Michelle Brechtelsbauer

Director of Stakeholder Relations

Energy Impact Center

April 12, 2021

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Ep 300: Michelle Brechtelsbauer - Director of Stakeholder Relations, Energy Impact Center
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Todd Allen
Welcome, everyone, to Titans of Nuclear. I'm Todd Allen, professor at the University of Michigan and senior fellow with Third Way. I'm here with Michelle Brechtelsbauer from the Energy Impact Center. In case you're wondering, what the heck am I doing here there's a tradition now that every 100th show I get to interview somebody from the Energy Impact Center. It started with, I wanted, I thought, Brett Kugelmass, the founder should be interviewed. And he made that the 100th show then I did one with Naomi, and now it's your turn.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yeah. Now it's my turn episode 300.

Todd Allen
Yeah, right. Right. And this is the award winning Titans of Nuclear because there's an award. All right. So maybe in good sort of Titans fashion, tell us about your career, what you've done, how you ended up at the Energy Impact Center. And like what actually is a difference between Energy Impact Center and Titans?

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Sure. Lots of questions. I'll start with my background first. Yeah, so my background is in chemical engineering and public policy. I studied chemical engineering at the University of Alabama, my home state and then eventually went on to study energy policy at the University of Michigan.

Todd Allen
Okay, so this football game we just had, where do it emotionally send you?

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Oh, it was really funny, actually. So we were so worried that we would lose because Alabama has not had the best season this year that my husband actually bet against us. So that no matter what the outcome, we will be happy. Yeah, so we lost 50 bucks, but we won the game.

Todd Allen
Like most people you stay true to your undergrad?

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yes, absolutely. It was it was definitely very hard in undergrad to try to like another football team. When you know, we'd won three of my four years he won the national championship.

Todd Allen
So yeah. So Alabama then Michigan?

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yeah. So I started out in in engineering decided that policy was really kind of the way that I wanted to go, because I really wanted to make a big impact kind of early in my career, and the urgency of climate change is really motivating for me. So actually, before I went to Michigan, I kind of started my policy career in DC, I worked under the Obama administration's Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). And I, you know, kind of helped with coordination of energy and environmental policy at the highest levels of government. And then after my degree program finished at Michigan, I came back to DC, and kind of work tangentially for OSTP at the Science and Technology Policy Institute, or STPI, another acronym where I was continuing to work on energy and environmental policy, but really kind of broadened to support many different science topic areas across the federal government that really needed federal coordination of priorities. Yeah. So I guess. So after I was at STPI for, with STPI/OSTP for maybe six years or so, and then kind of out of the blue I got a call from Brett Kugelmass, Managing Director at EIC, who said, told me a little about the organization and said that he had a role that he thought I might be interested in. And after a few conversations with him, I knew this is something that I really wanted to be involved with.

Todd Allen
And how did you find, had you met before? Was this a cold call? How did he figure you were the person?

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
So he, I guess just like found my profile on LinkedIn,

Todd Allen
So wait LinkedIn actually works?

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yeah. I think so. Yeah. So he found me on LinkedIn. I didn't like I didn't have like that much information. I didn't think it was a great profile. But he clearly saw something that he was looking for. And we had a few conversations. And yeah, I became the first full time employee at EIC in DC. And it's been a really great experience ever since.

Todd Allen
Great. And for the audience members that just know the Titans part. What's the difference between the EIC and Titans?

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yeah, that's a great question. And we do actually get it all the time. People think that Titans and EIC are two completely different organizations. But really, the Titans of Nuclear podcast is a major product of the Energy Impact Center. So we really started the podcast, kind of as our own internal research mechanism methodology to get to know the industry, talk to experts have a way to engage with experts. And then obviously, these conversations are fascinating. And we're learning a ton. So started recording them as podcasts. And I guess now now we're at 300. But we've had, you know, 1000s of conversations with experts, not all of which we've recorded. But yeah, the podcast is great, we have a lot of enthusiasm about it. I personally really love it, because it presents, you know, a really in depth, technical, you know, explanation of the experts, knowledge area, but also really allows you to get to know somebody in the industry know their story. And I think that leads to a better appreciation of nuclear energy just overall, because it really humanizes the industry.

Todd Allen
Yeah, and for the people that this is the first time they heard Energy Impact Center, like at a high level, what are the other things you do?

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yeah, so at the Energy Impact Center we really explore solutions to climate change through deep decarbonisation. And we focus on solutions that can make a difference in the timeframe that we have, which is really, you know, 2040. And so kind of through that mission, we have come to focus the majority of our efforts on nuclear energy, because you know, nuclear energy, obviously is, you know, you've really taught me is, you know, incredibly energy dense at a low carbon footprint. And it to us, it really is this linchpin technology to enable the carbon removal systems that we think will be critical for avoiding some of the worst consequences of climate change in the future. So that's kind of why we focus on nuclear. And what we really try to do is understand, you know, how can it be better deployed and made more being actually allowed to be part of that solution. So we do a lot of research where we're trying to understand, you know, the cost drivers and the reasons why the industry might not be as effective as it could be. And so we kind of launch programs and do projects around those different areas. And we'll talk later about it. But one of those is the prize competition that we have. We also obviously have the Titans of Nuclear podcast, which has kind of become like a communication platform. And then we'll be launching this spring, a new project, that will be an open source model of nuclear a nuclear power project. That will be a collaborative initiative for the entire industry.

