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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.

Revolt: the technologies paving the way for Li-ion battery recycling

A sustainable approach from day 1

With the sustainability of industries high on the global agenda, the circumstances surrounding how products and solutions are manufactured and managed at end-of-life must be prioritized. It’s not enough that a solution simply serves a sustainable function through usage alone.

 

It’s through this lens that Northvolt approaches Li-ion batteries and is motivated to establish a robust European ecosystem for battery recycling.

 

Now at the beginning of the transition to battery powered electric vehicles, we are facing a change that carries consequences on societal, industrial and environmental levels.

 

That this industrial revolution is centered around Li-ion batteries, solutions whose manufacture both requires the extraction and use of Earth’s resources and significant amounts of energy, underscores the importance of its adopting a sustainable approach as early as possible.

 

The need is heightened further still by the fact that the forecasted demand for Li-ion cells is so great – as many as 250 million electric cars may be on the roads by 2030, according to IEA’s EV30@30 Scenario, up from around 5 million today.

 

As a battery manufacturer, Northvolt’s response to the situation is two-fold.

 

First, a commitment to utilizing clean energy and sustainable practices throughout manufacturing activities. And second, at the other end of battery lifetimes, delivery of effective solutions for battery recycling which maximize the return of valuable materials to their elemental form for reintroduction into supply chains.

 

We have to establish a new standard not only for manufacturing batteries, but how we recycle them too. Recycled Li-ion batteries will be an agent of change in the energy world and a critical piece of the puzzle in fulfilment of global sustainable development ambitions.

– Emma Nehrenheim, Chief Environmental Officer, Northvolt

 

Recycling can be challenging and this especially so in the case of recycling EV batteries – complex systems containing numerous valuable elements and materials. If done without care, recycling methods also have the potential to be more harmful for the environment than raw material extraction.

 

Fortunately, battery recycling isn’t without a solid foundation and there are established technologies to work with.

 

People might be surprised to learn that the vast majority of today’s Li-ion batteries are in fact recycled, and that this recycling is undertaken using effective technologies, producing large yields of high-quality material.

 

That said, the shift to EVs brings new challenges for battery recycling which must be handled at practical, technological and policy levels – issues presented in ‘Securing a robust European ecosystem for Li-ion battery recycling’.

 

Northvolt is establishing solutions for this future by refining recycling technologies and supporting effective market conditions for battery recycling in Europe.

 

 

What to recover

The manufacture of Li-ion batteries requires sourcing of raw materials, some of which are relatively rare. Li-ion batteries featuring NMC chemistry for instance, which Northvolt will produce, require as primary materials for active material the metal oxides nickel (Ni), cobalt (Co), lithium (Li) and manganese (Mn). Besides these, batteries also require other metals and plastics for various components including wiring, electronics and casings.

 

Of most interest are metals including copper, aluminum and steel, and active materials found in the electrodes which are of the highest value.

 

Most materials found in batteries can be recovered and recycled. And the intention of Northvolt’s recycling program is to maximize recovery of high-quality materials and to do so using methods which minimize the environmental footprint of recycling. Doing so will close the loop on battery manufacturing and lead to three key beneficial outcomes:

  • Reduction in consumption of raw (virgin) materials
  • Reduction in the environmental footprint of cells (and in effect EVs)
  • Support a new European economy

 

The recycling process

After collection and energy recovery through deep discharging, battery packs will be dismantled down to at least the module level. For this, we envision developing highly automated machinery, utilizing machine vision and smart software to identify battery pack models, thereby facilitating their disassembly and recycling.  

 

There are advantages to automation of recycling processes, including increasing efficiency and reducing costs. Automation will also be safer, reducing operator exposure to risks associated with the dismantling.   

 

Dismantling allows for steel casings, aluminum current collectors in the modules, copper bus bars and wiring, as well as plastics and other electronics, to be recovered for external recycling. 

 

Cells and modules will then be crushed in an inert environment, and electrolyte solvent evaporated 

 

The now crushed remaining material constituents are then sorted depending on mechanical properties such as density, size and magneticity. For this, air separators, sieves, and magnetic separators are usedand copper and aluminum are isolated for recycling. The remaining material, known as black mass, is then subjected to a hydrometallurgical process. 

