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Automakers Are Doubling Down On Battery Production

Several automakers are planning for giant electric vehicle (EV) battery factories as they expect sales to soar as governments curb the sale of petrol and diesel cars. Meanwhile, other companies are already thinking about how to recycle and reuse their batteries as their first life cycle comes to an end.

Northvolt has announced backing from VW and Goldman Sachs to build a huge new battery plant in northern Germany to supply Europe with lithium-ion batteries. It hopes to produce its first batteries by 2025, with the aim of achieving 60-gigawatt hours per year – enough for one million electric vehicles. This would be the third of Northvolt’s gigafactories.

Northvolt highlights the favorable location of the factory in the Schleswig-Holstein state as it can connect to the grid which has excess power produced from wind energy. Northvolt’s CEO, Peter Carlsson, stated “It matters how we produce a battery cell.” Further, “If you use coal in your production, you embed a fair amount of CO2 into your battery, but if we use clean energy, we can build a very sustainable product,” Carlsson said. “Our philosophy is that new energy-intensive industries, such as battery manufacturing, should be established in actual geographical proximity to where the clean energy is produced.”

Tesla is also working on a gigafactory in Germany. Berlin-Brandenburg is Tesla’s first European factory, and it is a megaproject with the capability of manufacturing hundreds of thousands of Model Y vehicles and millions of battery cells. It is expected to open later this year.

Other automakers are not far behind, as Mercedes announced a partnership with Japan-based firm Envision AESC, which will supply it with EV batteries from a U.S. plant by around 2025. Mercedes hopes to be able to produce EVs at its assembly plant in Alabama. The carmaker has plans to invest over $46 billion between 2022 and 2030 in the development of EVs, eventually making the switch to all-electric.

American giant Ford also has plans for a major EV battery plant, to be located in Turkey. One of the world’s largest battery factories is expected to be completed by 2025. The joint venture includes Turkey’s biggest conglomerate Koc Holding AS and South Korea’s SK Innovation Co. Ford previously announced ambitious plans to build 2 million EVs by 2026. Ford Europe’s chairman, Stuart Rowley, stated that the project is “the first in a number of significant electrification and commercial vehicle announcements we will make this year.”

And as some companies plan the next generation of EV batteries, others are looking at how to manage the first generation of ‘retired’ batteries. California firm Redwood Materials says it is establishing the ‘most comprehensive’ EV battery recycling program in the state. With backing from Ford and Volvo, Redwood will be recycling lithium-ion (li-ion) and nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries in the facility. It can process around 6 GWh of li-ion batteries, around 60 000 EV batteries, a year.

JB Straubel, CEO of Redwood, says “we’ve been ramping up our processes in preparation for the first wave of these vehicles to come off our roads and we’re ready to support the battery market in identifying and creating pathways to collect the battery packs.” Further, “California has always been a leader in the transition to electric transportation and, as a result, is the oldest and has one of the largest electric vehicle markets on Earth. When the first major wave of EVs begins to retire from roads, it will happen in California.”, he explains.

Meanwhile, automaker Jaguar Land Rover has plans for circular development with the idea of giving batteries a second lease of life. Jaguar is partnering with energy firm Pramac to develop a portable, zero-emissions energy storage unit - an Off-Grid Battery Energy Storage System (ESS) - with the idea of using second-hand batteries to power it. Pramac will use li-ion cells from Jaguar I-PACE batteries to supply zero-emissions power to the grid when there is limited availability.

As well as developing new battery projects, Mercedes is committed to managing its waste to become a net-zero auto leader. It is currently constructing an EV battery recycling factory in Germany, which it expects to be operational by 2023. Mercedes plans to take lithium-ion batteries from Mercedes-Benz EQ plug-in hybrid and electric models to increase the recycling rate to over 96 percent, as part of plans for a circular economy. The plant will produce no carbon emissions and will recycle valuable raw materials, such as cobalt, nickel, lithium, and graphite.

The new era of EV batteries is truly upon us. Both auto giants and small manufacturers are looking to introduce EV models as restrictions are expected to be imposed on the sale of petrol and diesel cars moving into the next decade. Alongside this shift, several companies have big plans for EV battery manufacturing, while others speed ahead with plans to recycle and reuse last-generation batteries.

By Felicity Bradstock for