Archives for Electrification

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.”

A portfolio of green battery solutions

One technology, endless applications

 

Across global industries and society are hints of a dramatic shift in the way that we generate and consume energy.

 

Fossil fuel-based energy systems are destined for obsolescence. Electrification is set to transform our world away from pollution and the environmental burden of carbon fuels. Sustainability is increasingly a fundamental of annual corporate policies.

 

The future is brighter for these shifts. But with the emergence of clean renewable energy has arrived a need to innovate new solutions for electricity storage and use.

 

“Just like the internet transformed how we work, socialize and interact, moving beyond the internal combustion engine (ICE) to a world of electric sustainable power generation and consumption is a profound change for citizens and companies alike,” says Northvolt’s Chief Business Development Officer, Martin Anderlind.

 

“But old habits die slowly. Despite global warming and its threat to mankind, the only way to consistently and quickly make people change habits is offering a better alternative at a lower cost. Sustainable wind and solar energy and electric cars are doing just that. Today, the only missing piece of the puzzle is a cheap and efficient way to store and retrieve this energy.”

 

“This is where batteries come in, and with the enormous amounts needed for these two huge industries alone, as volumes go up, costs will go down and all other use-cases will – like ships at high tide – be carried along as well.”

 

For this, we need to think differently. To assure success, application of cutting-edge cell design and battery systems development must be met with a responsiveness to both industrial customers’ needs and the priorities that define our age.

 

“Energy systems aren’t transformed very often,” says Martin. “And with most of this massive transformation ahead of us, we need to think about not only how we can get from here to there in the fastest and cheapest way, but also how to do it in a smart, efficient, sustainable and socially ethical way.”

 

Northvolt arrived onto the industrial scene with all this in mind, and a fresh business model for battery manufacturing and commitment to sustainability.

 

Key to that model was adoption of a dual role as both cell manufacturer and battery systems developer. With this comes a unique position to leverage control over the complete development process of battery products.

 

Working in this way has led to an initial product portfolio from Northvolt – a selection of lithium-ion battery systems built to capitalize on the strengths of the technology tuned to customers’ unique needs.

 

“Twenty years from now we will look back and wonder why it didn’t happen much sooner.”

 

Battery buildings blocks

The landscape of products powered by batteries is vast and diverse, reaching far beyond electric vehicles – a situation prompting Northvolt to developing two kinds of battery solutions: standardized and custom.

 

Based on either cylindric or prismatic cells, Northvolt’s standardized battery products are built to varying scales as solutions that like building blocks can be assembled and integrated into third-party products or simply stand-alone as plug-and-play solutions.

 

Custom battery products, on the other hand, are built by Northvolt to specification of third-parties for integration into their own applications, such as construction equipment, ships and trains. Here too, customers will have the option to choose between cylindrical or prismatic cell formats as the most fundamental building blocks.

From cars to trucks to trains and tools

Supplying the European automobile industry with high-performance, green batteries has been a key motivator for Northvolt since its earliest days.

 

Asked what it is that’s going to make a real difference here, Martin, says: “Electrification of the auto industry really comes down to battery cell chemistry.”

 

“It is the heart of the electric vehicle in the same way as the combustion engine has defined vehicles for the past hundred years. Given the importance of cells, we are working closely with partners in the industry to tailor battery cells to suit exactly the kind of vehicle and customer experience desired.”

 

“This means optimizing solutions for specific vehicles, applications or market segments. For instance, heavy trucks or commercial vehicles may prioritize power or cycle life‚ whereas a regular passenger vehicle may value cost per kWh or fast charging .”

 

“To achieve this we invite our customers early and deeply into the design process. Doing this enables us to truly understand different market segment needs and provide optimized solutions,” says Martin, highlighting Northvolt’s partnership with Scania.

 

 

Battery cell development for the automotive industry will be undertaken at Northvolt Labs in Västerås, which serves as a platform for product research and industrialization of the custom cells Northvolt has already contracted to supply.

 

With its 350 MWh/year manufacturing line, Northvolt Labs will be capable of mimicking the full-scale manufacturing processes (albeit with less automation) planned for the Northvolt Ett gigafactory in Skellefteå.