 

 

 

 

Hydrometallurgy – commonly known as hydromet – involves dissolving metals in a solution containing sulfuric acid under optimized conditions. Impurities such as copper, iron, and aluminum are then removed using techniques including precipitation, solvent extraction and ionic exchange. 

 

Now free from impurities, the nickel, manganese and cobalt are recovered in one solution using solvent extraction. Although high-quality, this NMC solution isn’t necessarily immediately fit for being reintroduced into battery manufacturing and so concentration levels and ratios of the solution are adjusted accordingly.  

 

Finally, battery-grade lithium can be recovered from the remaining solution. 

 

Precise extraction rates vary metal to metal, but in general are very high. Melin (2019) highlights 20 published studies reporting an efficiency for lithium often at 100%, while nickel, cobalt and manganese generally have an efficiency between 80 and 99%. A recycling efficiency for other metals such as copper, aluminum and lithium, is typically between 90 and 100%. 

 

 

The hydromet process has several benefits compared to other recovery processes. One is that it enables recovery of high yields of high purity active materialsuitable for re-introduction into fresh battery production. Another is that this process does not require high temperatures, as opposed to pyrometallurgy. 

 

Altogether, a comprehensive recycling program, combined with implementation of effective recovery programs for EV batteries, are fundamental to a successful and sustainable battery-powered industrial revolution. The benefits of this approach go beyond sustainability though, and include delivery of a vibrant new industry reflective of the need for a conscientious approach to powering society.

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 glimpse into Northvolt’s R&D facility

One hundred kilometers west of Stockholm, in the forested suburbs of Västerås, you find Northvolt R&D – the cutting edge of Northvolt.

 

Developed for exploring battery technologies and manufacturing techniques, and cell design concept validation, the cell output of the R&D facility is modest compared to the Li-ion gigafactory that Northvolt is developing in Skellefteå – but the facility is nevertheless a key component in the Northvolt’s strategy.

 

Outfitted with all the capacities necessary for Northvolt to develop, produce and validate Li-ion cells, the facility features a clean room for cell manufacturing and several laboratories for material and cell research and validation.

 

The fully operational Northvolt R&D should not be confused with Northvolt Labs – a much larger manufacturing facility located just a few hundred meters away from R&D.

 

The clean room of Northvolt R&D contains active material production, electrode production, pouch and prismatic cell assembly lines as well as equipment for cell inspection.

 

 

A good amount of effort at Northvolt R&D is focused on work with small pouch cells – sample cells which are ideal for investigating results of methodical adjustment to fabrication techniques. Because of their size, using these cells enables us to test performance of active materials (found in anodes and cathodes) and other cell components in an efficient manner, whilst minimizing waste. Outcomes of research with small pouch cells then translates into development of full-scale prismatic cells.

 

Prismatic cells are considerably larger than the pouch cells and can be built to varying dimensions. Ultimately it is these, alongside cylindrical cells, which Northvolt will deliver to market via their integration into a variety of battery systems. Northvolt’s very first prismatic cell was produced at Northvolt R&D in March, but many hundreds more will be delivered before the end of the year.

 

Opposite the clean room are laboratories in which Northvolt engineers are involved in every aspect of Li-ion cell research and validation. Substances including raw materials, active materials produced in the clean room and much more, can be inspected at incredibly high resolutions (below the nanometer levels with some machines) to check for purity, consistency, material properties and quality.

 

The value of the research and other capabilities enabled by Northvolt R&D is clear as we consider its role in laying down the foundations for what will become Northvolt’s core cell technologies.

 

Manufacture of full-scale prismatic cell samples, for instance, is an especially critical step for Northvolt in order to validate cell design concepts. This work includes design and validation of cells for customers which include several automobile manufacturers requiring cells tailored to specific electric vehicle performance requirements.

 

Solutions for the shift to a decarbonized energy system can, at times, appear quite clear. Wind power, solar PV, and electric vehicles for instance. However, it is very much the case that tremendous amounts of work and ingenuity, across many industries, must be directed towards refining and delivering these solutions. Northvolt is playing its part in this exciting revolution and right now Northvolt R&D stands at the very forefront of this effort.

 

Every day, researchers at Northvolt R&D are pushing forward the boundaries of Li-ion battery technology with solutions which will power the vehicles, machinery and energy systems of tomorrow.

