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The rise of electric buses

Cities and urban environments will see some of the greatest benefits of the electric vehicle revolution. As combustion engines are replaced with electric drivetrains, exhaust emissions will drop dramatically, air will become cleaner and safer, streets will become quieter and calmer.

 

Battery-powered electric vehicles are clearly key to this future – the technology is widely acknowledged to carry the largest potential reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, with life-cycle emissions of a vehicle using electricity generated from renewable sources up to 90% lower than an equivalent internal combustion engine vehicle according to the IEA.

 

While electric passenger vehicles provide increasingly common examples of this technology in motion, this isn’t the only sector where battery technology is going to make a difference.

 

Municipal vehicles and public transport are in many cases well suited to electric propulsion by battery-powered drivetrains too; particular so when vehicles are operating with frequent stops along highly predictable routes since these circumstances are ideal for battery charging.

 

With battery performance steadily improving, system costs reducing and increasingly widespread regulation pushing for clean transportation, the switch to batteries is becoming the favored direction for most sectors of road transportation.

 

It’s a welcome situation.

 

Transport sectors have failed to see emissions reductions as have been evident in other sectors over recent years, and road transport emissions are in fact increasing.

 

The European Environment Agency reported that having grown since 2014, road transport in the EU in 2018 accounted for 82% of the transport GHG emissions and one fifth of the EU’s total GHG emissions.

 

Electrifying buses with batteries – provided they are powered with clean electricity – would make a great difference. The most widely-used form of public transport in the EU, buses account for a little over half of all public transport journeys and 8% of all passenger land-based transport according to the European Automobile Manufacturers Association.

 

The emergence of battery-powered electric buses, or e-buses, is a relatively recent development, but with it an outlook comes into focus which paints a bright picture of how public transportation of tomorrow is likely to look.

 

Electric buses from Lion Electric. Reducing pollution and emissions around children using school buses is an obvious benefit and something adding weight to arguments in favor of the switch to electric. Image via Lion Electric.

 

Towards market dominance

Optimism for e-buses becoming a major branch of public transport is reflected in the number of mainstream bus manufacturers which have adopted the technology, including Scania, BYD, Solaris, Irizar Group, Volvo, Mercedes, and VDL Bus & Coach.

 

By the end of 2018, these and other manufacturers had supported deployment of some 460,000 e-buses around the world (BloombergNEF).

 

It’s progress, especially considering the number grew by over 100,000 from end of 2017. And the impact of this according to a BloombergNEF report, is that by the end of 2019 some 270,000 daily barrels of diesel demand will have been displaced by e-buses.

 

Nevertheless, it’s clear that regions are embracing this new technology at varying speeds. China alone, for instance, operates some 421,000 of those e-buses, while the U.S. and Europe both operate fleets numbering only into the low hundreds.

 

A fleet of thirty e-Buses arrive in Finland in August 2019.

 

While widescale adoption of e-buses outside of China is evidently in its earliest of days, encouraging trends are emerging.

 

In Western Europe and Poland, e-bus registrations increased by 48% between 2017 and 2018, and through 2018, 5% (562) of all city buses registered were electric (CME Solutions).

 

In August of this year alone, Europe saw several highlights: Finnish HSL transport group took delivery of a fleet of 30 e-buses; in Warsaw, Poland, transport company MZA ordered 130 e-buses. In Gothenberg, Sweden, municipal transport company Vasttrafik ordered 220 e-Buses from Volvo.

 

Looking forward, BloombergNEF’s Electric Vehicle Outlook 2019 reports e-buses are to occupy a remarkable 81% of annual municipal bus sales by 2040. Interestingly, that’s a share higher than the equivalent number for passenger vehicles, which BloombergNEF put at 57%.

 

 

Increasing competitiveness of vehicles

Key to the adoption of e-buses is that these vehicles are increasingly compelling alternates to conventional buses. Gains in this sense include e-buses being simultaneously more technically capable and therefore a valid alternate in a practical sense, as well as more financially viable to operate.

 

Earlier this year, Chinese manufacturer BYD – which has delivered over 50,000 e-buses and electric coaches – launched the world’s longest fully electric bus. At 27m long, the K12A can carry 250 people up to a maximum speed of 70 km/h and on a single charge can travel close to 300 km, which BYD suggest is around an average day’s operations.

 

A reminder of the benefits of this kind of technology, BYD have stated that a single K12A e-bus saves the equivalent of 80 tons of CO2 emissions per year and 360,000 liters of fuel throughout its lifecycle.

 

Alongside contributing to cleaner, quieter streets, e-buses in many places are enabling reduced costs of operation due the lower cost per kilometer for running on electricity compared to diesel fuel.

 

Because of this, while battery costs can mean that e-buses carry a higher upfront cost compared to conventional combustion engine buses at the present time, ultimately these costs can be recovered through lifetime savings.

 

BYD’s K12A e-bus. Image via BYD.

 

Charging an urban revolution

As the principal determining factor for performance, battery technology has a great role to play in success of electric passenger vehicles and e-buses alike. On this front, improved battery performance and reduced costs can be counted on to continue to both extend the driving range of e-buses and reduce upfront costs.

 

Successful deployment of e-buses, however, relies on more than the vehicles themselves. Lack of charging infrastructure and power constraints in the power grid can limit the practical workings and overall success of e-buses. Going forward, both these aspects of charging need to be considered by various stakeholders, not least municipal actors, automobile manufacturers, and electricity network operators.

 

Currently, we see several approaches to charging being explored, with two main charging strategies being overnight charging (typically utilizing charging stations at depots) and charging through the day (opportunity charging). Both strategies can be used with the three leading hardware options of plug-in, pantograph, and induction. Each have their merits, and it remains to be seen if the industry might converge on just one, or if multiple solutions will continue to be utilized.

 

As for handling the new loads on electricity grids resulting from charging fleets of e-buses (and EVs for that matter), solutions include smart traffic planning to enable frequent charging and energy storage systems to enable peak shaving of the power demands.

 

Flexible and modular infrastructure in Mannheim, Germany, for e-bus charging via plug-in cable, pantograph and charging rail from Daimler. Image via Daimler AG.

 

With some 745,500 buses in circulation on European roads today, and less than 10% of the fleet typically renewed each year as buses reach the end of their 8 to 10 year lifecycle, it will be some time before all buses are emission-free (ACEA).

 

Still, the change coming in even the next few years with e-buses will be noticeable, even if it’s silent.

 

What’s more, the speed of transition might yet be quickened as governments adopt stronger targets to accelerate clean public transportation.

 

Take the Netherlands for example. One of the most aggressive markets for electrification in Europe, the nation has mandated that 100% of new public transport buses by 2025 must be zero emissions, and that the entire fleet must be emission free by 2030.

Hybrid and battery-powered ferries at Stena Line

A bridge to electrification of ferries is hybrid power – where a ferry is powered partially by batteries, but otherwise by conventional engines. It’s a solution that enables taking advantage of benefits of batteries, whilst overcoming some of their current challenges in powering larger systems.

 

Stena Line is one of Europe’s leading ferry companies and is pioneering battery hybrid technology as part of its ambitions to reduce its environmental footprint.