 

A close bond between Northvolt and the vehicle industry is clear in the on-going work with world-leading mining giant, Epiroc, where we are delivering heavy-duty battery systems to power a pioneering fleet of underground mining vehicles. Reflecting versatility of these battery packs, the same systems used here (Badass Voltpacks) are slated to go into the world’s largest battery-powered vehicle on rails – a train being develop by Railcare.

 

Li-ion batteries will transform other sectors too.

 

“Power tools, home appliances, gardening equipment – shifting most of these over to batteries, going cordless, leads to great improvements and flexibility in many more areas than today.”

 

“Work will be safer – people and machinery can get entangled in cords and can injure themselves and others. More flexible and productive – freeing ourselves from a dependence on outlets nearby means that we can also look forward to increased flexibility, productivity and in many places lower cost. As long as you’re charged, you can work almost anywhere.”

 

“Today we generally accept that gas-powered machines are noisy and polluting. This has a big impact as this work can’t be performed in populated areas in early mornings or late evenings, or without great disturbance and associated health risks. But this changes with batteries. With silent, battery-driven machines, operators can increase uptime and flexibility and our streets will become quieter, cleaner, safer and much more pleasant.”

 

 

Supporting renewable energy

Considering the massive accumulated volume of cells required by all these different markets, there is every reason to embrace standardized products where it makes sense. Standardized products, while not suited to all circumstances, are perfectly fit for many.

 

Standardization means more common components. And more common manufacturing processes. Altogether, it means more efficient production and lowered costs of energy storage.

 

One market sector where Northvolt will be delivering standardized battery solutions is the electricity grid, where they will be used to support renewable energy generation and use.

 

“Grid energy storage perform a number of different services, in order to keep our grids operating and in balance,” explains Martin.

 

“To accommodate this, Northvolt offers a family of grid products that can serve multiple services and revenues streams, while supporting the ongoing transition more renewable solar and wind energy generation, handling increased power peaks or simply back-up crucial industrial loads.”

 

Just as different vehicles carry different requirements, so do stationary energy storage systems.

 

“Our lineup of standard products range from modular building blocks such as the High Voltblock to packs, racks and complete solutions such as the Life Voltrack – built to fit specific grid requirements and which can be scaled to meet various project needs.”

 

Smart, collaborative design

Across these sectors, Northvolt’s control of each step of the manufacturing process of battery cells and products means expert teams working in-house on everything from initial concept and design, through prototyping, validation, certification and into serial production.

 

As Martin says: “With deep vertical integration from raw material preparation and active material, to cell development and system design, Northvolt has unique competences and advantage in designing, developing and manufacturing solutions to fit specific application needs. That we are also working in close collaboration with customers to design and refine products for their different and unique end-uses simply adds further depth to an already holistic strategy.”

 

Breaking new ground: the Northvolt-Epiroc partnership continues

The Northvolt-Epiroc partnership continues to chart a pioneering course as it works towards electrification of the mining industry.

As one of its earliest partners, Epiroc represents a key industrial ally to Northvolt in pursuit of its mission to enable a cleaner energy future.

 

With the partnership providing a platform from which to develop battery-powered underground vehicles, the companies have been making swift progress over the last six months.

 

Northvolt caught up with Epiroc’s Head of Marketing – Rocvolt Business Development, Erik Svedlund, to hear about the state of affairs and his outlook on the work in play.

 

“We are witnessing enormous momentum for electrification of vehicles, and it’s growing every day. Our industry has been one of the first to wake up, but others are catching up and moving towards electrification.”

 

Underground mining – home territory for Epiroc – has been moving especially quickly towards zero-emissions explained Erik, in large part because of the problematic aspects to diesel engines operating underground.

 

As Erik notes, mines move more tonnes of air than rock: “Ventilation is actually one of the single largest energy consumers of a mine. With costs associated with ventilation so high, eliminating diesel exhausts means we can reduce the need for ventilation and lower a mine’s operating costs by a considerable amount. That’s the fundamental business case we’re working with.”

 

Ventilation to handle exhaust emissions and pollution is a major driver, but reducing heat and noise are also great benefits of battery-powered vehicles. “A cleaner, quieter working environment is a safer working environment,” as Erik says.