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.”

 

Meet Emma Nehrenheim, Chief Environmental Officer at Northvolt

Meet Emma Nehrenheim. Professor in Environmental Engineering of Mälardalen University, academic researcher, industry innovator, and now the person charged with delivering the world its greenest battery.

 

“I’m an idealist and an environmentalist,” says Emma. “The thing is that when you want to really accomplish something, and you’re in a small corner of the world, it’s hard to make an impact on the larger scale. So when a project like Northvolt comes along, one that’s really going to have a big difference, you jump at that.”

 

For Emma, that jump came April 2017. Working with ABB at the time, a Sunday morning phone call brought Emma into the office to meet with a new customer — an ambitious start-up that had recently emerged onto the Swedish industrial scene with big plans.

 

“From that first meeting, I knew I wanted to be involved with Northvolt. The importance of what Northvolt was planning was immediately clear to me.”

 

Though Emma’s background had little to do with batteries, it had everything to do with building solutions for a cleaner, more sustainable world.

 

Her expertise was centered around industrial waste and wastewater treatment, and projects Emma was involved with included developing solutions utilizing algae for treatment of nutrients in wastewater, the use of organic materials for handling pollutants and biogas production.

 

Of work as Product Line Manager in ABB Power Generation working with water treatment, Emma said: “It was work where there’s great opportunity for delivering critical services in a much more environmentally friendly way.”

 

Emma joined Northvolt in its earliest days as Chief Environmental Officer, motivated by the combination of challenge, opportunity and meaning.

 

“Everything should be electrified for the simple reason that the most sustainable way to transport energy is through the electricity grid. It depends on local conditions how you produce, wind or solar or biogas for instance, but distribution should be harmonized.”

 

“Electrification like this provides the quickest route to decarbonizing across multiple sectors of transport, heating, power and so on.”

 

In line with current mainstream thinking within the green energy industry, Emma recognized that batteries play a pivotal role in this future but extended this with consideration for the environmental aspect of batteries.

 

“It’s clear to me that batteries are the enabler to so much of that vision for electrification, but there are better and worse ways to build a battery from an environmental perspective. At its heart, Northvolt is about developing the very best possible way to build a battery – a way that does not compromise with other sustainability aspects. That’s what my team and I are working towards.”

 

October 2, 2015, His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden visits MDH and the lab of Emma Nehrenheim. Photo reprinted with permission from photographer, Jonas Bilberg, and MDH.

 

Joining Northvolt

At its core, Emma’s role carries responsibility for Northvolt’s environmental and sustainability agenda – it’s no small duty.

 

“What we’re doing with building a green battery has simply never been done before,” she remarks. “That’s challenging of course, but it’s also incredibly motivating. Because we’re working towards something entirely new, there’s scope for fresh solutions and approaches to be applied. Actually, it’s more than scope; I believe it’s a fundamental necessity that we build our away to a green battery.”

 

With the Northvolt mission to produce a template for how to establish a sustainable model for battery manufacturing, the work of Emma and her team necessarily extends well beyond environmental compliance.

 

“That’s something Peter Carlsson (Northvolt’s CEO) explained to me early on, that I was to take an engineering and technical perspective in this path. An early goal was to assemble a team of experts who could deliver what we required.”

 

The solutions

From the outset it was understood that the broad solution to reducing the environmental footprint of Northvolt batteries rested in vertical integration – that is, the incorporation of much of the battery manufacturing supply chain into the operations of Northvolt itself, rather than outsourcing processes to external suppliers.

 

“What we are trying to accomplish when it comes to a vertical integrated factory is to take everything that comes out of a machine and recirculate it. So that may be heat, which we can use to heat up another machine. If it’s water, let’s recycle it. If it’s a chemical, recycle it. In this way, with vertical integration we have control over the processes that contribute to the environmental footprint of our batteries.”

 

The idea is to build flows as small as possible, Emma explained, describing how early work involved analyzing every step of the manufacturing process on the hunt for every stream that could be optimized in this way.

 

“Nothing is too small to work with, and everything has value when it comes to ensuring the most efficient manufacturing footprint possible.”