 

Northvolt spoke with Erik Lewenhaupt, Head of Sustainability at Stena Line, about the company’s initiatives to advance cleaner ferries.

 

“Driving Stena’s move towards clean power is sustainability, customer demand and coming regulation. Most of all we have a head owner who is intent on making a difference.”

 

“We believe that the future of sustainable marine transport will require a wide range of fuel solutions, but electricity is one important part, where the range of solutions will stretch between fully electric to hybrid.”

 

Noting that most of Stena’s ferry fleet is composed of larger vessels, Erik said: “Hybrid is the most likely solution with the battery technology we see today. However, we see business opportunities on shorter routes, where we have better use of the batteries.”

 

Stena’s ambitions have led to development of its flagship battery hybrid ferry, Jutlandica, which in October 2018 completed its first month of operation, operating on a route between Frederikshavn in Denmark and Gothenburg in Sweden with a sailing time of around 3 hours and 30 minutes.

 

 

With capacity for 1,500 passengers and 550 cars, Jutlandica is considerably larger than Norled’s Ampere in Norway – the world’s first fully-electric ferry which was highlighted in an earlier post ‘A revolution at sea – the challenges and opportunities of electrifying maritime industries’.

 

Erik described the Jutlandica’s 1 MWh battery power solution, saying: “The battery is based around lithium ion NMC chemistry, which is most suitable for our application. It’s a containerized solution from Callenberg/Corvus which is charged from shore when in port and through peak shaving from the auxiliary engines during sailing.”

 

“The battery can supply up to 3 MW instantaneously and reduces emissions and noise, as well provides a safety back-up. It has been very popular among our crew on-board.”

 

Presently, the battery system replaces one or two auxiliary engines when the Jutlandica is manoeuvring in port and is used for powering ventilation, heating and other systems on the vessel.

 

The environmental savings from this use of battery power to reduce generator usage amounts to approximately 500 tons of fuel saved and 1,500 tons of reduced CO2, corresponding to the annual emissions of around 600 cars.

 

 

But this is only step one in a three-step plan. A second step will see around 20 MWh battery power connected to two of the four primary machines, allowing Jutlandica to run on electrical power for about 10 nautical miles.

 

As for step three, Erik explained: “With step three, Stena will look towards connecting a larger battery system to all four primary machines of a vessel much like the Jutlandica. Rather than retrofit the Jutlandica, it’s likely that this step would involve a newbuild ship because of the larger capacity battery system that is required [around 50 MWh]. We expect the ship will be able to cover the 50 nautical miles between Sweden and Denmark.”

 

Erik adds to this future outlook, saying: “We aim to gradually increase the number of hybrid solutions similar to the one on Jutlandica, as well as their capacity. And to introduce Stena’s first fully electric ship by 2030.”

 

Considering our being in the early years of the electrification of ferries, the use of hybrid solutions is quite understandable. The approach extends the scope of ferry applications that battery systems can support, thereby allowing for significant reduction in ferry emissions. At the same time, it enables ferry operators and developers to test and evaluate battery performance in a stepwise approach.

 

Erik suggests that widespread deployment of fully electric ferries, certainly for larger ferries, requires further innovation.

 

“Development of these solutions is in early stages, and there are some challenges. Each ship and marine battery solution is unique and as such prices have been high. Battery weight and volume can also be a challenge if competing with cargo space. In general, lifecycle and cost of batteries are the two main challenges. Costs must come down to the same level as for the automotive industry.”

 

Looking forward, however, Erik’s outlook is optimistic. “As both the size and cost of batteries decrease, battery operation is becoming a very attractive alternative to traditional fuel for shipping, and in the long term it could be possible to completely eliminate emissions in the future.”

 

It’s worth noting that facilitating the deployment of electric ferries requires not only changes on ferries themselves, but also onshore investments at ports and harbours.

 

“Charging obviously needs to be quick as ferries are on a timetable, sometimes operating with a short turnaround,” said Erik.

 

For this, effective charging infrastructure is necessary – a circumstance that is mirrored in the very same situation seen with deployment of charging infrastructure for electric vehicles.

 

“And of course, electricity needs to be green and competitive compared to regular fuel,” Erik added.

A revolution at sea – the challenges and opportunities of electrifying maritime industries

The shift to electric transportation is quickly characterized by the on-going success of electric vehicles, which in many ways are symbols of the transition to a cleaner, decarbonized future. But transportation by land, is just one part of the transport triad of land, air and sea – all of which must, ultimately, be decarbonized.

 

The electrification of maritime and air sectors is presently many years behind the electric vehicle (EV) transition. In large part this is because aircraft and ships are simply much larger systems, requiring far greater amounts of energy and power than automobiles, trucks or buses.

 

The situation presents challenges to electrification of these sectors by today’s technology. While vehicles can be ably powered by Li-ion batteries at competitive costs, the same is not true for most commercial aircraft or ships. Still, there are signs of progress, many of which are found in taking a closer look at the maritime industry.

 

The need for change

The decarbonization of shipping sector is urgently needed. Albeit supporting some 90% of global trade, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA) shipping accounts for around 2% of global carbon dioxide emissions; an amount greater than international aviation.

 

The IEA note: “Even with all policy measures currently in place and proposed, CO2 emissions from international shipping are projected to be 50% higher in 2040 than they were in 2008.”

 

The environmental cost of shipping is not only of concern for its greenhouse gas emissions; nitrogen oxide and sulphur dioxide emissions are of particular concern. A report published in Nature in 2018 featured calculation that 200 of the world’s largest ships produce as much sulphur as all the cars in the world combined.

 

The cause for these emissions is the bunker fuel powering combustion engines of ships. It’s one of the dirtiest heavy oils available, and two billion barrels of the fuel was used by the shipping industry through 2018 alone.

 

Unfortunately, converting much of world’s maritime fleet – especially larger container ships and cruise ships – away from dependence on heavy fuels to clean energy power systems is no simple matter. The sheer power and energy requirements of larger vessels are orders of magnitude greater than heavy trucks, let alone passenger vehicles, and certainly today’s batteries aren’t a viable option.

 

Change is on the horizon though, including introduction of regulations at both the international and national levels to promote maritime decarbonization.

 

 

Landmark legislation emerged in 2018 from the International Maritime organization (IMO) – the United Nations regulatory agency for the maritime industry – with a strategy that includes a target to reduce international shipping carbon emissions by at least 50% compared with 2008 levels by 2050.

 

More encouragingly yet, actions surrounding reducing emissions and clean power solutions for maritime sector are emerging.

 

Several maritime actors have begun exploring solutions to reduce emissions by way of options that include using cleaner fuels, adjusting operational parameters such as speed, installing engine exhaust scrubbers and switching to liquid natural gas. This is something, but likely not enough.

 

Scientists and industry analysts fear that these are short-term solutions which, while costing an enormous amount, will do relatively little to reduce emissions to the extents required.

 

The argument goes that shipping companies should instead focus time and investment in going fully green.

 

Attempts have been made on this front and momentum is gaining. One example is a ship owned by Hangzhou Modern Ship Design & Research Co. With a payload capacity of 2,200 tons and a 2,400 kWh lithium-ion battery system, it claimed the title of world’s first electric cargo ship.

