Obama has been pretty good about appointing real science people to the appropriate cabinet positions… including Nobel Prize winners and leading technology oriented politicians and educators. This marks the incoming administration as quite different from the outgoing clod squad that put so much emphasis on Bush loyalty and born-again Christianity over real knowledge an accomplishment. Whether it was in the freezing of stem-cell research or reducing funding for space exploration, Bushies discouraged whole generations of students from going into science, while foreign competitors in Asia and Europe put their support behind research, development and manufacturing.
That’s why when former Intel Chairman Andy Grove (still an Intel Board member, by the way) encouraged the chip developer to get into the Electric Car Battery business, ears picked up in the tech community.
In a background post on C-Net, a Wall Street Journal interview with Grove stated his position:
Grove told the Journal that Intel’s “strategic objective is tackling big problems and turning them into big businesses.” He said Intel, with its cash resources, can invest in battery technology and manufacturing to bring down the cost of car batteries, which would drive adoption of plug-in electric cars.
Batteries are the most expensive component in plug-in electric vehicles, a market being pursued by a few U.S. companies.
General Motor’s 2011 Volt is testing batteries from lithium-ion maker A123 Systems. Other U.S. companies include Ener1 and Valence Technology. Notebook battery maker Boston Power also intends to enter the auto market.
But battery makers and analysts say that U.S. manufacturers lack the financial means to meet the anticipated demand of electric cars.
“The technology exists today to put (electric drives) into an automobile,” said Ener1 CEO Charles Gassenheimer at last week’s Electric Drive Transportation Association’s Conference & Exposition. “But it is not doable without the ability to drive down the cost of manufacturing.”
Intel has invested in battery technology through its venture capital arm and other energy-related firms. Earlier this year, Intel also spun out SpectraWatt, which intends to lower the cost of manufacturing solar cells.
This is not a new push from Grove. He suggested a similar connection between Intel and the Hybrid auto market in a speech last August at Plug-In 2008, insisting that we put 10 million hybrid vehicles on the road in the next 10 years.
The web site Pulse 2 also commented on Grove’s challenge to Intel:
Although this type of business is not part of Intel’s core competencies, the company has invested in several battery companies through investment arm Intel Capital.
“We already have some investments in battery companies via Intel Capital, and have had for some time, for example Cymbet – solid state battery for wireless sensor networks –and Polyfuel – improved fuel cell membrane,” stated Intel spokeswoman Christine Dotts. “We look at a lot of things, and we certainly consider battery technology important. Whether we will do anything more in this area we can’t say at this time. It should be noted that battery technology developments for computer uses and for automotive applications are not necessarily mutually exclusive.”
The Big 3 automotive companies have already started working with battery companies for their future hybrid vehicles. For example, General Motors recently started working with A123 Systems for cars that will be manufactured in 2010. Ford, Chrysler and General Motors have all made promises to Congress to push the development of more hybrid vehicles as part of their bailout pitch.
If America and an American company took the lead in developing the “100 mile battery” it would mean jobs certainly. If we add government support to this development, think how much we could gain in the face of National industrial devaluation.