Volkswagen-backed Northvolt to develop wood-based batteries for electric cars

Volkswagen-backed Northvolt to develop wood-based batteries for electric cars

This photo from 2007 shows logs and chips outside a Stora Enso paper mill in Finland. The company says it is “one of the largest private forest owners in the world.”

Suzanne Plunkett | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Northvolt will collaborate with Stora Enso to develop batteries that contain components produced with wood from forests in the Nordic region.

A joint development agreement between the firms will see them work together on the production of a battery containing an anode made from something called lignin-based hard carbon. An anode is a crucial part of a battery, along with the cathode and the electrolyte.

In a statement on Friday, electric car battery maker Northvolt and Stora Enso – which specializes in packaging and paper products, among other things – described lignin as a “plant-derived polymer found in the cell walls of plants on dry lands.” According to the companies, trees consist of 20% to 30% lignin, which acts as a binding agent.

“The goal is to develop the world’s first industrialized battery with [an] anode sourced exclusively from European raw materials,” the companies said.

Breaking the plans, Stora Enso will supply Lignode, which is its lignin-based anode material. Northvolt will focus on cell design, development of production processes and technological upscaling.

The companies said Lignode would come from “sustainably managed forests.” Stora Enso says it is “one of the largest private forest owners in the world.”

Johanna Hagelberg, Stora Enso’s executive vice president for biomaterials, said its lignin-based hard carbon would “secure the strategic European supply of anode raw material” and serve “sustainable battery needs for applications from mobility to stationary energy storage.”

Read more about electric vehicles from CNBC Pro

The attempt to develop battery materials from a variety of sources comes at a time when major European economies are making plans to move away from road-based vehicles that use diesel and petrol.

The UK wants to stop the sale of new diesel and petrol cars and vans by 2030. It will require, from 2035, that all new cars and vans have zero tailpipe emissions. The European Union – which the UK left on 31 January 2020 – is pursuing similar goals.

As the number of electric vehicles on our roads increases, the battery supply will become an increasingly important – and competitive – cog in the automotive sector.

Earlier this year, the CEO of Volvo Cars told CNBC that he believed battery supply “is going to be one of the things that is going to be scarce in the coming years.”

Sweden-headquartered Northvolt recently said its first gigafactory, Northvolt One, had started commercial deliveries to European customers. The firm says it has contracts worth more than $55 billion from companies such as Volvo Cars, BMW and Volkswagen.

Giga factories are facilities that produce batteries for electric vehicles on a large scale. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been widely credited with coining the term.

Northvolt recently announced a $1.1 billion funding raise, with a number of investors – including Volkswagen and Goldman Sachs Asset Management – ​​participating in the capital raising.

According to the International Energy Agency, electric vehicle sales reached 6.6 million in 2021. In the first quarter of 2022, electric vehicle sales reached 2 million, an increase of 75% compared to the first three months of 2021.

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