 

Though the ship hints at the opportunities of electrifying shipping, it also highlights a challenge: on a single charge (requiring two hours), the ship can travel just 80 km – a distance that’s but a fraction of the thousands of kilometers container ships typically travel (for reference, New York to Rotterdam is over 6,000 km by sea).

 

These challenges, concerning battery power and capacity, however, should be seen as subject to innovation. And to be sure, there is a good deal of activity pushing for progress. Just this week in Japan, a newly announced joint company named e5 Lab presented itself with ambitions to develop clean electric maritime transport solutions.

 

The e5 Lab partners, including Asahi Tanker and Mitsubishi Corporation, stated its objective to “build the world’s first zero-emission tanker” by mid 2021. The tanker, pictured below, would be a battery-powered coastal vessel to operate in Tokyo Bay.

 

 

Meanwhile, in Norway, YARA and technology company KONGSBERG announced a partnership to build the world’s first autonomous, electric container vessel. Replacing 40,000 truck journeys a year, the ship is slated to be delivered in 2020.

 

Widespread deployment of battery-powered shipping may be some years away yet and certainly much is required in terms of battery performance to deliver on this for the world’s larger, heavier classes of container vessels and cruise liners. This being the case, there’s another maritime sector that is ripe for batteries, and the shift has already commenced.

 

The emergence of electric ferries

The electrification of ferries – ships designed for transport of passengers and vehicles – is an altogether different proposition than electrifying heavy ships.

 

Ferries are much smaller than container ships or cruise liners, travel relatively short distances, and operate along regular routes and schedules – all characteristics which leave ferries highly amenable to emission-free electric powertrains. The shift would radically improve the environmental footprint of the sector, and enable other benefits including quieter, safer vessels, lower operating costs and reduced need for maintenance.

 

One place where the transition is well underway is Norway.

 

According to a report from Siemens and environmental campaign group Bellona, 7 out of 10 Norwegian ferries would benefit from electrification of some kind. More specifically, of some 180 ferries in Norway, 84 operate with crossing times of less than 35 minutes and at least 20 trips per day – an operating profile that is considered profitable with battery operated ferries.

 

A reflection of the nation’s early embrace of electrification, Norway is home to the world’s first fully electric ferry – Ampere.

 

Put into service in May 2015 by Norled, the 80m-long Ampere runs 34 daily departures of its 5.7 km crossing and has a capacity of up to 120 cars and 360 passengers.

 

Ampere is powered by a 1,000 kWh Li-ion battery system from Corvus and Siemens, which can recharge during the 10-minute loading and unloading time of each trip from charging stations located at ports. Supporting Ampere’s operations, 260 kWh stationary battery systems have been deployed at either side of the crossing to supply power to the vessel while it recharges, as well as compensate for the load incurred through charging to avoid grid issues.

 

Because the region’s electricity is supplied entirely by hydropower, Ampere runs on fossil-free energy at costs 60% lower than with regular diesel. In comparison, a conventional ferry on the same route is estimated to consume some 1 million liters of diesel and emit 2,680 tons of CO2 and 37 tons of nitrogen oxides each year.

 

“This we believe is the beginning of the story where the green shift will give a renaissance for the Norwegian maritime sector. If the industry uses this technological advantage and the showcase right, we believe that this can help Norwegian shipyards succeed in the transition after the oil age,” state Ampere’s operators, Norled.

 

Other indications of the move towards electrification of ferries exist in Norway besides Ampere.

 

Rolls-Royce announced in August 2018, for instance, that it would be offering SAVe Energy – a scalable Li-ion battery system for ships. Three ship owning companies, Norled, Color Line, and the Norwegian Coastal Administration Shipping Company, have been partners in the development of the solution which is to be delivered from Rolls-Royce Power Electric in Bergen.

 

It’s all part of a trend that’s in part motivated by the Norwegian state pushing forward policy to crack down on maritime emissions, including taking action to halt emissions from cruise ships and ferries in Norway’s UNESCO World Heritage fjords – making them zero emission zones by 2026.

 

Clearly Norway is laying the groundwork here, providing compelling demonstrations of what can be accomplished with today’s technology and a progressive agenda for the future. But electrification of ferries across Europe as a whole is also not without a bright outlook, with emerging policy and deployment of technology by private industry.

 

And while the shift to battery powered electric vehicles continues at pace, its consequences in terms of advancing Li-ion battery technology and reducing costs can be counted on to deliver benefits which will push the electrification of ferries and other maritime sectors further still.

Securing a robust European ecosystem for Li-ion battery recycling

With the advent of electric transportation, we are rapidly moving towards a future dependent on Li-ion batteries. A responsible and modern approach to this industrial revolution must involve establishing a sustainable model for Li-ion battery manufacturing. However, that approach cannot end with manufacturing. Instead, it must extend to incorporate battery recycling as a fundamental aspect of a sustainable electric vehicle (EV) industry.

 

Batteries are, after all, systems which simultaneously require considerable amounts of energy to produce and valuable natural resources – points which underscore the importance of adopting an environmentally sound approach to their manufacture and end-of-life handling.

 

Northvolt is pioneering a green battery – a concept that begins with a blueprint for sustainable Li-ion battery manufacture, but extends into a fully built-out, robust ecosystem for recovery and recycling of batteries.

 

Use of the term ‘ecosystem’ is appropriate because of the complex, multi-layered nature that this new industry will assume.

 

There is, for instance, the requirement for interaction and collaboration between varied actors including consumers, automobile industries and battery manufacturers. There are a variety of technologies involved as well – several of which remain under development. Equally, recycling activities will have to be coordinated across widely distributed geographic regions, over timespans involving many years given the anticipated lifespans of batteries.

 

Of course there are already solutions available to support the recycling of Li-ion batteries. And despite misconception surrounding the issue, most Li-ion batteries used today are indeed recovered and recycled. Some 97,000 tonnes of Li-ion batteries were recycled last year alone – mostly in China and South Korea.

 

While this is encouraging, it does not mean that Europe is sufficiently prepared for handling recycling of Li-ion batteries through the forthcoming decades. The emergence of huge volumes of Li-ion batteries onto global markets to power EVs changes the dynamics of battery recycling substantially.

 

Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s Electric Vehicle Outlook 2019 suggests that by 2040, 57% of all passenger vehicle sales, and over 30% of the global passenger vehicle fleet, will be electric. Aside from a sheer increase in recycling capacity which will be required, new challenges stem from the introduction of novel EV battery systems which are quite different in form and chemistry compared to those batteries found in portables.

 

Today, the vast majority of recycled batteries come from portable electronics which are recycled as electronic waste from consumer goods including used laptops and mobile phones. Accessing the batteries within these products is relatively straight-forward from a recycling perspective and their recovery from consumers benefits from existing national-level electronic waste disposal schemes.

 

The situation is quite different with EV battery packs, which are much larger, more complex in design and build, and feature Li-ion cells based around new chemistries. Moreover, Europe simply has not yet implemented comprehensive recovery schemes of the type which will facilitate effective European recycling.

 

So what consequences do these new dynamics carry for recycling?

