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Andy Grove urges Intel to build car batteries

Former Intel CEO--now a plug-in vehicle advocate--says the chip giant should make electric car batteries to diversify and jump-start the alternative-energy field.

Former Intel CEO Andy Grove has joined other Silicon Valley elites who are advocating for an industry shift into energy technology.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal published Friday, Grove said he is urging Intel to invest in battery manufacturing as a way to diversify from its core chip business.

Andy Grove, former Intel CEO and now plug-in vehicle advocate. Intel

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.

Grove has become an advocate for government policies that promote plug-in hybrid cars. This summer, he published a manifesto, called "Our Electric Future," in The American magazine, where he called for transitioning the American auto fleet to electricity for national security reasons.

"Because electricity is the stickiest form of energy, and because it is multi-sourced, it will give us the greatest degree of energy resilience. Our nation will be best served if we dedicate ourselves to increasing the amount of our energy that we use in the form of electricity," he wrote.

In a speech at the Plug-in 2008 conference in August, he called for a goal of putting 10 million plug-in vehicles on the road in 10 years.