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BMW Teams Up with Sweden's Northvolt for Sustainable EV Batteries

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【Summary】German automaker BMW is partnering with Swedish battery company Northvolt and Belgian materials recycling group Umicore on a project to create a sustainable life cycle for the EV batteries used in future models, the companies said on Monday.

Eric Walz    Oct 15, 2018 12:51 PM PT
BMW Teams Up with Sweden's Northvolt for Sustainable EV Batteries

As more fully-electric vehicles are being developed, there are some concerns over the proper disposal and recycling of the lithium-ion battery cells, once they reach the end of their lifecycle.

German automaker BMW is being proactive and is partnering with Swedish battery company Northvolt and Belgian materials recycling group Umicore on a project to create a sustainable life cycle for the EV batteries used in future models, the companies said on Monday.

The companies aim to design and commercialize a "closed life cycle loop" battery manufacturing process, that would give electric vehicle batteries a second life as energy storage products before being recycled. The battery cells will be manufactured using a recyclable design, which allows them to be reused for other purposes at the end of their life cycle.

BMW spokesman Niklas Drechsler said to Reuters that the deal opened the door to the possibility of buying batteries from Northvolt in future.

As part of the partnership, BMW will provide its expertise in battery cell development, while Umicore will be responsible for developing active anode and cathode materials and recycling, the companies said.

Sweden-based Northvolt was founded by Peter Carlsson and Paolo Cerruti, who both previously worked for Tesla. Carlsson was the global head of sourcing and supply chain at Tesla from 2011 to 2015 and worked alongside Tesla CEO Elon Musk for over four years. He helped launch the Tesla Model S and managed Tesla's supply chain of over 300 suppliers.

Northvolt is seeking additional funding from the European Investment Bank (EIB) and plans on building the largest lithium-ion battery factory in Europe. The company is looking to raise 4 billion euros ($4.6 billion) in equity and debt to finance its plans of building a factory to produce 32 gigawatt hours (GWh) of battery capacity a year by 2023.

The firm's new plant is seen as key to Europe's effort to compete with Asian rivals such as CATL, Samsung and LG Chem, which have gained a lead in the battery market by locking in supply deals with carmakers. BMW has supply deals with both Samsung and CATL and is investing an undisclosed sum in the partnership.

There is some concern among German automakers about having a local supplier of EV batteries for the new wave of electric models in development. BMW, Audi, and Mercedes Benz have invested in producing EV batteries locally to save on costs. The automakers do not want to rely solely on Asian suppliers for EV batteries, which must be shipped to the region.

"We have this consortium because we see great potential and Northvolt could be another supplier of battery cells for us," he said, adding that Northvolt had to "build up and ramp up" cell production before any supply deal could be reached.

Finding ways to reuse the technology is becoming more urgent as the global stockpile of lithium-ion EV batteries is forecast to exceed the equivalent of about 3.4 million packs by 2025, according to calculations based on Bloomberg NEF data.

China, where about half the world's EVs are sold, is enacting rules to make automakers responsible for expired EV batteries and to keep them out of landfills. The European Union has regulations, and the industry expects the U.S. to follow.

The average lifespan for EV batteries is about 5 to 8 years in the vehicle. However, an electric vehicle's battery packs have sufficient power for many other uses once removed from the vehicle.

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