 

To begin with, we need to establish smart, efficient and safe ways to recover batteries once they reach the end of their life. EV owners cannot simply remove their battery pack and place it into an electronic waste collection point in their local community. The issue of recovery likely requires digital tools to identify and locate batteries when they reach end-of-life, as well as practical solutions for collection and storage of batteries prior to recycling, and finally transport to recycling stations.

 

Once battery packs are recovered, we need technologies to support early steps of recycling which involve discharging batteries and stripping packs down to cell level – something involving removal of external housing which encases the cells. Awareness of these kinds of challenges is important and means we can already begin to think about recyclability of battery packs as we design them.

 

As for the cells themselves, while current recycling technologies do exist – featuring effective hydrometallurgical treatments – these must be refined to ensure that they are optimized for recovery of materials found in modern EV battery cell chemistries, in particular those elements found in so-called active material of cells, including cobalt, nickel, and manganese.

 

 

Considered with this perspective there are clear logistical challenges to recycling of Li-ion batteries in the future. That industry should aim for this whole ecosystem to run efficiently, with the lowest environmental footprint possible, and that there are European regulations governing the transport of Li-ion batteries adds further complexity to the matter.

 

While technology has a large role to play, so does national and international policy. A recent European Commission evaluation of the European Battery Directive, which was established in 2006 as EU legislation to govern the batteries as waste, acknowledges that regulations must be refined to catch up and prepare for the future that is rapidly approaching, stating: “While key circular economy goals are reflected in the directive, such as addressing the supply of materials and recycling, there is still significant untapped potential.”

 

Ultimately, legislation can facilitate recovery, transport and recycling of batteries within Europe, or hinder it.

 

That recycling to recover materials directly supports sustainable practices of battery manufacturers, and that there already exist legal responsibilities of battery manufacturers with respect to duty of care over end-of-life batteries, it is clear that recycling and manufacturing go hand-in-hand.

 

It is encouraging to note therefore that accelerating European recycling capacity is emphasized by the European Battery Alliance (EBA) – an initiative to which Northvolt belongs, established by the European Commission to advance a “comprehensive set of concrete measures to develop an innovative, sustainable and competitive battery ecosystem in Europe.”

 

In relation to recycling, the EBA’s measures highlight the importance of “access [to] secondary raw materials by recycling in a circular economy of batteries.”

 

Top-down support for establishing recycling of Li-ion batteries of this sort will prove vital to the endeavor ahead – just as supportive policy for deployment of renewable energy is proving today. At the same time, however, there is a role to be played by many other stakeholders, private industry actors of energy and automobile sectors and battery manufacturers such as Northvolt.

 

 

Northvolt’s advance of a green battery is tightly tied to developing solutions in response to all of the challenges of recycling. Recycling capacity will yield recovery of materials which will be fed back into the Northvolt’s cell manufacturing loop or otherwise be directed towards other industrial needs. Success will mean a reduced environmental footprint for the EV revolution, a new vibrant industry for Europe and ensure that the pitfalls of the past, where resources have been taken for granted, are avoided.

 

It’s an exciting future. One which can only be secured through a blend of technologies, fresh-thinking and collaboration across industries and effective legislation.

Meet Jasmin Noori, Business Development Manager – Grid

Meet Jasmin Noori. Industrial engineer of KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden and today one of Northvolt’s talented business development managers working on grid energy storage solutions.

 

Northvolt is in the business of developing cutting-edge battery solutions for new and emerging markets and has focused on building up a strong business development team to map out the markets into which Northvolt will play.

 

Batteries can serve countless applications, but Northvolt has designated four areas as markets for Li-ion battery solutions: automotive, industrial, grid and portable.

 

For Jasmin, it is the development of Northvolt’s business offerings for grid markets that occupies her time at Northvolt’s office in Stockholm.

 

“Working on building energy storage solutions for electricity grids basically means working at the very front of modern energy systems,” Jasmin explains.

 

“All over the world we’re seeing this huge shift in the way that energy is produced and consumed thanks to renewable energy systems like solar PV and wind power. And it has come to be acknowledged that a fundamental part of that transition relies on energy storage, and that’s where batteries come into play.”

 

“As electricity consumption is increasing, batteries can help to stabilize electricity grids and reduce peak loads. So for me working on grid storage is an incredibly exciting job – it’s great to be a part of something that is making such a positive difference to our world.”

 

Finding Northvolt

Enrolled in industrial engineering at KTH in 2006, Jasmin was recognizing the emergence and importance of global efforts to decarbonize energy systems and opted to specialize in energy systems.

 

“I had just watched Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth and was about to choose my technical specialization during my first year at KTH. It was clear to me that transforming global energy systems would become one of the biggest challenges that society would face in my lifetime, and probably for the century.”

 

“From an engineering perspective, it’s a puzzle to solve and that’s a lot of fun. But of course, there is also the real world, and solutions have to be competitive and viable in a business sense – that adds to the challenge.”

 

During her studies Jasmin took on an exchange program, spending one year in Italy studying finance and marketing. The experience meant expanding her perspective, not to mention the chance to pick up on some Italian. “Northvolt actually has some collaboration with Italian power providers, so I’ve been tempted to try out my Italian again, but I must admin that generally I keep to English!”

 

Following her studies Jasmin completed a traineeship at ABB.

 

Recalling the experience, she says: “We had a rotation program with assignments in different departments and I had the opportunity to explore many different areas at ABB; ones that required developing both technical and commercial skills. I really liked the mix of both commercial and technical aspects and wanted to continue working with technical sales.”

 

After the traineeship Jasmin worked as an Area Sales Manager, responsible for sales of high-voltage products to south east Asia and travelled frequently to the region before eventually moving to China for a year with the company.

 

It was during that year, on a visit home to Sweden, that Jasmin came into contact with a new start-up.

 

“I couldn’t shake off the idea of working in clean-tech and, maybe, at Northvolt. I began following Northvolt’s news and reading about its plans, which to me seemed incredibly interesting. I saw the potential of batteries to support energy grids and their position within power solutions, but I also saw the significance of Northvolt’s aim to develop a blueprint for sustainable battery production.”

 

It wasn’t long before Jasmin submitted an application to Northvolt, and in January 2019 arrived at Northvolt for orientation.

 

Never an ordinary day

In some sense, the role of battery energy storage for the grid is straight-forward. Renewable energy generation is intermittent – a fact that limits how we can make use of electricity generated from renewables. However, storing generated electricity in batteries brings flexibility in terms of how and when that energy can be used.

 

Of course, the reality of Jasmin and her team’s work is more complex.

 

As Jasmin says: “We need battery solutions built for specific use cases and environments. This means we need to first identify where those use cases are, and then what the precise requirements are.”

 

Expanding on the work of her team, Jasmin describes working in two ways to accomplish their goal.

 

“On the one hand we are identifying grid solutions ourselves and building our own products for markets we see as evolving. For example, we saw a need to replace diesel generators and therefore developed Voltpack. This a clear example of seeing trends in the market and then developing or adapting a product accordingly.”

 

“Of course, we want to be smart in how systems are built,” says Jasmin, highlighting the example of the significance of system modularity.