Todd Allen
Okay. You're hoping to get people sort of worldwide engaged on this?

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Absolutely. Absolutely.

Todd Allen
That would be fun to see. Okay, so going back to the background. Yeah. So I got my graduate degree at Michigan, you got to graduate degree at Michigan, I now teach at Michigan, you have five minutes to extol the virtues of the University of Michigan go or go blue!

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yeah. So I chose to go to the University of Michigan, because well, first of all, because the Ford School of Public Policy is absolutely a great school, one of the top policy programs in the country. But more importantly to me was that I would have access to just so many outstanding faculty from all the scientific disciplines that I wanted to focus my policy work in. And kind of the, the virtue that I think that was so such integral to making that happen at Michigan, is really this emphasis that Michigan has on inclusivity and ensuring that students have a really healthy learning environment. You know, I saw that obviously, in my program at Ford, but also in all of the extracurricular things I was involved in, you know, teaching calculus at Ross Business School, the Dow sustainability fellowship I was a part of, or even just like, all the coffee dates that I went on with professors to learn about their research, you know, just how, you know, open people really are at Michigan to creating an environment where students can learn. I just think it's one of the most impressive things about the University.

Todd Allen
Yeah, so you make me glad I took the job. But I think you right, yes, I came back. It's a very welcoming, and people are really willing to go outside of their normal space.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Nice, interdisciplinary collaboration is, it's really actually quite fascinating how a great job Michigan does at that.

Todd Allen
Yeah, yeah. So when I did this big climate summit, in conjunction with Third Way last spring, it was an April, I'd only been there a few months. And so a lot of my trying to invite faculty were cold calls. I'm going to be a faculty member there. And I was amazed how many people are like, yeah, I'm in right. I want to be part of this. Yeah. That's good.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
It's amazing. It's amazing. Yeah.

Todd Allen
Okay. So you mentioned as part of the trainings, you spent a bunch of time at OSTP and STPI so like, how important was that experience in broadening your understanding of the bigger energy and climate issues?

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Oh, integral. Um, yeah. So when I went started out mstp this was actually in the transition between my chemical engineering background and my policy. So I actually had no policy experience. And so I was definitely kind of, you know, drinking from the firehose as I was at OSTP. But, you know, when you talk about policy coordination at the White House, you know, broad does not even begin to explain just how a diverse set of topics that those those people there are working on. It was a really great experience, you know, one, one hour, I'm at a meeting about Bakken Crude Oil train car explosions, the next time planning an event for climate change educators at the White House in the next I'm writing a memo on biofuels versus electric vehicles. And, you know, just literally seeing, you know, all of the different topics and having to condense that work it within to the priorities of the administration. And that really, I think, more than anything, what I learned from my first work with OSTP is just this appreciation for the civil servants that work in that office and that work across the federal government. They're all subject matter experts in their own right. But then they also were able to have this kind of bigger picture overview of all the different issue areas that their their portfolio includes. And then they're also able to prioritize within those that portfolio what is most important for achieving the administration's goals. And that's just very impressive. And I really enjoyed my time working with those people.

Todd Allen
Yes, I've a question for you. So my observation for the years a couple of times in my life, I've actually spent a year or two embedded in DC. And I would have claimed to you before I got here, that I sort of understood how policy works, right? And it's a very schematic, right, this organization does this. But there's a certain churn of the conversations that's very fast. And it's very hard to understand. If you're not in DC. Yeah. Did you? Did you notice the same thing, sort of this ability to be connected to the conversations that it's just hard to do?

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Well, I mean, in my role, you're just constantly bouncing from topic to topic. So yeah, you could easily get get lost. But what you, you start to realize you're kind of a DC insider, at some point, when suddenly, you no longer need that cheat sheet of acronyms in your in your notebook. And you know, someone mentioned something you're like, Oh, yeah, I heard that last week from this completely different agency, you know, talking about the same type of thing. And you really start to see these connections between different different topics that all all many different organizations within the government are all working on, and hopefully in a cohesive manner.

Todd Allen
Yeah. So is that that insider understanding that you gained as part of OSTP helped you in your current role at EIC?

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
You know, at EIC, we don't really do much in terms of policy. There are some really amazing, obviously, you're from Third, or you were previously at Third Way.

Todd Allen
Still a senior fellow. There's been no break up.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Still at Third Way, sorry, but you know, like, Third Way and Clear Path are some really great organizations in DC that do focus on policy. And so we we don't as much, but absolutely, of course, you know, having a good understanding of how policy decisions are made, and how, you know, what is thought of as just a very, kind of not super important decision can become incredibly important. In the future. Yeah, it's, it's something I always think about.

Todd Allen
Yeah. So you mentioned before that EIC has taken a particular interest or placed focus on nuclear. So where in your career, did you figure out what nuclear is or why it's important? Did you have that before you got here? Has that been mostly since you got here? What's that part of your story?