 

The circular approach extends to the larger scale too. “The largest flow we’re working with is the battery itself. Here we’re developing a well-defined end-of-life strategy for batteries.”

 

Motivating all of this is hard truth: with the huge growth pitched for lithium-ion battery market (90% of which will go to electric vehicles by 2025), some 11 million tonnes of batteries will be discarded by 2030.

 

“Looking ahead to where we’re going, it’s clear that we have to establish a new standard not only for how we manufacture batteries, but how we recycle them too. Recycled lithium-ion batteries will be an agent of change in the energy world and a critical piece of the puzzle in our fulfilment of the global sustainable development ambitions.”

 

On collaboration

A vital aspect driving Northvolt’s approach to innovation, Emma explained, is to recognize the value of partnership: “Northvolt’s vision is incredibly ambitious, and it’s one that requires collaboration. We cannot know everything, but by drawing on the expertise of groups outside the company we can bring unique insights to the table.”

 

“The key is to set up the right partnerships with the right people, so that together we can work with the values we have in play. That’s really going to make a difference for us.”

 

“We’ve brought a lot of world-class people in-house, from around the planet, but even still, partners like ABB are key to our work.”

 

As it happens, Emma’s previous employer, ABB, remains in her world, but now as a key partner to Northvolt, involved with developing automation technologies that are critical to the Northvolt vision.

 

In Västerås, where Northvolt’s demonstration line and R&D facility, Northvolt Labs, is being established, ABB is building a strong automation cluster and embracing a highly collaborative approach to development.

 

Commenting on the partnership between the two companies, Emma says: “ABB is very ambitious in its own rights, and there is little doubt in my mind that they see the Northvolt venture as a challenge they were very excited to engage with. We’re in this together, and they represent a major asset to Northvolt.”

 

Collaboration extends further to include work with academic groups too. “We also look forward to discussing what we can do together in automation and robotics with academia, where MDH has cutting-edge expertise,” says Emma.

 

In another context, Northvolt has been working with the Industrial Materials Recycling group at Chalmers University of Technology to develop sustainable and industrialized technologies for large-scale batteries recycling processes.

 

Other partnerships geared towards developing next-generation recycling processes include ones with KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm and Aalto University in Finland. “We have to stay prepared in respect to optimizing processes and keeping up the momentum on our industrialization optimization.”

 

 

The bigger picture

For Emma, there is a certain context to the philosophy driving her. “What we’ve learnt from the history of environmental work in general is that usually we are hitting things far too late. We see the problem too late. So carbon footprint and climate change is important to us now, clearly, but we need to consider what will be critical in ten, twenty, thirty years. Here, I think water usage, pollution in terms of chemistry…these are some of things we need to take great care over today.”

 

“If we are to stay modern after production is up and running, we need to keep track of our compromises.”

 

Asked if she sees adoption of similar sustainable approaches in the battery manufacturing industry at large, Emma offers a definitive answer: “No I don’t see that at all. In fact, it is quite the other way around. We see plants being established, even here in Europe, where they will be leaching into the environment in a way that we would never do.”

 

It’s a worrying circumstance considering the number of battery factories under development. All the more reason, according to Emma, that Northvolt succeed. “If we can prove this model for manufacture is viable, there should be no question left for anyone taking decisions over how to deploy new manufacturing capacity.”

 

At this point in such a conversation, there is natural tendency to veer towards the financial implications of a sustainable solution. “I have two points I like to highlight on that matter,” says Emma.

 

“Firstly, what we have found is that with these kinds of investments, they create byproducts that have great value. So the down payment period is actually far shorter than you would think. It’s not bad economy at all, provided you find the right investments.”

 

“Second, sustainable assurances of the sort Northvolt will be providing, are almost certainly going to be a hygiene factor for car manufacturers and other OEMs. So there will be a premium and demand for this.”

 

Encouragingly, as Emma explained, recognition of these points is already apparent across the industry, and in customer segments. “Customers are already communicating this to us. And this has changed. If I go back two years, I have a feeling they were more interested in typical battery metrics; in function, safety, price and so on. Now I hear that if a battery provider is even roughly on par with cost and quality, but have a better sustainable footprint, they win every time.”

 

Further reading: Closing the loop: Recycling lithium-ion batteries on an industrial level, the final step towards sustainable electrification.