Drives & Controls Magazine May 2023

CHARGING AHEAD WITH LARGE-SCALE BATTERY MANUFACTURING Before last month, I had never heard of a Norwegian company called Freyr Battery. But I feel we are going to be hearing a lot more about this start-up over the next few years. Freyr was founded in 2018 and is already worth more than $1bn. As its name suggests, Freyr is in the batteries business and has ambitious plans to build a series of battery gigafactories around the world over the next few years. The first two of these factories will be in the Norwegian Arctic Circle and in the US. Battery gigafactories are essential to the world’s planned transition to netzero. Batteries are, of course, vital to the electrification of vehicles. It is generally accepted that if the UK is to continue to have a volume car-making industry in the future, it will need several gigafactories. Last year, the Faraday Institution, the UK’s independent institute for electrochemical energy storage research, market analysis and early-stage battery commercialisation, issued a report saying that the UK will need ten gigfactories, each capable of producing 20GWh of storage capacity a year, by 2040. But it warned that the UK is not moving fast enough compared to its European competitors. If UK battery manufacturing plants could reach a combined capacity of 57GWh by 2030, this would represent just 5% of the total European GWh capacity. Germany, by comparison, is expected to account for 34% of the EU’s battery-making capacity by then. And Germany is not alone. Almost every European country now has its own gigafactory programme underway. These batteries are needed not only for use in vehicles, but also in vast stationary energy stores that will compensate for the volatile output of most forms of renewable energy generation. The Faraday Institution reckons that the UK will need around 100GWh of battery-making capacity by 2030 to satisfy the demand for batteries for vehicles and grid storage. This is equivalent to five gigafactories, each producing 20GWh a year. But the recent BritishVolt debacle doesn’t instil much confidence that this target will be met. Which brings me back to Freyr. At last month’s Hannover Messe, Tom Einar Jensen, the company’s co-founder and CEO, gave a presentation packed with mind-boggling figures about how the gigafactory sector is likely to mushroom over the coming years. For example, the world will need seven times its existing battery-making capacity by 2030. That is equivalent to building 15 gigafactories every year, each of which can eliminate 80 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, and create around 2,500 jobs. Freyr itself intends to install 50GWh of annual capacity by 2025 and 100GWh by 2028 – doubling this to 200GWh just two years later. In part, its confidence in achieving these targets is based on its batterymaking technology. According to Jensen, Freyer has halved the 17 to 18 steps normally needed to produce batteries. This will cut its capital costs by around 50%, allowing it to slash the price of its batteries. Jensen also believes that it will be possible to triple the performance of current batteries, to reduce manufacturing cycle times by 90%, and to recyle most of the materials in future batteries. Another factor is that Freyr is embracing digitalisation. It has formed a partnership with Siemens to use its new Xcelerator digital platform (see page 5) to design and operate its gigfactories. Siemens, together with Nvidia and AWS, will create “immersive metaverse experiences” of Freyr’s gigafactories that combine real and digital worlds. These technologies are being adopted along the entire battery design and manufacturing chain, from planning to simulating processes and automating production. At Hannover, visitors could view cloud-based digital twins of a Freyr gigafactory in operation. According to Jensen, AI and digitally enhanced designs for electrochemical cells and manufacturing processes are the next frontiers in battery production. Freyr has also created a strategic coalition with Caterpillar, Glencore and Nidec to promote the scale-up of sustainable battery production. And it has a separate joint venture agreement with Nidec to develop, manufacture and sell battery modules and packs for industrial and utility energy stores. With all of this going on, few would bet against Freyr hitting its ambitious targets. It looks like becoming a brand name that most people will recognise within a few years, even if they don’t at present. Tony Sacks, Editor n COMMENT