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
I think in the first real time that I started, having an appreciation for nuclear energy was probably in my first grad program. So before I was at Michigan, I was actually pursuing a PhD in chemical engineering. And during that time, I took some courses at Harvard Kennedy School, and really started to gain an understanding for energy policy as a national strategy, and really gain an appreciation for kind of the fundamentals of supply and demand in the energy market. And one of the projects that I worked on in at Harvard was a project researching Germany's Energiewende the energy transformation policy, you know, shifting to a low carbon, but nuclear free economy. And, you know, one of the things that really struck me then, because it was still pretty early on about two years after the policy had been enacted, and we're definitely seeing prove out today is just, you know, how the nuclear phase out policy was going against the idea of environmental protection. And really, we, you know, we predicted and as we're seeing that it was kind of, resulting in the opposite of what the intent consequence of the policy was, and so kind of by looking at that nuclear phase out policy, you know, I started to understand that nuclear was a unique type of energy. And that it, it plays a unique role in climate policy, not just energy policy. And that was when I first started to go, Oh, you know, this one might be worth thinking about more. It's kind of a little more special than, you know, just fossils or even carbon capture, you know, or renewables. But then, yeah, at STPI and at OSTP I definitely had some projects that touched on nuclear energy, but not really in so in depth more, they were kind of just, you know, here is the state of nuclear energy. But there wasn't a lot of focus on nuclear. During the last administration, or even during this one even there has been a lot of talk about it. And but yeah, so at EIC, this has been my real like, deep dive into nuclear really trying to actually understand the technology understand the issues that surround it. And I've definitely gained an even greater appreciation for it.

Todd Allen
Yeah. So where would you say on nuclear are you like an A+ student?

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Well, you know, honestly, the Titans podcast really helps I try to read all I can I think the first month that I was here, I was constantly rereading, I would carve out an hour every morning just to just to read up on it. But um, you know, I don't think I could possibly learn everything. That's why having this podcast and talking to so many experts and stakeholders like I do, it was really helpful.

Todd Allen
Yeah, I should say I'm at the point of the career where an hour a day I try to just forget stuff. I'm trying to do just get rid of it, I'm tired. Yeah. So I've actually met a bunch of students that listen to the Titans podcast, right. But like, I've noticed that Titans has been thematic. Like, you will go and say we're going to talk to five experts at this particular nuclear site, or this particular National Laboratory. Have you ever thought about doing a bunch of students, right, upcoming leaders and like, I'm going to talk to them, like, why are they in this field? And why do they care? And it's kind of like titans of the future?

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yeah. No, I, you know, we haven't. I don't think we've ever interviewed a student. And I mean, often at all our experts were once students and talk about kind of their trajectory. But you know, that's a that's a great suggestion. And hopefully, you know, maybe we can talk to some of the students in the prize competition as well and maybe feature them on Titans.

Todd Allen
So this is going to be Episode 300. Right. Do you remember about what episode Titans was on when you became a member of the EIC staff?

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yeah, Yeah, I do. So I remember being very jealous, actually. So like, the week that I was hired was the week that we released the episode with Jim Duderstadt from Michigan, who was one of my mentors at Michigan. And I just remember feeling just like, like a fear of missing out, like, I wanted to have worked on that podcast. Like, I didn't get to work with him on that. And so I just remember being very jealous on that. But yeah, that was, uh, that was the first one, I think around the time that I started.

Todd Allen
Okay, was that that was before 100. Right. That was the first 100.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yeah, maybe right after right after? Okay.

Todd Allen
So you've seen at least two thirds. I mean, you see a lot. Yeah. With that many, as you listen to the interviews, are you surprised anymore? I mean, is there new stuff that comes out?

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Always, always. I mean, yeah, it's like I said, it's a great learning tool for me. You know, what, what I've really liked doing and I think it's been easier to do this, as we've had a lot more interviews with international experts, especially over this last summer, is I like to kind of listen to the podcast in batches. And right now, I've been doing it by country. So like, for example, if you really want to kind of get to know the nuclear state in the UK, you can listen to Adrienne Kelbie for like the regulatory side, you can listen to Julia Pike to hear about new builds, Andrew Sherry to hear about, you know, the the research side and then go back to Kirsty Gogan to hear about, you know, kind of the inspirational climate change aspect. And you could do the same thing for like, I want to hear all about SMRs is or I want to hear all about non proliferation or I just want to hear from academics and hear their journey, you know, go by profession even. And so yeah, so I like to kind of listen to it in that way so that I get a more well rounded picture because you know, everyones expertise can actually really complement each other when you listen to it in that way.

Todd Allen
Yeah. Do you? Do you end up thinking that you have, you have discovered something or some connection? Because you've listened to say the UK story? And you suddenly say to yourself, oh, that is very similar to what's happening in someplace else, the two sides may not have figured it out. But like, do you feel that through all of that, all those interviews, all that you're seeing that you're, you're able to sort of make connections and grander themes out there then?

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean, that, obviously, that, you know, what we're capturing on the Titans of Nuclear podcast, but as well as all the conversations that we have, with experts across the nuclear community, that really has informed our thesis as an organization and, and help we are constantly trying to draw those connections and understand kind of where the industry has been and where it's going and what the opportunities in the future are for new development.

