Thursday, March 20, 2008

This Battery Expert Is Fully Charged

Christina Lampe-Önnerud grew up in Sweden,
and lives in the U.S. She is one of the world's top
experts on battery technology. Photo: Hans Sandberg

Christina Lampe-Önnerud is one of the foremost battery technology experts in the world. And she is currently in the middle of launching Boston Power, which has developed a long-lasting laptop battery that’s safe and environmentally friendly. She recently joined an official U.S. Clean Energy Trade Mission to China.

Currents Editor met with Christina Lampe-Önnerud at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York a couple of hours before she addressed the Greener Gadgets Conference. We asked her to talk a little bit about her experiences from her January trip to China.
“Oh, it was really cool,” she burst out in her typical high-energy, youthful way. “I mean, how many chances in life do you have to represent the United States, ha, ha! I have war stories on intellectual property rights. Here was David Bohigian, the assistant secretary at the Department of Commerce, stating that ‘in the United States, we believe in IPR rights,’ and then calling out, ‘Christina, what do you have to say about that?’
“Later, I’m at the Economic Deputy Directory Forum, which is part of China’s inner club for decision making. ‘Well it’s hard for us to bring intellectual property here…bla bla bla,’” she says referring to the problem of protecting IP-rights in China.
“We also visited the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and we talked to the heads of economic development,” she says and adds that she met economic decision makers in Guangdong, where Boston Power has a Six-Sigma production line. “I was able to speak as somebody who has an interest in China, and has built something there. It’s very interesting. And we have a second factory coming up outside Taipei (Taiwan).”
“I sat in on the Clean Tech transfer meetings where the U.S. is basically offering to help China not to make the same mistakes as we did in the West. The negotiations were very straightforward,“ says adding that she thinks this style of straight talk helps making the U.S. a world business leader. “It’s cut in ten minutes. How about China? Well it’s two… months,” she says.

Christina loves the U.S. style, which suits her own direct and open style perfectly. She contrasts it to Germans (her father was a German engineer and scientist living in Sweden) would focus on the price only, and the Swedes who can be hard to read sometimes. “Are they really buying or are they just being nice to you…. Why are we having dinner, she says and laughs heartily.
“In the U.S. it’s good if you’re nice, but it’s really about the price and the quality and the performance. It’s culturally acceptable to just put it on the table. I thought it was really cool that the trade mission had that attitude, that they went to China and said, hey, here are the mistakes we’ve made. Don’t do that.  That would just be foolish. And by the way, we’ll fund some of these programs, because if you repeat our mistakes, our environment will suffer too. That is very generous of them, really good. I was so impressive with the style, and by David Bohigian “

Christina Lampe-Onnerud came to the U.S. in 1995 for post-doc studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, MA. She had become a doctor in inorganic chemistry in February the same year, and was split between a career as a singer (she is also a cellist and jazz dancer!) and her offer from MIT. She decided to try MIT for a year, and that was 13 years ago…. At MIT, she quickly became a star, and put on a fast track which included stints as research leader at Bellcore and AT&T Bell Labs, plus becoming one of the youngest partners ever at Arthur D. Little, heading up their new battery lab at the research group TIAX. Late 2004, she quit her high-profile job, and launched a company that would become Boston Power, which by the end of 2008 should be producing one million laptop batteries a month with HP as one of its customers. 

Hans Sandberg

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