 

“Designing battery systems in a modular manner brings a lot of benefits. Basically it means we can work with batteries as building blocks which can be linked up to supply energy at varying scales, all based around the same technology. It’s a strategy that reduces costs by facilitating manufacturing, process automation and so on.”

 

For more insight on development of Northvolt’s portfolio of battery solutions, see ‘A Portfolio of Green Battery Solutions‘.

 

“But at the same time, we’re dealing a lot with customers who are coming to Northvolt for solutions that enable them to increase use of clean energy today.”

 

“The energy market has for a long period of time been rather conservative, but is now opening up, and many companies are seeing in Northvolt the opportunity to develop particularly battery solutions built for their unique requirements.”

 

Jasmin explains that this dynamic and highly engaged relationship with customers is an aspect to work at Northvolt she especially enjoys, saying: “We’ve really embraced the idea of responding to customer needs and collaborating to develop our products. This means that products we deliver are more refined and fit-for-purpose. You really feel engaged and a part of this move to a cleaner future, built around new technology.”

 

“The approach extends beyond physical systems to developing digital solutions too,” says Jasmin. “Northvolt is developing battery systems at varying scales, but we’re also very much engaged with the opportunities of digital technologies. Actually, these tools are key to optimizing systems and ensuring we get the most out of battery assets – a point that motivated Northvolt’s work on Connected Batteries.”

“As part of my routine work, apart from meeting customers, I also work closely with Northvolt’s Battery Systems department for delivery of projects. This means working with our project managers, electrical, thermal and mechanical engineers – people actually designing and building solutions Northvolt requires for its customers, according to needs that our team work to identity.”

 

Reflecting over her first seven months at Northvolt, Jasmin notes that there has been a big change in work. “As we’ve gone along, we have moved the focus from securing customer contracts to now delivering on some of the more mature projects. The pace here is really special, and it’s exciting to see what can be done when you get a good team together.”

 

Still, the journey is just beginning for Northvolt. Just as energy industries are coming to understand the role for battery storage, Northvolt, Jasmin and her team, have an exciting path ahead to develop and deliver solutions.

 

“While the benefit of battery storage is becoming clearer,” says Jasmin, “and it certainly helps that we have more and more compelling examples out there now, there is still a need to push to ensure that companies both understand the need for a shift away from fossil-based energy production and the advantages that batteries bring.”

 

Jasmin concludes: “It has been a fun and inspiring journey so far and it’s great being surrounded with talented and devoted people. The opportunities are definitely out there, and our Business Development team is strong and well-positioned to capture them.”

European backing for Northvolt’s battery gigafactory in Sweden

  • In-principle approval of the European Investment Bank to support Northvolts gigafactory for lithium-ion battery cells in Skellefteå, Sweden
  • Pending finalization of due diligence and negotiations, the EIB’s financing commitment is foreseen to be EUR 350 million

 

The European Investment Bank has given its in-principle agreement to support the financing of Europe’s first home-grown gigafactory for lithium-ion battery cells, Northvolt Ett, in Sweden. Upon conclusion of a loan agreement, the financing would be supported by the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI), the main pillar of the Investment Plan for Europe.

 

The gigafactory will be established in Skellefteå in northern Sweden – a region home to a prominent raw material and mining cluster which has a long history of process manufacturing and recycling. Noting the region’s clean power base, building the factory in northern Sweden will enable Northvolt to utilize 100% renewable energy within its production processes.

 

EIB Vice-President Andrew McDowell noted: “The development of a competitive and green battery value chain within Europe can not only cut greenhouse gas emissions by decarbonizing power generation and transport, but can also help protect millions of well paid jobs in European industries in the face of increasing global competition. The EUR 350 million loan to Northvolt approved in-principle today by our Board of Directors is the largest ever direct EIB financing approval for battery technology, and we look forward to working with Northvolt over the coming months to finalize contracts.”

 

Maroš Šefčovič, European Commission Vice-President for the Energy Union, said: “The EIB and the Commission are strategic partners under the EU Battery Alliance. I welcome the significant support proposed by the EIB to Northvolt gigafactory as a stepping-stone towards building a competitive, sustainable and innovative value chain, with battery cells manufactured at scale, here, in Europe. Our two institutions are working closely with the industry and key Member States to put the EU on a firm path towards global leadership in this rapidly expanding sector.”

 

Northvolt Ett will serve as Northvolt’s primary production site, hosting active material preparation, cell assembly, recycling and auxiliaries. The construction of the first quarter of the factory will be completed in 2020. Ramping up to full capacity, Northvolt Ett will produce 32 GWh of battery capacity per year.

 

“This EIB in principle approval is a key moment in the process of finalizing our capital raise to support the establishment of Northvolt Ett. Today, we are one step closer to our goal of building the greenest batteries in the world and enabling the European transition to a decarbonized future,” said Peter Carlsson, co-founder and CEO of Northvolt.

 

The capital raise, in which this EIB loan would be included, will finance the establishment of the first 16 GWh of battery capacity production. The batteries from Northvolt Ett are targeted for use in automotive, grid storage, and industrial and portable applications.

 

“Today’s decision by the EIB is very gratifying and a big step towards a large-scale battery production in the EU and a fossil free welfare society. The decision shows that there are prerequisites in Sweden for sustainable battery production, it is important for Sweden and the rest of the EU to produce battery materials and battery cells, based on green, Swedish electricity,” said Ibrahim Baylan, Swedish Minister for Business, Industry and Innovation.

 

Background Information

The European Investment Bank (EIB) is the long-term lending institution of the European Union, owned by its Member States. It makes long-term finance available for sound investment in order to contribute towards EU policy goals. In 2018 alone, the Bank made available a record EUR 1.37 billion in loans for Swedish projects in various sectors, including research & development, industry, nearly-zero-energy-buildings and telecommunications.

 

The EIB is the European Union’s bank; the only bank owned by and representing the interests of the European Union Member States. It works closely with other EU institutions to implement EU policy and is the world’s largest multilateral borrower and lender. The EIB provides finance and expertise for sustainable investment projects that contribute to EU policy objectives. More than 90% of its activity is in Europe.

 

Northvolt was founded in 2016 with the mission to build the world’s greenest battery cell, with a minimal carbon footprint and the highest ambitions for recycling, to enable the European transition to renewable energy. Northvolt’s team of experts is building the next generation battery cell factory focused on process innovation, scale and vertical integration. Once completed, it will be one of Europe’s largest battery cell factories and produce 32 GWh worth of capacity annually.

 

The Investment Plan for Europe, known as the Juncker Plan, is one of the European Commission’s top priorities. It focuses on boosting investment to generate jobs and growth by making smarter use of new and existing financial resources, removing obstacles to investment, and providing visibility and technical assistance to investment projects.

 

The European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) is the main pillar of the Juncker Plan and provides first loss guarantees, enabling the EIB to invest in more projects that often come with greater risks. EFSI has already yielded tangible results. The projects and agreements approved for financing under EFSI are expected to mobilise almost EUR 393 billion in investments and support 945.000 SMEs in the 28 Member States. More information on the results of the Investment Plan for Europe is available here.