Todd Allen
Yeah. Okay. So here's the point where you have to be honest, like, have you guys ever done an interview, and it was so bad, you pretended that you like, lost the tape, dropped a pizza on it or something?

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Not that I'm aware of. But there is one I know that we haven't published, because we started with doing remote interviews. And so like, we'll record half of it on one side, and then the expert records the other half. And I believe that one of those hasn't been published, because the expert never turned theirs in. I don't know why they didn't turn it in. But we're still working on getting that one. And we'll hopefully publish that one soon.

Todd Allen
Worst case you can sort of shame them into it.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yeah, maybe I just did.

Todd Allen
The expert has nothing to say. So you mentioned before, I want to talk about this idea of a prize competition. And this is a new thing for EIC this year. So maybe talk a little bit about what is the prize competition why you wanted to do it? Why do you think that's an important sort of venue for advancing nuclear?

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yeah, so we were really excited about the prize mechanism. Because, you know, it's a really powerful tool for for especially we think in with nuclear to kind of shape the narrative around a challenge, first of all, but also to bring in, you know, new stakeholders, new innovators, to think about problems that as we kind of set them forward, so we're able to elevate issues that we think need people to work on, and then, you know, bring in new people to bring their ideas to it. So that's our, we're excited about the mechanism. And we decided, you know, let's try it out. So we actually met with you earlier last year. And we were talking about, you know, what might be good ways to start and kind of get our feet wet in the prize competition space. And that's what the impetus was for our very first competition, which we're kind of doing under the series called the Nuclear Energy Grand Challenge. And this first one we're doing in partnership with the University of Michigan, to challenge students to reimagine nuclear waste. And so as you know, this is we're asking students to kind of think about how spent nuclear fuel from commercial power plants could be utilized and transformed into new products, new services, and the competition's been going for the past semester, and then we'll conclude in April of 2020. And we have about half a dozen teams competing for $17,000. Yeah, and we are really excited about it, to see kind of what the students come up with and how the narrative can change around waste. And we've already gotten a lot of interest from other universities who might want to do something similar. So we're currently as you know, exploring, expanding the prize to other other universities and allowing them to kind of join in and use this model to encourage innovation within their student bodies, to think about nuclear energy issues and challenge our students to be innovators around it.

Todd Allen
Yeah, one of the things that I think has gone really well, and you actually were helpful, and your University of Michigan connection was helpful is that we didn't want the student groups to all be engineers. Yeah. Right. We wanted teams that represented sort of technology, policy, social science, economics, to gather together. So when, when you were thinking about the team, how important was that in forming the prize?

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Absolutely. I thought it was it was critical. I mean, we, we don't necessarily like, the nuclear industry has had engineers solving problems, to great success for many, many years. But what we really I think it can benefit from is having, you know, these people who are coming to nuclear to bring their skills that aren't, you know, related to nuclear engineering, but maybe related to business or entrepreneurship or art, even, to kind of bring that expertise to shape the narrative in a different way. And to really think about some of the issues from a completely different perspective. That's something that kind of as an as a personally interdisciplinary person, you know, kind of both engineering and policy. I find very valuable, and I've seen some of the most successful ideas come out of that type of interdisciplinary collaboration.

Todd Allen
Yeah. And I actually thought a potential side benefit was, even if we never got some great world changing idea in the first round, you've got a bunch of people now who have to ask themselves the question, when I say nuclear waste, what is it? Right, and I think a lot of people are actually surprised, right? It's like, really? That's it? Yeah. Right. Yeah. I mean, it's solid. And it's not going anywhere. I could walk up to the cask, you know, like, people have no idea. Right? They assume it's some toxic brew with witches dancing around it.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yeah, they think the Simpsons.

Todd Allen
Yeah. Yeah. So I think it's been pretty useful too. And I think I don't have the numbers in front of me. But I think more than half of the students that sign up for the prize, were not engineers. Right? Not just not nuclear engineers, but not at all.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yeah, that's so exciting. It's so exciting.

Todd Allen
Alright, so back to real questions. So you know, as part of this, right, you also get to watch Bret and Naomi and people sort of interview people. I personally think if I think about when Bret interviewed me. So I was one of the earlier ones,

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
You were Episode Three.

