The BMW Group, Northvolt and Umicore have formed a joint technology consortium to work closely on the continued development of a complete and sustainable value chain for battery cells for electrified vehicles in Europe. The project aims to develop sustainable industrialization of battery cells in Europe and the associated acquisition of skills, from cell chemistry and development through to production and ultimately recycling.
The chief objective is to make battery cells sustainable by establishing a closed lifecycle loop. This starts with a recyclable cell design and continues with a manufacturing process that mostly uses renewable energy.
The next step is a long period of primary use as a drive battery, possibly followed by another phase of secondary use as a stationary energy storage device. At the end of its lifecycle, the cell is recycled and the raw materials reused, thereby completing the loop.
In view of the growing numbers of electrified vehicles, establishing a broad basis for procuring battery cells is becoming a matter of greater strategic significance for manufacturers.
Northvolt is focused on sustainable production, the BMW Group is an international car maker with extensive experience in development of its own cells, while Umicore specializes in development and production of active materials for battery cells.
As battery cells contain essential resources and materials, feeding these back into the loop becomes more and more important as electric vehicles multiply in number.
In order to accelerate the development of battery cells and make further progress in terms of cell chemistry and cell design, the BMW Group’s new battery cell center of excellence will be inaugurated in summer 2019.
Besides battery cell development, other key skills will be pooled there too, from the production of battery cell prototypes to build-to-print expertise. This is important for the BMW Group as a way of endowing potential suppliers for cell production with the necessary skills to meet its own requirements.
BMW is already investing heavily in the entire value chain, and is also focusing on ensuring that raw materials come from environmentally and socially responsible sources, obliging cell suppliers to reduce their carbon footprint, using recycled materials, and creating battery concepts that can be serviced and easily recycled.
“The sustainability approach of Northvolt makes it a highly appealing company for us, that was furthermore very receptive to our ideas,” said Klaus Fröhlich, member of the board of management of BMW, responsible for development.
The BMW Group and Northvolt have been collaborating for some time as part of a strategic technology project. The collaboration will leverage the capabilities of Northvolt Labs, a scale-up line and research facility which will be used to test and industrialize battery cells before large-scale production, with the aim of developing cutting-edge green battery cells.
Northvolt outlines one of its company ambitions as a commitment to become one of the first fully circular industrial companies. Electrical power for its future production of battery cells originates from renewable resources, while the company also places a high priority on local and responsible sourcing of the raw materials needed.
“BMW and Northvolt have a shared commitment to reduce CO₂ emissions from transportation. As batteries are becoming a key strategic question for car manufacturers, this partnership does not only mark a key milestone for Northvolt, it also highlights the importance of sustainable battery cells in the coming wave of electrification,” said Peter Carlsson, co-founder and CEO of Northvolt.
Umicore is responsible for active anode and cathode materials development and recycling in the technology alliance. This collaboration will enable efficient technologies to be applied to the production of active materials based on recycled metals.
In addition, this project covers smart battery pack disassembly, screening for reutilization of the battery cells and feeding the recycled resources back into active material production. Recovering materials that have already been used will also become increasingly important in easing the burden on raw material production.
“It is rewarding to see that Umicore’s product technologies and recycling services are key enablers for this technology alliance with BMW and Northvolt. By jointly demonstrating a closed loop for high-performance, green and EU-based batteries, we are underlining the future potential and importance of a European supply chain for the success of car electrification in the region,” said Marc Grynberg, CEO of Umicore.
In Europe, the BMW Group has already been manufacturing modules with supplied battery cells before using these modules to build complete batteries for plug-in hybrids and battery-powered electric vehicles.
With its battery cell production, Northvolt provides the capability for purely European production of complete batteries for electric mobility applications, resulting in a substantial reduction in carbon emissions at the same time.
Umicore will soon start building a cathode material manufacturing facility in Europe and already runs a recycling plant for lithium-ion batteries in Europe.