Digitalizing battery design and manufacturing

Establishing a digital ecosystem around cutting-edge manufacturing processes yields a powerful new approach to deliver higher quality battery products, improve efficiencies and innovate for an electrified future.

We have earlier outlined the opportunities provided through the digitalization of battery systems in order to enhance battery performance and extend operational lifetimes. Altogether, these technologies deliver better business cases for battery system owners; enabling them to maximize their use of battery-powered assets whilst at the same time optimize battery usage and management.

 

(See, Part 1: Setting a new standard in digitalization of battery assets)

 

The scope and significance of digitalizing battery ecosystems does not end there, however. Valuable data is available from the earliest stages of the lifecycle of a battery cell, including that relating to materials and manufacturing processes.

 

Capturing this data with traceability technologies which tag data to components and materials (in either serialized or unitary manner) serves valuable purposes in its own rights in terms of improving manufacturing processes. However, by evaluating this in the context of telemetry and other data streams from battery assets deployed in the field we can consider further opportunities still.

 

This is not the convention. Most battery producers collect only batch-level data up until the relatively late step of cell assembly and formation; data which cannot be precisely associated to individual cells. Almost entirely absent from these manufacturers is data collected from deployed batteries in the field.

 

Nevertheless, with both approaches in play, we are advancing a future which will deliver higher performing batteries built for purpose, more efficient manufacturing lines and streamlined innovation in R&D.

 

As Landon Mossburg, Northvolt Chief Automation Officer, noted: “Collecting high definition manufacturing data about an individual cell is kind of like decoding a person’s DNA. We combine this with connected pack data which tells us a lot about the cell’s environment, how it is used, and how well it performs. Combining these two sets of data – cell “DNA” and cell usage – allows us to make much better predictions about how a given cell will perform in the future.”

 

Incorporating a digital approach into design

Leveraging the strengths of multiple technologies applied in concert with one another, Northvolt is working towards the application of high resolution insights into design and manufacturing of battery products. These insights will be informed through collection and analysis of a blend of real-world usage, R&D and manufacturing data.

 

Landon explained: “We collect, store, and analyze not only what goes into each battery we make, but also process and quality test data we measure against every cell. We also do this much earlier in the process of cell manufacturing than other manufacturers, which required us to develop new technology to trace huge amounts of work in progress material through high speed processes.”

 

Here, we can highlight the application of cloud data management, machine learning and artificial intelligence as being key to unlocking novel insights. These digital tools will take responsibility for handling the extremely large volumes of data involved, parsing out meaningful correlations and identifying actionable insights. At the same time, novel printing technologies and machine vision are also required to support traceability.

 

Landon continued: “Once we have this data, and we correlate it with the performance of end-products, both at end-of-line testing and in-field performance, we can use it to develop better cells and packs, but we can also use it to improve those we have in the field and to bring new production online much cheaper and faster than before.”

 

 

Manufacturing process improvement

A wide range of applications present themselves with this digital ecosystem, however several examples serve for illustrative purposes.

 

Through enabling identification of process changes which result in greater process efficiency (or, overall equipment effectiveness), both better quality products and lower costs may be attained.

 

Taking this one step further, because machines can be automated, these intelligent systems may, over time, begin to take a proactive role in tweaking ongoing processes in response to real-time evaluation.

 

It can also be highlighted that establishing a digital ecosystem around manufacturing lines will support quality assurance practices. A salient example of this presents itself in considering the utility of being able to retrospectively identify the makeup and origins of a particular battery system. Since all constituent materials and components will be tagged, any anomalous battery event can be evaluated in relation to its manufacturing. Not only does this mean that root causes may be identified, but also that other products, featuring components or materials from the same batch or manufactured in the same manner, may be flagged for action.

 

 

Optimizing battery performance

A data-driven approach combining comprehensive collection, smart analytics and traceability, will also support the iterative improvement that is essential to the future of Li-ion battery technology.

 

“One example we are excited about is repurposing neural networks used for image classification to instead use cell traceability data to predict cell quality earlier in the manufacturing process. This is especially interesting as a strategy to reduce aging time after formation and to identify earlier on where quality problems are in the manufacturing line,” said Landon.

 

“Another good example is the identification of variations in production processes which lead to greater or worse cell performance in specific use cases; for instance, tracking how cell formation protocols influence performance and reacting accordingly.”

 

Advantages also emerge in considering the critical matter of battery degradation. Landon explained: “If we track how degradation features and other performance outliers arise, and draw correlations between them based on usage and component and/or material origins, we’re in a far better position to optimize our design and manufacturing methods.”

 

 

The introduction of these approaches is expected to dramatically impact the manner in which manufacturers are able to deliver battery solutions to the market. Moreover, by incorporating all of these practices in-house, the industry will gain a significant edge in terms of its capacity to continue to research, develop, manufacture and support operation of Li-ion batteries.

Introducing Voltrack: modular stationary energy storage from Northvolt

Development of Northvolt’s stationary energy storage system, Voltrack Generation 1, enters a new phase as the first unit is shipped from its manufacturing facility.

The event represents a milestone for Northvolt and comes as the energy industry becomes increasingly aware of the transformative potential that stationary storage will have for global energy markets in enabling the time-shifting of renewable power from point of generation to point of use.

 

Leveraging Northvolt’s experience of developing battery modules for industrial vehicle applications and assembled at Northvolt Battery Systems in Gdansk, Poland, Voltrack is a liquid-cooled Li-ion battery system built for demanding industrial energy storage applications.

 

Voltrack contains sixteen battery modules together delivering a peak power output up to 170 kW, continuous power output up to 140 kW and a usable energy capacity of 175 kWh. A standalone solution, Voltrack features self-contained cooling and energy management systems. However, multiple Voltrack systems may be linked to meet the energy storage needs of customers operating at utility, commercial or industrial scales.

 

As validation continues, Northvolt is also working towards the development of several other Voltrack variants, including ones featuring alternate cooling systems.

 

 

Amidst the landscape of new energy there exists a wide range of settings within which Voltrack will be ideally suited to deliver the benefits of energy storage.

 

The electricity grid itself is the prime example. Here, utility-scale battery storage is already proving itself the ideal solution to serve multiple roles. Key use-cases include, short duration storage, energy time-shifting and peaking capacity, frequency regulation and many more ancillary functions which support grid stability and enable greater use of renewables.

 

In commercial and industrial settings, battery storage brings other benefits. For instance, allowing for control over when electricity is drawn from the grid, battery storage opens up a route to avoiding peak charges. Moreover, if coupled with solar PV systems, storage allows for greater use of self-generated electricity together with the means to more fully engage in new and emerging practices disrupting the conventional energy system, such as participation in emerging microgrid electricity markets. On-site battery storage also provides the assurance of reliable backup power.

 

Although deployment of stationary energy storage has been modest to date, industry forecasters are united in expectation of a dramatic uptake in energy storage from 2020 onwards.

 

A recent report from energy analysis firm, Wood Mackenzie Power and Renewables, provides perspective on this shifting landscape (Global Energy Storage Outlook 2019), noting that global energy storage deployments held compound annual growth rate of 74% between 2013-2018. Year-on-year growth from 2017 to 2018 was 140%, resulting in installed capacity reaching 6 GWh by the end of 2018.