Todd Allen
To now I actually think the approach, his approach is, is changed and sophisticated in a lot of ways, right? So the early ones feel very much like, what is nuclear? Right? What's going on? Right? And I think these these learn more about it become much more challenging, like, you guys hold the golden nugget, right? Why aren't you doing things that push it forward? Right. So it's become much more of a, you guys could solve your own problem, right? And since to a certain extent, you are creating your own problems, right. And I'm wondering, do you do see that also. And as sort of somebody watches this and watching his story evolve? Do the audiences evolve with it? I mean, what sort of how much? Can you see it driving? The way the community thinks about this? I think we're getting more sophisticated, right, in the way that parallel is the story, but I'm just curious, what you see, because you've seen all this.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yeah, in terms of the podcast, you know, obviously, the beginning was, it really was what is nuclear? How does that work? Tell me more. Yeah. And, and so there's still obviously an element of that in in the podcast. But you know, as, as Bret has become an expert himself in nuclear, he's really able to ask those technically deeper questions. But he's also, you know, he's heard so many of the answers, so he's almost able to kind of inform the person and then ask them to respond, which I find very interesting. But really, probably the place that he's most provocative, I guess you could say is speaking, yeah. So, this year, we've done quite a lot of speeches at universities, or, you know, we were even at the IAEA giving a talk this year, multiple conferences. And, you know, one of the things that Bret does there that I really appreciate is something that most people in the nuclear industry do not do. And, and that's that he's, you know, kind of intentionally provocative. He asks the tough questions. And, you know, he challenges the, kind of the traditional views and ways of the industry. And I think that's really because he and all of us at the Energy Impact Center aren't native to the nuclear community. You know, we we approach it with a healthy dose of objectivity and skepticism. And we come to nuclear energy, from the perspective of this is a as we see it a critical climate abatement technology. And so it's less about, you know, just having a sheer appreciation for the technology. But this is something that we need to utilize, and how can we ensure that, you know, as you said, the kind of the keepers of the keys are able to make this technology available in a way that it can be used for climate. So that's kind of where we come at it. And I think that's kind of, you know, what drives a lot of those those questions to challenge the industry to think more. And I'll share a tidbit with you after the Oak Ridge, ORNL, speech that Bret gave, afterwards, someone stood up from the audience and said something that I was really stuck with me to the effect of, you know, thank you so much for articulating what we often really, many of us believe in the nuclear industry, but aren't that are too afraid to say in public forum. And I think that that's something that we are kind of uniquely able to do, just because we don't come from nuclear and there's no consequences for us to say those things. Whereas there might be consequences reputationally for people in the community to say things that that challenge traditional ways It's useful I kind of imagine you don't see those those shows on ESPN where they're playing poker, right? I kind of imagined you guys watching those. And there's, there's somebody with a like a straight flush or some great hand, right? And you're like shouting at the thing like go all in. What are you doing? He's got you've got the winning hand, just play it right. I don't want to make it seem like it's it's the nuclear industry's like, fault entirely. I mean, it's not necessarily the engineers or if it's a lot of things that have made nuclear, not as economically viable option today. And so, you know, we think it's really important to understand what those things are and be critical of, of the things that are that are hindering the technology. And, you know, like actively seeking ways to get around those barriers.

Todd Allen
Yeah. So he's, I mean, is the prize competition kind of like that, like, we've never done a prize competition in nuclear. Right. But like, why not challenge that way of doing things to try to get new ideas?

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yeah, we've got to bring in, you know, new ways of approaching of bringing nuclear, you know, forward as a as a technology. Because it's like I said, it's so critical. And so yeah, so we're, we're looking at these different types of mechanisms like price compression, like the open source project, you know, what can we do to help spur innovation here and get this technology clip closer to deployment?

Todd Allen
Yeah so now, I think I combined a couple things we talked about, I think for any of the students that want to be on the podcast, they should nominate themselves and tell you what grand new challenging thing they want to do over the course of their career. Yeah, as a way of getting onto the podcast. Yeah.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
No, I like that. I like that.

Todd Allen
We thought something. Yes. So sort of last last sort of question for me. Where do you think the whole clean energy conversation is going? Right? And as part of that, what what do you think the evolution of EIC and the Titans broadcast is right, at a certain point, you'll you all have talked to a lot of nuclear, right? Do you envision that the conversation then evolves just into more sophisticated things about nuclear and the way we do prize competitions, open source? Is it? It can where do you guys see it going? Right? Or is there just sort of a point where you've, you've done it, you've talked as many people as you need to and the focus becomes on these other, these other innovative ways of sort of challenging and moving the technology forward?

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yeah, well, one of the things that I think the podcast helps to achieve is, you know, one of the things that we recognized early on in the climate narrative is that it's not necessarily focusing on the right things. And so the podcast kind of is a way for us to first kind of understand what those solutions that need to be, but also to try to help push things towards that direction. And, you know, expose more people to nuclear energy, make it seem like something that new, you know, entrepreneurs and financiers want to get involved with. And so, you know, kind of framing nuclear for those different audiences is definitely something that I think we can do with the podcast, but also some of our other projects. But, you know, I think, I think, yeah, that Titans really helps with that narrative. But more importantly, than the podcasting, that goes beyond that, it's really the people that we're talking to in the podcast, because they're really the people who have the technical and political capability to, you know, push forward in nuclear energy as a as a climate solution and ensure that it's part of that future. So hopefully, what we're also doing with the Titans podcast, and everything that we do at the Energy Impact Center is kind of building that real coalition of stakeholders that understand that they have a role to play in ensuring that this technology is available when we need it.

Todd Allen
Yeah. Great. So thank you for letting me interview you for number 300.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yeah, thank you so much.

Todd Allen
So hopefully I'll still be around for 400. But I really enjoy it. And I think I just say I give you guys a lot of credit. I mean, I think Titans has been a really important voice in this discussion about capturing what nuclear is and what it could be. And the fact that you're branching out into these sort of clever and interesting, innovative ways of doing things is really good. And I encourage you to keep challenging us.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yeah. Well, thanks so much Todd. Appreciate it.