 

Read an earlier interview with Erik at Northvolt Spotlight on Electrification Pioneers: Epiroc.

 

A solid partnership securing meaningful outcomes

Through the partnership, Northvolt has developed a standard offering based on the requirements from Epiroc. Multiple battery systems have already been delivered, and as the work continues important milestones approach.

 

Oscar Fors, President for Northvolt Battery Systems, who leads the team that is designing and building the battery systems, comments: “Our joint efforts to build a modular system fit for purpose to Epiroc’s mining machines has resulted in significant learnings for us as a battery systems company.”

 

Continuing, Oscar says: “By meeting the highest functional and safety standards required by the demanding environment in an underground mine, we have developed a standard solution that can meet most industrial customer’s needs as well.”

 

Remarking on the collaboration, Erik notes: “When we decided to go with Northvolt, we were well aware of it being a new company, with ambitions to establish a new technology. But we’ve seen that Northvolt has the right competences, and the right people to deliver. Our belief in Northvolt has increased over the years, and so far it’s delivered on promises.”

 

Refining a modular approach

Recognizing the challenges that go with establishing novel, disruptive technology, Epiroc and Northvolt have embraced an open-minded, exploratory position towards the partnership.

 

“Both companies are learning together,” says Erik. “When we started talking there was no battery system, and we didn’t know about the kinds of battery cells to be produced or many other key details. But we worked towards a modular solution for our systems which brings flexibility for how it can be implemented into various platforms.”

 

The solution settled upon by Northvolt and Epiroc is built around a generic, heavy-duty subpack which may be connected in varying configurations within a battery system to meet the particular requirements of various platforms.

 

“A generic subpack, built with modularity and scalability in mind is the best approach. Modularity drives volume, and volume is required to reduce costs,” says Erik.

 

Of the battery systems delivered to date, several have been integrated into fully operational battery-powered machines now deployed for test and verification.

 

Epiroc’s Scooptram ST14 Battery – a fully battery electric loader with 14-tonne capacity

 

Representing a glimpse into what future mining will look like, this prototype fleet includes battery-powered drill rigs, loaders and trucks – vehicles featuring from two to five subpacks.

 

The fleet includes the MT42 underground truck which boasts a 42-tonne load capacity – making it the largest battery-operated minetruck on the market.

 

As part of the SIMS Innovation project funded by the EIT RawMaterials, the world’s largest innovation community in the minerals, metals and raw materials sector, later this spring the machines will be taken into commercial operation in the Kittilä gold mine in Finland – something that Erik describes as a first major test for the new battery-powered machines.

 

Commenting on Northvolt-delivered battery systems to date, Erik said: “Epiroc machines are high-performance machines. With the new battery system we are right on par with best systems and battery packs in the world today, and as battery cell technology improves so will the performance of our machines.”

 

 

Laying new tracks

Taking a step back from Northvolt’s delivering battery systems to Epiroc, the Northvolt-Epiroc partnership is having consequences that reach beyond mines.

 

Since the rationale and business case for bringing batteries into mines to combat emissions applies equally well to other sectors, suppliers of industry vehicles for urban and tunnel work are beginning to fix their own sights on the value of electrification.

 

Indeed, electrification of subway service equipment has become an early activity of Epiroc’s new division, Rocvolt.

 

“We’ve grown more confident in the future of battery technology for industrial sectors, and we’re pushing further with our ambitions,” explains Erik.

 

“With Rocvolt we are focusing on the extending the battery business activities of Epiroc and will be working with other OEMs to bring batteries to new sectors. Again, it’s about increasing battery system volumes and creating standards – a key goal of both Northvolt and Epiroc.”

 

The first such initiative is already underway with Swedish rail specialist, Railcare, with which Epiroc is collaborating to equip its railway maintenance equipment with zero-emission battery technology based off of Northvolt battery systems.

 

“With Railcare, we signed our first cooperation with another OEM where we will share technology developed for underground machines. The reason for this is to drive volumes and strengthen electrification. I think we will see more of these kinds of partnership in the future.”

 

“The system we’re building with Railcare will be a world-first. I’ve never seen a non-marine related battery system of this size or power.”

 

Read about Railcare’s pursuit of the world’s largest battery powered vehicle.

 

 

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.”