Meet the future of energy: Kenya Shatani, Mechanical Design Engineer at Northvolt

What you do at Northvolt – even better, how and why your job is making a difference inside the company?

As a Mechanical Design Engineer with Northvolt Battery Systems, I am part of an interdisciplinary team that is designing solutions and products that will help electrify future vehicles, machines, and energy storage systems. The idea with battery systems is that from the cells that Northvolt makes and produces from the factory, we can design actual products, so often they’re called battery modules that go into battery packs. You put together small cells that these battery manufacturers make to make more powerful battery modules to have more voltage, more power, and more energy and then you put those modules into battery packs. An analogy that I give often is if you are going to build a house, you need a lot of bricks and from those bricks, you can design and make floors and then you can make buildings. It’s similar with battery cells: we get cells, we build battery modules, and from the modules we make battery packs.

The team as a whole, we have an electrical software and mechanical and thermal team. I think the cool thing about batteries is that it seems like just one component, but when you put them at scale and you design products they become more of a system, and it’s all interconnected from the electrical characteristics. It affects the thermal system, how hot the battery gets and how we can control that so that the cell can last super long. Then the mechanical team, our job is to make and design systems and structures that hold everything together in a really robust and safe way.

Specifically, working on the mechanical design team and helping design systems and components that put the batteries together, I’m designing parts that go into battery modules and battery packs. Anything from enclosures to bus bars or mounting systems. We 3-D model parts and we work with the manufacturer to produce them, and then we work with the team to assemble all of these things together.

How did you get interested in this professional field? Let’s start with your education.

I studied at the University of British Colombia in Vancouver, and I pursued a degree in Engineering Physics and specialized in Mechanical Engineering. It’s a degree that’s quite demanding – it’s four and a half years of academia and then on top of that I did 16 months of co-op.

When I initially joined engineering, I wanted to know how things worked which is why I think many people join it. Moreover, growing up in the 2000s, you’re raised in a way that it’s instilled in you to be sustainable and green. As an engineer, you can build and design weapons, or you can design buildings: I knew I wanted to work with sustainable energy. It could be solar energy, wind energy, hydropower or batteries.

Throughout my degree, I did projects in robotics and different technologies, and I did internships with software, machine learning, and video production. In my last year of school, my capstone project was designing a battery module by upcycling battery cells from a Tesla module. I had a Program Lab Director who was really enthusiastic about batteries and Tesla as a company. He bought a Tesla module for a group of students, he sponsored a project for us, and he mentored us through how to work with batteries: from that point on I told myself, “okay, if I’m going to pursue a job in engineering, this is what I’m going to be doing”. There are a few battery companies that are quite known in the market, but when I found Northvolt while looking for job vacancies, I said: “Okay this looks super cool.” Also, it was a chance for me to move to Europe which I had always dreamed of.

Are you enjoying living in Europe, in Stockholm?

I’m originally Japanese, I was born in Jerusalem, and when I was seven I moved to Canada. I grew up internationally, and I’ve always had a passion for traveling and experiencing different cultures. I have always wanted a job that could take me to different places. For North Americans, there is this fascination with Europe… I guess I am fascinated by the diversity in languages and cultures in such a dense area. I think living in Stockholm is super easy. Almost everyone speaks English and the public transportation is excellent. Everything is quite close, so you don’t need a car. I think there is a lot happening in Stockholm, and somehow it’s similar to Montréal: it’s quite diverse, there are people from different cultures, and it’s by the water. It’s just a beautiful city to live in.

Growing up, how did you get interested in engineering? Did your family play a role in it?

I am the first engineer in my family. My name Kenya means “constructive and creative” and so from a young age, it made me want to be an architect or to build something. I just liked to understand how things worked and how technology could improve people’s lives but also how it can sustain the planet.

I think it’s a combination of curiosity – how can we improve things we are doing now using technology? – and fascination with nature and how things work. Humans have designed and built computers, phones and batteries starting from raw minerals, and it’s almost mind-blowing that we can type on a keyboard and go on a video conference and see someone on the screen and talk to them almost in real time. You rewind a hundred years ago, and people wouldn’t even have dreamed of that. I think with the help of technology we can connect to people and do cool things, so I guess it’s a mix of that.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I have a love for languages and new cultures. I grew up in a Japanese family, so I love Japanese, I also speak English and French. I learned a little bit of Spanish in high school and “jag pratar lite svenska nu” (I speak a little Swedish now). I think languages help you connect with different people and understand different cultures. Just a quick introduction or a quick hello in a foreign language and you will immediately gain a little bit of trust from a stranger. Working at Northvolt, when we have more than thirty different nationalities, having that interest and curiosity for languages and cultures helps you work with people from different backgrounds.

Also, I am passionate about living an active lifestyle – from running, cycling, bouldering, to ultimate frisbee, I am up for anything that gets my body moving and my heart rate going!