Environment

Volkswagen-backed Northvolt to develop wood-based batteries for EVs

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This image from 2007 shows logs and wood chips outside a Stora Enso paper mill in Finland. The firm says it’s “one of the largest private forest owners in the world.”
Suzanne Plunkett | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Northvolt will partner with Stora Enso to develop batteries that incorporate components produced using wood sourced 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, alongside the cathode and electrolyte.

In a statement Friday, electric vehicle 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 dry-land plants.” According to the companies, trees are made up of 20% to 30% lignin, which functions as a binder.

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

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

The companies said the Lignode would come from “sustainably managed forests.” Stora Enso says it’s “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 “the sustainable battery needs for applications from mobility to stationary energy storage.”

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

The U.K. wants to stop the sale of new diesel and gasoline cars and vans by 2030. It will require, from 2035, all new cars and vans to have zero-tailpipe emissions. The European Union — which the U.K. left on Jan. 31, 2020 — is pursuing similar targets.

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

Earlier this year, the CEO of Volvo Cars told CNBC he thought battery supply was “going to be one of the things that comes into scarce supply in the years to come.”

Sweden-headquartered Northvolt recently said its first gigafactory, Northvolt Ett, had started commercial deliveries to European customers. The firm says it has contracts amounting to over $55 billion from businesses such as Volvo Cars, BMW, and Volkswagen.

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

Northvolt recently announced a $1.1 billion funding boost, with a range of investors — including Volkswagen and Goldman Sachs Asset Management — taking part in the capital raise.

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

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