 

The analysts forecast the global energy storage market growing to 158 GWh in 2024, with deployment on the grid (known as front-of-meter) to support electricity networks remaining the largest end-use.

 

The dominant force behind ESS deployment is undoubtedly fallings costs of batteries. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) — a benchmark metric for the cost of a technology delivering electricity over its lifespan — for Li-ion battery storage has become increasingly competitive.

 

BNEF’s recent analysis of over 7,000 projects worldwide revealed that Li-ion battery LCOE has fallen 35% to $187 per MWh since the first half of 2018 (BNEF).

 

An implication of the trend is that Li-ion based energy storage, and the business cases it enables, is an increasingly viable commercial option compared with earlier years in which its deployment was constrained on economic grounds.

 

BNEF reports: “Batteries co-located with solar or wind projects are starting to compete, in many markets and without subsidy, with coal- and gas-fired generation for the provision of ‘dispatchable power’ that can be delivered whenever the grid needs it (as opposed to only when the wind is blowing, or the sun is shining).”

Building the world’s largest battery-powered vehicle

As the value proposition and benefits of battery-enabled electrification spread to new industries, novel solutions are emerging.

 

In one of the more recent developments, Swedish railway industry provider, Railcare, has launched a world-first project to deliver a zero-emissions, battery-powered railway maintenance vehicle.

 

“We want to be at the forefront of innovation, and this project, built around partnership with Epiroc, represents that ambition,” said Daniel Öholm, CEO Railcare Group AB.

 

Outlining the origins of the project, Daniel commented that the work began two years ago.

 

“We began to think about what would be the next generation for our machines; how will they work, how will they look, and what can they do differently? We worked on this for some time, but in the end the outcome became clear when we looked towards the switch to a battery-powered drivetrain.”

 

Although replacing diesel-powered engines with electric represents a major change for Railcare, Daniel believes it reflects a clear and decisive response to the current and future circumstances that the company faces.

 

“A large amount of our activities involve work underground in urban environments. Here, if you work with diesel engines, you encounter a lot of issues with exhaust emissions that can be tackled through electrifying our systems.”

 

“With batteries we can also reduce our carbon footprint, and that’s something our customers were asking for. It’s really the start of an exciting new chapter for railway industries.”

 

The solution

The ambitions crystallized into work to develop a prototype zero-emission Multi Purpose Vehicle (MPV) which can support a variety of Railcare’s maintenance tools, including snow melters and machines for handling ballast (ballast feeders and ballast removers).

 

“The self-propelled MPV was the natural place to begin testing out such a novel concept,” said Daniel, adding that with it Railcare can work towards testing how batteries might power the additional tools that the MPV can support.

 

 

To realize the MPV, Railcare have teamed up with Epiroc, a world-leader in mining and infrastructure industries and a Northvolt partner.

 

Epiroc holds unmatched experience in electrification of heavy industry vehicles and is providing its electric driveline technology and battery technology platform, built around Northvolt battery systems, to Railcare for development of the MPV.

 

The collaboration is the first to be run through Epiroc’s new subdivision committed to advancing battery-powered machinery, Rocvolt.

A render of the battery-powered Railcare MPV, with battery systems to be built by Northvolt (click to enlarge).

 

Since Epiroc’s line-up of battery-powered systems was designed with the mining industry in mind it is well-matched to Railcare’s vision.

 

“Mines and railways can be similarly tough environments to work in, and Epiroc have the experience required to deliver a physically robust product that is built for high-power requirements of heavy industry operations,” explained Daniel.

 

Of the partnership, Helena Hedblom, Epiroc’s Senior Executive Vice President Mining & Infrastructure, stated: “We are happy about this cooperation with Railcare as it is a natural step for Epiroc to collaborate around the technology that we have developed for our underground equipment.”

 

“Cooperating with forward-thinking companies around the battery technology is important to drive volume and reduce costs. This will speed up the electrification process.”

 

“We’re going to be the first to get a battery-powered system on the railway.”
Daniel Öholm, CEO Railcare Group AB

 

Epiroc’s battery-electric technology is built around a modular platform, which means it can readily be scaled up to meet particular system power requirements.

 

Ulf Marklund, co-founder and Executive Vice President of Railcare explained: “The MPV will come installed power of over 1000 kWh. We believe that MPV will be the first and largest battery-powered vehicle on the railway.”

 

“The MPV is built on a 20m long railway wagon and has two drive shafts for its own operation on the workplace. The prototype is equipped with three vacuum pumps, which allows one to connect a material container and use MPV as a Railvac (vacuum cleaner). However, the MPV could of course be used as a towing vehicle for ballast carriage, snow plow, etc.”

 

Daniel added: “The project represents a big challenge, but we’re using a well-developed platform with Epiroc and that’s a great source of confidence.”

 

Development in Skellefteå

Development of the Railcare MPV is already underway at the company’s workshop at Skellefteå harbor, northern Sweden, and Daniel reports that the company anticipates the initial phase of prototype development will be completed in late autumn ahead of a period of testing and validation.

 

“Battery-powered drivetrains have been proven on other systems in other industries, but we need to proceed through that for ourselves. We’re in front of innovation as we want to be, and confident with the partners we have in Epiroc and Northvolt.”

 

Though trialling the MPV prototype will take place in Sweden, Daniel is convinced that the solution will be attractive in other markets too: “These are universal problems we’re tackling, and the solutions can be applied anywhere.”

 

Altogether, Railcare envisions the project establishing an industry concept for an entirely battery-powered system capable of ballast removal and ballast placement – something Daniel describes as a core activity of the rail industry.

 

“By introducing a successful concept in this area, we hope to set a new standard in technology and sustainable thinking within the industry. I truly believe this is the future for railway industry machines and I think that when others see these new technologies working, they won’t want to go back. It’s a challenge, but it’s the future I’m quite sure about that.”

Setting a new standard in digitalization of battery assets

The digital frontier

All battery customers are rightfully concerned for loss in battery power and energy through life and usage. Performance degradation is inherently par for the course with batteries, but with new approaches on the horizon the status quo isn’t something we are bound to.

 

By leveraging tools that define the state of the art in modern industry, including machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), a digital infrastructure can be established that enhances battery performance, curtails degradation and extends operational lifespans.

 

Considered in its fuller sense, this digital approach goes further still – setting manufacturers up to work in a wholly new landscape, with a data-driven foundation enabling the fine-tuning and tailoring of future products from cell chemistry to system design.

 

Oscar Fors, Northvolt President, Battery Systems comments: “Batteries are often thought of as passive systems – we plug them in, and they provide power. But we see batteries as a far more dynamic asset. If you can properly understand them and develop the right tools to work with all the insights on offer, we can tap into batteries in a way never seen before.”

 

“It is here where we see substantial opportunity for improving the operational performance and lifetimes of batteries, and it’s driving an approach we’re calling Connected Batteries.”

 

Bringing Industry 4.0 to batteries

With electrification of industries where batteries are a new asset in play, users are not necessarily familiar with intricacies of operating and managing batteries. Since poor battery management is a sure road to battery degradation, the issue represents a challenge which must be overcome if we’re to fully exploit all that battery technology has to offer.

