There is perhaps no name more associated with climate denial and our current mess than “Koch”. The brothers who share the family name (only one of whom is currently living) and their namesake company have spent decades watering down or destroying regulations and protecting fossil fuel interests and profits at all costs. And now Koch Industries is interested in…batteries?
The conglomerate has invested at least $750 million in U.S. battery and electric vehicles over the past year and has shifted, making Koch Industries one of the biggest investors in the sector outside of automakers, according to a Wall Street Journal report. These investments in companies such as Freyr Battery and Aspen Aerogels were made through Koch Strategic Platforms, a company subsidiary that focuses on growing computing, industrial automation, energy transformation and health care.
The company’s investment in startups focused on sustainability and electrification seems like a headache, given the past of Charles Koch and his late brother David. The EV industry has touted itself as a green alternative to gas-powered cars, and the Koch brothers have backed anything but that. The company declined to explain its battery investments to the Journal.
The Koch brothers funded Americans for Prosperity, a libertarian political advocacy group that protested climate change legislation and fought against public transit, a surefire way to reduce carbon pollution. The group said it simply wanted to give people the freedom to drive their cars, a freedom that fits perfectly with Koch Industries’ business, which includes gas production, asphalt and auto parts.
It seems, however, that Charles Koch has some regrets about having created this quagmire. “Boy, did we screw up!” he wrote in his 2020 book. What a waste!”
Yet the political spending of Americans for Prosperity does not appear to reflect this new regret. Federal data from the 2020 election cycle shows he spent nearly $47 million to help elect Republicans and less than $100,000 for Democratic candidates. (Most of the money spent on the Democratic candidates went to Rep. Henry Cuellar, a fossil fuel-loving congressman from Texas.)
So it’s not as if Charles Koch has completely abandoned the oil and gas part of his business or the politicians who keep it going. But bets on the battery reflect an acknowledgment of where transportation is headed. The electric vehicle industry is on a major growth trajectory, especially once supply chain issues and soaring prices for nickel and other battery components stabilize.
“The speed of the energy transition is directly linked to the participation of companies like Koch,” Tom Jensen, CEO of Freyr, told the Journal.
While Koch Industry’s gas holdings could suffer as the world shifts to electric vehicles, its other businesses could be poised for growth, along with any new battery investments. Essentially, Koch Industries is always looking to profit from a crisis of its own making.
Correction: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Tom Jensen’s name. This story was updated on March 23, 2022.