Todd Allen
Thanks.

Bret Kugelmass
So we are going to pick up where Todd Allen left off, obviously COVID times call for extraordinary measures. And so this is our first split part, split host podcast episode. Welcome back to the show Michelle.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yeah. Thanks, Bret. Obviously, you're not Todd Allen. And we are in a different space. About one year after we recorded the first half of this episode.

Bret Kugelmass
Boy oh boy, and how things have changed. So let's put world affairs aside for a minute. I think everyone knows that the world got disrupted. But our projects continued on, amazingly enough. So Michelle, maybe you can start off with just a quick update on some of our projects and where we left off. I mean, you were spearheading the nuclear waste prize with Michigan. And I don't think we had wrapped up by then.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
We had not so the Michigan prize competition finalized in April, it was totally affected by COVID, as one might expect. We had elaborate plans for for the second half of the prize competition to be very much in person, in person judging, but we pivoted and Michigan was great at helping to help us transition to online as they did the entire university. So yeah, we wrapped up the prize competition on April 10, with a judging session, we had some great judges from both industry, academia, national labs. And we had, I guess, five teams competing about 20 students, and we selected a winner. The winner's name was Sustainium, and I guess we'll be able to probably tell our audience to go back and look at some of the stuff that we put out about the prize competition. But it was a really, really great, you know, wrap up, given the circumstances. And we were able to, to really capitalize on that competition and learn quite a lot from how it went.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, kudos to you. I mean, when COVID hit and everything was shut down, and I found out that we couldn't do it in person, like I was, honestly, I was ready to call the whole thing off. But you said, no, no, we can make this work. And I can't tell you how thrilled I was, with how, like the rest of the competition came out. And the winners like I mean the project, you want to tell them about their project, it was just creative and it was amazing.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yeah, so I think that the neatest kind of succinct way to put it is that they solved one waste problem with another waste problem. So they so just to remind our listeners, you know, these students were looking at nuclear waste from different perspectives typical than, you know, just engineers might. There were interdisciplinary teams, and they were looking at essentially creating a startup creating a business model out of something that right now just doesn't have that type of focus or that type of energy. So they looked at one problem, which was municipal waste sludge, which is often too expensive for municipalities to dry.

Bret Kugelmass
It's really what comes out of the sewers,

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Exactly, exactly. And so usually, they leave it in these big ponds and it evaporates and then maybe they can turn it into something else. But that takes a lot of time and space. And so they were looking for solutions to drive this and then turn it into an economic product, like fertilizer or something that could be used elsewhere in the community. And the heat source from nuclear waste was just that perfect amount of heat to dry the sludge, they created a mechanism for moving this sludge through a special truck that could take the sludge to the waste facility, heat it, dry it and then sell it as a product for fertilizer and other types of inputs.

Bret Kugelmass
Amazing. So they took nuclear waste, plus city waste and turned it into an economically valuable product.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
And they did economic analysis and customer segmentation.

Bret Kugelmass
And this is a college team we're talking about?

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yes.

Bret Kugelmass
Unbelievable. Okay, cool. So that that was a success.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yeah, so that was fun. So we wrap that up. And I guess, I don't think we talked about it at all. But the other major project that EIC has been working on, that we were only hinting at, in the previous half of this interview is Open 100.

Bret Kugelmass
Funny now because that's now a core part of our organization. It's the core part that we do as an organization at this point.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Exactly, exactly. We launched it in February, right, February 25. About one year ago, actually.

Bret Kugelmass
Oh, my God. So what's happened since?

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Well, we so we launched it got a lot of a lot of interest right away. And so my role switched from, you know, kind of research and advocacy stuff to partnerships full time. So we had a lot of inbound interest and we brought on partners from across the industry, to really turn it into something that's very valuable and communicating just what small nuclear is, and how we can get over some of the biggest cost and, and time barriers for nuclear energy deployment.

Bret Kugelmass
So what is the Open 100 project and who joined as partner?

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yeah, so Open 100 is an open source development framework for a small nuclear power plant, 100 megawatts electric, essentially the same thing that we built out in the 1960s and 1970s, just shrunk down and modernized. And it's all like I said, open source.

Bret Kugelmass
What does that mean modernize? Because like, if it's the same nuclear stuff as 1960s, 70s what's modern about it?

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Well we're using today's supply chains and today's innovations around, you know, components, equipment, materials. So we aren't using literally the wires that were produced in the 60s, we're using, you know, the new stuff today. Also introducing things like digital controls that that helped bring nuclear kind of into a new operating paradigm as well. But that also reduces costs.

Bret Kugelmass
And when you say new operating paradigm you mean for the nuclear industry? If I'm correct, the rest of the power industry has been using digital controls and reduced operating staff for decades.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Exactly. We, in creating Open 100 we didn't just look at, you know, the best practices of the nuclear industry. We looked at the best practices of many other energy sectors that have been doing this for a long time, right. How are they able to reduce their staffing costs, reduce their operation costs, secure access to new types of financing, you know, streamline the way that things designed so that it's easier to go through the regulatory process, right. So we looked at all of these best practices from across the energy sector and other sectors and tried to bring those learnings to nuclear so that we could achieve those, those real reductions in cost and time to deployment that had been holding the industry back for so long.