 

Fortunately, the situation is one that may be improved upon through a combination of intelligent data analytics, enhanced traceability and automation. Carefully applied, these technologies may yield far better lifetime management of battery assets than otherwise possible.

 

As is characteristic of Industry 4.0, the key to securing this goal rests in harnessing data. To this end, Northvolt is building telemetry and data collection into every aspect of its business and products.

 

Landon Mossburg, Northvolt Chief Automation Officer, explains: “Recognizing the dynamic nature of batteries and that increasing number of data points leads to far better basis for management and performance.”

 

“We’re moving beyond simply collecting current and temperature measurements. We want to know everything we can about batteries, from design and manufacture right through to operations and the ambient environment during deployment.”

 

Data collection at Northvolt begins with manufacturing, where virtually every process will be tracked. Subsequent to this, battery materials and components will be tagged with metadata so that their origins can be traced with specificity.

 

Once batteries are deployed, core parameters over which Northvolt is gathering battery performance data include temperature, state of health (SOH), state of charge (SOC), cooling system performance, electrical measurements, and usage metrics. This data is also supplemented with contextual information on where the asset is situated and how it’s being used.

 

At Northvolt, battery telemetry will be streamed to a secure facility where data will be evaluated by self-learning algorithms and intelligent systems. Customers will own their battery data, but in sharing it with Northvolt, substantial untapped value will be unlocked for them.

 

These systems will analyze battery telemetry data alongside all other data, for instance environmental and contextual information, and use the results to inform a range of diagnostics and subsequent operations to ensure that batteries deployed around the world are being used, charged, and treated as well as possible.


On the customer end, operators will have access to a Northvolt-built API app providing immediate, real-time insights. Here, simply scanning a QR code with a smartphone will allow for components and whole battery systems to be quickly identified. The data provided through the app will facilitate O&M, asset management, logistics and much more.

 

“Knowledge on how asset use influences the long-term nature of a battery and battery cell consumption lifespan will open up significant new ways for customers to work much more cost-effectively with batteries,” says Landon.

 

Inner workings of Connected Batteries

A core aspect to the Connected Batteries solution is machine learning enabled pattern detection. Once patterns are identified as being causally related to some aspect of battery performance, they can be used to develop optimized solutions and reactive measures. These can be pushed out over the wire to batteries and implemented through software/firmware.

 

Solutions could be implemented on individual batteries which are flagged for action, or across a relevant segment of all globally deployed batteries.

 

“This is not simply about collecting data but taking a proactive approach to implementing new protocols that enhance battery performance,” says Oscar.

 

“You can consider it a rule-based system: ‘If A and B, then execute C’. For instance, once a pattern is learnt, its subsequent detection can trigger a particular protocol to engage. That protocol, executed through the battery management system (BMS), may be a particular cooling pattern, or other adjustment.”

 

With this digital ecosystem of connected batteries, there is an envelope of some 10-20% in typical lifetime battery degradation in power and energy which Northvolt seek to reduce.

 

Applications

There are numerous circumstances where digitalization of batteries in ways outlined above will yield considerable advantages. At Northvolt, applications are considered across three timescales: immediate/operational, tactical and long-term strategic.

 

In the immediate context, systems will identify significant, potentially problematic, deviations from the norm or ideal envelop within which batteries should be operated. Alerting technicians to this, remedial action may be taken in real-time, beginning with contacting the battery owner/operator. The beauty of this is that diagnosis (and solutions) can be prepared in advance of dispatched technicians reaching the battery in question, thereby reducing asset downtime.

 

In the tactical timescale, Northvolt will evaluate patterns that will enable it to determine new, refined practices to optimize battery performance, for example adjusting BMS parameters in response to use profiles.

 

A short, simplified use-case illuminates how the system will function:

 

Imagine a mining vehicle, operating a hot-swap battery protocol (where a depleted battery is exchanged for a fresh, fully-charged one). Northvolt detects a pattern of repeated overcharging events and flags the battery. Subsequent analysis reveals the problem: the exchange of batteries is taking place at the top of the mine and precedes the vehicle’s descent down into the mine during which regenerative breaking is leading to over-charge of battery. The solution is a simple one: hot-swap at the bottom of mine, avoid over-charge and prolong the life of the battery.

 

Many more scenarios can be imagined too. For instance, ones relating to seasonal or weather-dependent charging considerations and the delivery of solutions involving compensating across appropriate parameters. Or solutions building off the idea that although optimal charge may typically be between 10-90%, situation-specific circumstances may prompt that being adjusted to 20-80%.

 

Across the long-term strategic scale, new insights on performance coupled with traceability (bringing fresh perspective on otherwise unknown manufacturing process variables) is envisioned to empower Northvolt with perspective to work at a whole new level of battery cell and system development and manufacture. (A topic dealt with in part 2.)

 

“This is a truly new area for battery R&D,” said Oscar. “With this kind of intelligence, we can tune operating parameters, adjust firmware, design cooling solutions customized to certain circumstances or better charging management software in response to particular charge profiles…the options are endless.”

 

Predictive maintenance & novel business models

Beyond improving battery performance, novel business cases and beneficial commercial practices emerge with the digitalization of batteries.

 

For instance, digital architecture for battery systems will enable Northvolt to predict with pinpoint accuracy when assets need to be serviced or replaced. There is every reason to expect that so-called predictive maintenance of this sort will be met with the same kinds of success as can be seen within other industries that have adopted the Industry 4.0 approach.

 

In turn, a consequence of these solutions taken together is new flexibility in how battery products are purchased. The doors open on the introduction of usage-based dynamic warranties which work in the favor of battery owners, and purchase agreements which recognize that customers will be operating within the best possible bounds of battery usage and care.

 

As Oscar says: “By providing owners with the tools to get the most from batteries we can substantially improve the value proposition of every business case – that’s good for us as a manufacturer concerned with encouraging battery-based electrification, and for our customers.”

 

These advantages exist irrespective of the use-case for battery systems, and most certainly extend to stationary battery storage system performance. With these systems, understanding how the delivery of particularly grid services is precisely impacting the health and longevity of a battery system asset will be key to owners determining the most cost-effective deployment strategy for their investments.

 

Towards an evolution in battery technology

Altogether, Northvolt’s approach represents a significant departure from that taken by traditional battery cell manufacturers which, historically, have not engaged with data analytics in the manner envisioned by Northvolt. Indeed, Northvolt expects that its adoption of this new methodology will bring about a significant competitive edge.

 

That being the case, the implementation of these technologies will deliver strategic gains that extend well beyond optimizing battery usage and the associated benefits of this.

 

Earlier, Oscar noted the long-term applications of digitalization – a context where enhanced battery data insights will drive new innovation in battery manufacturing itself.

 

As Landon Mossburg, concludes: “Manufacturing data coupled with telemetry leads to unrivalled product intelligence with which we can fine-tune operations. But beyond this, we’re talking about the DNA of battery packs, and with that we’re able to begin manufacturing batteries with a whole new set of data-driven priorities.”

 

This is a topic to be picked up in part 2.