soon.