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BMW Group, Northvolt, Umicore to Develop Closed-Loop System for EV Batteries

Image credit: BMW Group

BMW Group, Swedish energy startup Northvolt and Belgium-based materials giant Umicore have formed a joint technology consortium to develop a circular value chain for battery cells for electrified vehicles (EVs) in Europe. The project aims to continue the sustainable industrialization of battery cells in Europe and the associated acquisition of skills — from cell chemistry and development through to production and ultimately recycling.

“Batteries are instrumental in our transition to clean mobility and clean energy systems,” European Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič, founder of the EU Battery Alliance, said in a statement. “Thanks to genuine involvement of actors from all segments of the battery value chain, Europe is becoming the lead player in this strategic area. I therefore welcome that key actors of our automotive sectors are investing in the future of European battery innovation and manufacturing.”

The consortium’s chief objective is to make battery cells sustainable by establishing a closed life cycle loop, starting with a recyclable cell design and continuing with a manufacturing process powered by renewable energy. The next step is designing cells for a long period of primary use as a drive battery, possibly followed by a secondary phase as a stationary energy storage device. At the end of its life cycle, the cell will be recycled and the raw materials reused, thereby completing the loop.

With the growing numbers of electrified vehicles, developing a broad and sustainable value chain for battery cells, in which their resources and materials are recovered and reused at end of life, is increasing in strategic significance for manufacturers. With Northvolt — founded in 2016 with a mission to build the “world's greenest battery” — as a production partner focused on sustainable production; Umicore as a global leader in the development and production of materials for battery cells and resource recycling; and the BMW Group’s expertise in material and cell design, the consortium is optimistic about its ability to achieve this.

”BMW and Northvolt have a shared commitment to reduce CO2 emissions from transportation,” said Northvolt co-founder and CEO Peter Carlsson. “As batteries are becoming a key strategic question for car manufacturers, this partnership does not only mark a key milestone for Northvolt, it also highlights the importance of sustainable battery cells in the coming wave of electrification.”

Development

To accelerate progress in cell chemistry and design, the BMW Group will inaugurate a new battery cell center of excellence in summer 2019. Besides battery cell development, the center will house other activities, including the production of battery cell prototypes to build-to-print expertise; this is important for the BMW Group as a way of endowing potential suppliers for cell production with the necessary skills to meet its own requirements. The Group is already investing heavily in the entire value chain; so, ensuring that raw materials come from environmentally and socially responsible sources, obliging cell suppliers to reduce their carbon footprint, using recycled materials, and creating battery concepts that can be serviced and easily recycled are already high priorities for the BMW Group.

Materials development and recycling

Umicore is the partner responsible for active anode and cathode materials development and recycling. This collaboration will also enable smart battery pack disassembly, screening for reutilization of the battery cells and feeding the recycled resources back into active material production. As electric mobility continues to expand, growing needs will not be limited to sustainable extraction of raw materials — recovering used materials will become increasingly important in easing the burden on raw material production.

”It is rewarding to see that Umicore’s product technologies and recycling services are key enablers for this technology alliance with BMW and Northvolt,” said Marc Grynberg, CEO of Umicore. “By jointly demonstrating a closed loop for high performance, green and EU-based batteries, we are underlining the future potential and importance of a European supply chain for the success of car electrification in the region.”

The collaboration

The consortium is laying the basis for a sustainable value chain for automotive battery cells in Europe, from development and production right through to recycling: In Europe, BMW Group is already manufacturing modules with supplied battery cells before using these modules to build complete batteries for plug-in hybrids and battery-powered electric vehicles, and demonstrating how batteries can be used as energy storage devices in both domestic and industrial applications once the cells reach the end of their vehicle life cycle. Northvolt provides the final element needed for purely European production of complete batteries for future electric mobility applications, resulting in a substantial reduction in carbon emissions. Meanwhile, Umicore recently announced it will soon start building a cathode material manufacturing facility in Europe and already runs a recycling plant for lithium-ion batteries in Europe. Umicore is advancing the technology for recycling battery cells and returning the recycled resources to the material production cycle, thereby making a vital contribution to the future of sustainable mobility.

 


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