Here at Mother Nature Network, we’ve been reporting on some of America’s best known entrepreneurs getting involved in electric car batteries. Warren Buffett bought an almost 10 percent share in major Chinese battery maker BYD, which then turned around and unveiled the world’s first plug-in hybrid car. General Motors and Toyota, two years behind, were dumbfounded.
It’s fascinating to note that another savvy executive, Intel’s former chairman Andy Grove (who retired in 2005), is urging his former company to get into making not another microprocessor but batteries for plug-in electrics. He’s got a point. As Toyota’s John Hanson points out, killer ap lithium-ion batteries are the “Rosetta Stone” everyone’s looking for. Grove told the Wall Street Journal, “If electric cars are to become a reality, we will need 10 times to 100 times the manufacturing capacity that laptops need,” and that makes an excellent business case for Intel, which has been struggling to find new sources of revenue. Intel is being cautious about its plans, and batteries are certainly a long way from its core business. Current battery leaders have been somewhat affected by the ups and downs of the industry. U.S.-based Ener1, for instance, had a $70 million contract to deliver batteries for Think Global electric cars, but that Norwegian company is now reorganizing after filing for bankruptcy protection.
Grove is a great believer in Moore’s law, which holds that the number of transistors that can fit inexpensively on a printed circuit doubles every two years. But batteries are subject to the limitations of chemical reactions, and I’m not all sure it applies in this case. Batteries in 1920 could move a car 30 or 40 miles, and we’re barely cracking 100 miles right now. Still, the legendarily savvy Grove recognizes that the auto industry’s future is electric, and it’s batteries that provide the juice. Why not the tech-savvy Intel to make them?