Andy Grove's advice

Andy Grove’s advice

In October 2009, Andy Grove, the former chairman of Intel and the godfather of Silicon Valley, invited Chamberlain and his Argonne team to his home in California. After meeting with Argonne’s team, Grove reviewed the battery race and said he saw silicon chips out of lithium ions. In the 1950s, the first integrated circuits were fabricated on microchips, and since then, the chip industry in the United States has flourished. However, by the 1980s, Japan occupied most of the chip industry market and corresponding jobs. Grove turned Intel into a microprocessor maker that made not just chips but computers. He revived Intel and successfully rescued the chip giant. He said that the battery industry is also facing cruel dual competition. Whoever can finally create a more powerful, durable and safe battery and who can turn scientific research results into products in the shortest time will win.

But, Grove thought, the risks in the battery industry were far higher than when Japanese companies seized the chip market. He foresees a “clear and looming risk” that if the United States fails to meet its own energy needs, it will be at the mercy of those energy suppliers, politically and economically. The United States must build a fleet of battery-powered private cars to replace most of the current gasoline-powered cars. Enthusiastic about everything as usual, he called his successors at Intel, urging them to join the new race — into the premium battery market. They didn’t care much about his suggestion, in part because batteries, unlike silicon, are based on electrochemistry, which is based on fixed physics, and electrochemistry is fickle. Batteries are too complicated. So Grove found Chamberlain.

Argonne scientists tested Grove with a three-step plan. He could make the same big change for Argonne as he has driven Silicon Valley before. For simplicity, they condensed the plan into three bullet points on one page. The first stage is the application of the current Li-ion – Argonne NMC and the first batch of new electric vehicles; the second stage is the next 3 to 5 years, the introduction of “advanced lithium-ion batteries”, namely NMC2.0 version, the lifespan of this transition technology is 2 to 3 times that of current lithium-ion batteries. The technology is enough to support the development of hybrid vehicles for 10 to 20 years, during which time Gibran can implement what Gibran calls the third phase of the “copper ring” plan. This last step involves a technique called “lithium-air”. That’s where Argonne ultimately goes.

Chamberlain felt that Minister Wan Gang and his team were pursuing a similar strategy. Grove brought Argonne’s guests to the door, admonishing them to remember one thing: “A match in manufacturing takes nine rounds to be won. It’s like a boxing match. You might lose the first one. Rounds, maybe lose a second round. But remember one—there are nine rounds in every game.”