Now at the edge of a new decade, industries across Europe are gearing up for the shift away from carbon-based fuels and the transition towards a cleaner future built around electrification. Amidst all the change this brings, the importance of batteries within our future is becoming increasingly clear. And as early adopters embrace the technology, the benefits of batteries for society are becoming obvious.
What’s also apparent is that in order to secure the paradigm shift that electrification represents, it is necessary to establish a complete value chain for batteries in Europe, beginning with a new manufacturing industry.
Relying on existing battery producers – overwhelmingly based in Asia – cannot work. Aside from the manufacturing capacities of the existing industry being too low, dependency on these markets reduces the self-sufficiency of critical European industries which will come to rely on batteries. Not developing this new European industry would also represent a missed opportunity – one involving tens of thousands of new jobs.
Northvolt set out to drive this new industry for Europe with a blueprint for sustainable battery manufacturing. We began with Northvolt Ett – Europe’s first homegrown battery gigafactory, which took the Swedish word for ‘one’ for its name and is currently under construction in Skellefteå, northern Sweden.
Render of Northvolt Ett in Skellefteå, northern Sweden
But this facility alone was never going to be enough. With its initial design capacity of 32 GWh, Northvolt Ett would produce cells for around 600.000 electric vehicles per year.
Supposing that we hope to electrify the majority of the sector, the 32 GWh annual capacity of Ett is put into perspective when we consider that 19 million vehicles were produced in the European Union in 2018, or some 20% of the 98 million vehicles produced around the world. And electric vehicles are far from the only application for batteries which must be accommodated.
It is on rock solid industrial logic therefore, that Northvolt is expanding its manufacturing footprint.
In September 2019, Volkswagen AG and Northvolt signed a 50/50 joint venture to do just that. The partnership will establish the lithium-ion gigafactory, Northvolt Zwei, meaning ‘two’ in German, in Salzgitter, in Germany’s Lower Saxony. Construction is scheduled to start in 2021.
Designed around the Northvolt blueprint for sustainable cell manufacturing developed for Northvolt Ett in northern Sweden, Northvolt Zwei will be a state-of-the-art facility, initially adding 16 GWh of annual cell production capacity to Europe at the start of its operations, scheduled to commence in early 2024.
Northvolt Zwei will share much in common with its sister factory, Northvolt Ett, including a minimal CO2 footprint, heavily automated processes and advanced cell manufacturing techniques.
One important distinction is that Northvolt Zwei will not feature upstream manufacturing of active material – the substance which is critical in determining cell performance.
Northvolt Zwei will instead receive supply of active material from Northvolt Ett, which will be expanded to accommodate additional active material production capacity. Northvolt Zwei will concentrate on downstream cell manufacturing, with processes including electrode production, cell assembly and final steps in cell preparation.
Northvolt Zwei will produce lithium-ion cells exclusively for electric vehicles from the VW Group which will launch over the coming decade. That plan, which would result in some 22 million vehicles being built on the Group’s electric platforms, is part of VW Group’s broader electrification strategy which anticipates an annual demand of more than 150 GWh of batteries from 2025 in Europe.
While initial output will be 16 GWh per year, Northvolt Zwei is considered by both companies as a long-term partnership with intentions to increase capacity over time in order to meet future demand.
Speaking on the vision of Northvolt Zwei, Dr. Stefan Sommer, Member of the Volkswagen AG Board of Management responsible for Procurement and member of the Supervisory Board of Northvolt, commented: “The battery cell is the key component for electric mobility. Therefore, Volkswagen and Northvolt are together pushing ahead efficient cell production in Europe to accelerate their joint battery activities. With the founding of the joint venture and the planned construction of a battery cell factory in Salzgitter, we are making a decisive contribution to establishing the core battery cell technology in Germany as well.”
Fredrik Hedlund, Chief Executive Officer of the joint venture and former Chief Strategy Officer of Northvolt, says: “Northvolt Zwei is one of the most exciting industrial projects to be introduced into Germany today; one that provides a symbol of the new direction that the nation’s automobile industry is taking.”
“Looking ahead, the project will benefit greatly from the planning and design that has gone into Northvolt Ett in Sweden, much of which will be replicated at Northvolt Zwei.”
“This is an excellent foundation, but the achievements of Northvolt to date have largely rested on our people and our attracting a global and diverse team of talent with both passion and expertise to take on the challenge of establishing this new industry. It is this people-aspect of our blueprint that we must now replicate in Germany.”
As planning for Northvolt Zwei ramps up, recruitment for the project is already underway.
Presently we are seeking experienced, high-level team members to steer the early phases of the endeavor, including: a head of process engineering and factory design, managers for electrode manufacturing and cell assembly, and construction managers, as well as leaders of HR and finance control. Altogether over 35 roles are open to application.
For information on open positions visit: www.northvolt.com/career