Bret Kugelmass
So you run partnerships here. Who joined as a partner for this Open 100 project.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
So we brought on some big names that a lot of folks will probably recognize from the United States, we have two national labs that we've been working very closely with Oak Ridge National Lab, and Idaho National Lab. We also have brought on some some of that same type of expertise external to the US. So we're working with the National Nuclear Laboratory in the United Kingdom, NNL, and the Josef Stefan Institute in Slovenia. And then we also brought on industry partners, we brought on companies like Studsvik Scandpower, and Siemens, and Framatome. And folks who can lend their their expertise in specific parts of the nuclear power plant in nuclear operations. Even companies like EPRI right, who have 50 years of operating expertise that were able to draw upon.

Bret Kugelmass
So I mean, these are some of the biggest names in power. How did you pull this off? How did you forge these relationships with them?

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Well we you know, we have a great reputation across the nuclear industry of being innovators in the space and trying to really form a space for collaboration, where everybody who's focused on Open 100 is interested in seeing nuclear back at its heyday, you know, revitalizing the industry. And I think it really just came down to everybody having that same kind of common vision, and wanting to come together on a single platform and a single effort that could help to realize it.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, I think what you're saying is, is just so true. I mean, it seemed like, you know, we started off with the Titans of Nuclear being our main, you know, mode of interaction with organizations. And how often did we hear throughout that process that like, the old stuff works great just something is broken about it and it's not the technology.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yeah it's the boring things.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah. It's like the construction management, it's the supply chain, it's the financing. And so it didn't come as much of a surprise when so many organizations felt so compelled by the way that we've positioned the Open 100 project? Because that's what they were telling us this whole time throughout Titans of Nuclear.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yeah, I mean, it really has been a platform of to put forward our learnings from all those Titans that we've spoken with, and many other conversations we've had. You know, this isn't, this isn't rocket science, right? There's tons of great ideas out there. And a lot of organizations have been, you know, making substantial progress for a long time. This is just a platform for a lot of those best practices to coalesce around the same vision.

Bret Kugelmass
So who else do you want to get involved? So you know, not everybody knows about it. I mean, we probably had more inquiries than we have time to respond to, but what would be some of your targets, other organizations that aren't getting involved in the platform that you'd like to see more engagement from?

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yeah, so I mentioned we have a few international organizations we've been working with. And I would love to see more of that type of collaboration, because part of the whole design philosophy behind Open 100 is the concept of standardization. Right? And so if we're going to create a product that you know, can be useful across the entire globe to help achieve deep decarbonisation, then we need to ensure that it's something that somebody in Singapore could deploy just as easily as somebody in the United Kingdom could deploy just as easily as someone in Brazil, right. And so we need developers and folks who are experts in their local supply chains, and the local, you know, building infrastructure environments, local regulatory environments, who can help us to understand how we can make this even more standard and applicable in lots of different local contexts.

Bret Kugelmass
And why is that important? Why is that even important that this is applicable across the world or that, you know, nuclear becomes cheap? Again, like, why does it matter?

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Well, it matters to me and I think to EIC the number one driver here is climate change. But it's beyond that it's you know, access to clean energy, you know, getting out of energy poverty, you know, supporting economic development, supporting economic growth. We not every geographic area, country, city can have clean energy in the forms that we have today, wind and solar.

Bret Kugelmass
Why is that? Why can't everyone just have wind or solar?

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Many of these types of energies, energy technologies are site specific. They require specific geographic or other conditions like wind, literally, to have to have wind or to have a lot of sun exposure.

Bret Kugelmass
And you're saying nuclear can just go anywhere?

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Nuclear can go anywhere. It does have some limitations due to seismic activity, but there's been lots and lots of advances in how we ensure that nuclear power plants are isolated from seismic interruption. So yeah, pretty much pretty much anywhere except for, you know, right next to a major fault line.

Bret Kugelmass
And so let's say that, you know, this Open 100 project takes off, what would what would be some of the next steps that you'd like to see, to actually get from this idea on website all the way through to affordable energy worldwide?

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Well, I think we would love to see it built. I mean, we aren't just putting this out there to say, oh, look, we could do this, here's maybe how we do it. We're putting this out there. And we're open sourcing all this amazing engineering work from our partners and from our organization, because we want somebody to actually prove that this can happen, right, we want to see nuclear cheap again, we want to see it be able to be built on a timeframe comparable with other types of energy. Nuclear has to be competitive economically, if it's going to be this, you know, critical climate abatement technology that we we really need. And so we need to prove that out by building one. So yeah, we would love for developers around the world to pick this up and, and move it forward in a real manner.

Bret Kugelmass
Amazing and amazingly articulated as well. You started to do a couple more, we're putting you in front of the camera a little bit more. Yeah, you started to do some more webinars and some keynote presentations and some conferences. And this is kind of a new thing for you this year. How do you feel how do you like it?

