There's perhaps no name more associated with climate denial and our current mess than "Koch." The brothers who share the surname (only one of whom is currently alive) and their eponymously named company have spent decades on a mission to water down or destroy regulations and protect fossil fuel interests and profits at all costs. And now, Koch Industries is interested in … batteries?
The conglomerate has poured at least $750 million into U.S. batteries and electric vehicles over the past year and change, making Koch Industries one of the biggest investors in the sector outside auto companies, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal. Those investments in companies such as Freyr Battery and Aspen Aerogels were made through Koch Strategic Platforms, a subsidiary of the company that focuses on growth in computing, industrial automation, energy transformation and health care.
The company’s investment in startups focused on sustainability and electrification seems like a head-scratcher, given Charles Koch and his late brother David’s past. The EV industry has marketed itself as a green alternative to gas cars, and the Koch brothers have supported anything but. The company declined to explain its battery investments to the Journal.
The Koch brothers have funded Americans for Prosperity, a libertarian political advocacy group that has protested climate change legislation and fought against public transit, a surefire way to reduce carbon pollution. The group has said it just wants to give people the freedom to drive their cars, a freedom that just so happens to dovetail with Koch Industries' businesses, which include gas production, asphalt and auto parts.
It appears Charles Koch may have some regrets, though, about creating this morass. “Boy, did we screw up!" he wrote in his 2020 book. What a mess!”
Yet Americans for Prosperity's political spending doesn't seem to reflect this newfound regret. Federal data from the 2020 election cycle shows it spent nearly $47 million to help elect Republicans and less than $100,000 on Democratic candidates. (Most of the money it spent on Democratic candidates went to Rep. Henry Cuellar, a fossil-fuel-loving member of Congress from Texas.)
So it's not like Charles Koch has completely given up on the oil and gas part of his business or the politicians that enable its continued existence. But the battery bets reflect an acknowledgment of where transportation is headed. The EV industry is on a major growth trajectory, especially once the supply chain issues and wild price jumps in nickel and other battery components stabilize.
“The speed of the energy transition is directly correlated with companies like Koch participating in it,” Freyr CEO Tom Jensen told the Journal.
While Koch Industry's gas holdings may suffer as the world shifts toward EVs, its other businesses could be primed for growth, along with all the new battery investments. In essence, Koch Industries is still looking to cash in on 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 March 23, 2022.