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yeah, I was really helped by this awesome fellowship that I've been a part of the Atlantic Council, Woman and Energy Leaders Fellowship, shout out to Atlantic Council. Yeah, that's been that's been really helpful to kind of, you know, get over my fear of public speaking.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah we were really proud of you when you got when you got invited to join that.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yeah. But no, I've loved giving, giving talks, you know, speaking with others, and understanding kind of what why they're interested in not just nuclear, but why they're passionate about climate change, or energy security, or what have you really is something that I I've always been driven by, and it gives me an opportunity to kind of, you know, be part of that discussion, be part of that dialogue, more often by by speaking with folks around the world, and COVID, ironically, has allowed that to happen much, much more.

Bret Kugelmass
Interesting. Yeah. Okay, so then, how do you think it's going to change in post COVID time? So you think, when you have to go up and give a talk in front of a large audience, you're gonna be nervous?

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Oh yeah I'm going to be terrified. But it'll be okay. I've had about a year of practice under my belt now.

Bret Kugelmass
So yeah, okay. And so what are some of the other things that are coming up that you'd like to share or discuss?

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yeah, so well, actually, one is related to what we're doing now. So Titans of Nuclear has been just incredibly successful in, you know, telling, I think I talked about this in the previous half of this podcast, and telling the story of the nuclear industry and really humanizing it. And we, you know, based on all that success, we've decided to launch a new podcast, called the Energy Impact Podcast, which is going to be all about people who are actually making real impact, sometimes boring impact, sometimes very noticeable showy impact in this space agnostic of technology.

Bret Kugelmass
And so what are some of the topics that will be covered?

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yeah, so we'll be talking with people who are communicating about energy, innovation, or really interesting things. So people in media and journalism, we'll be speaking with people doing, you know, the really hard behind the scenes work, like regulations, or financing of these types of projects. How do those decisions really get made? We'll also be talking with the the key decision makers, right, those people who sit in ministries of energy or who sit in, you know, in offices and within organizations that are shaping the profile of their, you know, local economy, or their their local country's energy mix going forward. And they are thinking about, you know, what should we be prioritizing going forward. So those types of things, you know, all those people, right, there's, they have a lot of amazing stories to tell behind them. It doesn't just happen that you happen to live in a place with a certain energy portfolio. Someone makes those decisions.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah. I mean, just to add to that, I think one of the things you like you said, we found the Titans of Nuclear podcast to just be an incredible method of educating ourselves, as well as communicating to others. But one of the things that we found that was a shortcoming since it was so nuclear focused, was that there are things that the new nuclear industry needs to do to model itself after other successful energy technologies that we couldn't find Titans of Nuclear to help us figure out right because, you know, nuclear hasn't done small financings, they've only done big financing. And there are a lot of changes. And you have to really understand the nuances of you where some of these other energy technologies have been successful. Some of these countries that we think nuclear being nuclear is not in now. So we couldn't find a Titan of Nuclear to help educate us as to what are some of the policy and other considerations?

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Right. And also, I mean, just in today's, you know, era, it's not just the public sector figures who are driving, you know, new energy deployments, in many ways. In many cases, it's actually private sector, right? So there's also speaking with the people who kind of have the demand side, you know, if if there's going to be a big data center or another, you know, big industrial project that needs a lot of clean energy, right? How do we ensure that there's enough clean energy on that local grid to supply that so that you can have the economic, you know, boost from the the new business or the new industry, but you're also doing in a sustainable manner. And so speaking with folks who are really tackling those big problems right now, too, from the from the private sector side is going to be really fascinating.

Bret Kugelmass
Awesome, well, I am excited, you're going to be hosting some of the episodes, there are actually a whole bunch of team members are gonna be hosting some of the episodes and not just me this time. What else? What else is on the horizon? What else can we look forward to as an organization or even as you as an individual?

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Well, I mean, I think it's, it's, I'm very excited about the next year, hopefully, what you know, with, with us being able to travel again, and just being able to kind of take Open 100 take, you know, the the idea of moving forward and really seeing these new projects actually be realized. You know, this year, I think we've been ramping up a lot of our engagements internationally, we've gotten so much international interest, how can I develop small nuclear in my country? And I think, you know, the more that we can engage with those folks and provide tools and resources that actually help them accelerate that process, not just explore it, but actually do something about it. That's where I think this year, we're gonna make some big impact.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, it's incredible. I mean, every week, there's like another like, small energy developer that kind of knows something about nuclear but isn't nuclear specific that reaches out literally this morning, I got one from a couple entrepreneurs, about energy developers in Mexico. And so we'll have to figure out you know, who they are, what they want to do, and how we might be able to help them there. But yeah, I mean, it is pretty exciting. How many different things ever since we launched Open 100, just come inbound? Are there ways that we're going to work on to kind of increase visibility for Open 100 beyond just the private launch that we did last year?

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yeah. Well, we just redid our website around it, we're looking to, so right now, Open 100 is very much new engineering resource. We're looking to add additional tools and information on it that can make it you know more about whole of project development, regulations, financing, etc. Those types of things. So yeah, well, we'll be launching things like that very soon.

Bret Kugelmass
Awesome. Well, I can't tell you how excited I've been to kind of watch you grow on our team. I was a little jealous that Todd got to do the first half of this episode. So I'm super happy that I got to wrap it up. Take that, Todd! And yeah, looking forward to great things to come.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yeah, thank you so much.

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