The electrification of the global transport sector is driving demand for lithium-ion batteries. And Norway is leading the way in sustainable, circular battery production.
In terms of capacity, battery technology has taken quantum leaps during the past few decades. This has made electric vehicles (EVs) an increasingly viable option for both individuals and companies, slowly paving the way for a zero-emission global transport sector.
However, there is a great need for innovation to mitigate the environmental cost – energy use, mineral extraction and chemical waste – of battery production, which will be increasing at a pace with the demand for EVs.
The sustainability of electric transport therefore depends in part on the ability to reuse and recycle batteries and the compounds they contain.
Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates that by 2030 more than 200 000 metric tons of lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries will have to be recycled in the EU alone. And this number is expected to double by 2035. Meanwhile, the value of recycled Li-ion batteries is projected to reach USD 700 per metric ton.
At the same time, the European Commission will introduce a new regulatory framework for the battery industry, placing further value on recycling and traceability in all steps of the battery value chain.
This means that circular battery production, where whole batteries or their constituent minerals and compounds are kept in a perpetual cycle of use and reuse, will open up significant business opportunities. However, these can only be fully exploited through collaborative effort along the entire battery value chain.
The most significant work on battery reuse and recycling is currently being done by the EYDE Cluster – the Norwegian Centre of Expertise (NCE) for Sustainable Process Industry.
The cluster consists of regional suppliers and multinational companies that deliver to the global market, as well as research organisations and educational institutions. These are primarily located in Southern Norway, a region with a strong tradition of producing tailor-made materials with a small environmental footprint using renewable energy.
The EYDE Cluster is running a cross-sectoral collaborative project called BATMAN (Lithium ion BATteries – Norwegian opportunities within sustainable end-of-life MANagement, reuse and new material streams). The aim is to find new opportunities for recycling and reusing LI-ion batteries by enabling companies to identify value creation opportunities, take strategic decisions and better understand when to make investments in product development and facilities.
The project will develop dynamic and strategic tools based on material flow analysis. This will enable the raw materials in the value chain and the resulting products or materials to be utilised again and again in a fully circular value chain.
Meanwhile, another battery recycling milestone was reached in 2020 when Norsk Hydro joined forces with Swedish battery giant NorthVolt on a joint venture for battery recycling and urban mining. The new company, called Hydro Volt, is building a pilot recycling facility in Fredrikstad, Norway, which will begin operations in 2021. The facility will have the capacity to process more than 8 000 metric tons of batteries per year, crushing and sorting them to retrieve aluminium and other metals.
After 2025, new private cars, city buses and light vans are to be zero-emission vehicles
By 2030, new heavy vans, 75% of new long-distance buses, and 50% of new trucks are to be zero-emission vehicles
By 2030, goods distribution in major urban centres is to be nearly emission free
By 2025, all major ports are to have shoreside power supply for ships
By 2030, 40% all domestic shortsea shipping vessels are to run on biofuels or be low or zero-emission vessels
Southern Norway, where the Eyde Cluster is located, has a vision of becoming become the first fully electrified region in Norway by 2030
One of the reasons why Norway is uniquely positioned to take the lead in sustainable batteries is the fact that the Norwegian transport sector is one of the most electrified in the world. In 2020, 54 per cent of all new car sales were EVs. In 2020, Norway was ranked third in KPMG’s global Autonomous Vehicle Readiness Index (AVRI), behind Singapore and the Netherlands.
As a result, Norway has access to a sizeable – and growing – pool of used batteries. This provides unique opportunities for development and testing of new business models and technological solutions for reusing and recycling batteries, which in turn can be exported to larger markets.
Some companies are already making the most of this opportunity. Oslo-based ECO HOME, for example, has developed a solution for repurposing EV batteries to provide energy storage for commercial and residential buildings.
Norway is already a producer of several of the raw materials used in battery production. It currently supplies 21 per cent of the EU’s primary aluminium, 13 per cent of its nickel and 8 per cent of its cobalt raw material imports.
Given that the Norwegian process industry is powered almost exclusively by renewable hydropower, production of battery cells, precursors and battery raw materials in Norway can help to reduce the total carbon footprint of battery production in Europe.
Battery cell production is ramping up in Norway, and 2020 was a defining year. Freyr is planning to build a 32 GWH Li-ion battery cell factory at Mo Industrial Park, with production start in 2023. In March 2020, Morrow Batteries, backed by Noah and Agder Energi, announced plans to build a giga-cell factory.
Beyonder focuses on production of Li-ion capacitors, a hybrid between Li-ion batteries and super capacitors designed for use in renewable energy networks, transport and offshore energy infrastructure. Thanks to fresh capital in 2020, Beyonder it is now speeding up development of silicon-based lithium-ion batteries, which charge faster and degrade slower than conventional batteries.
At the end of 2020, Norsk Hydro and Equinor announced that they had signed a memorandum of understanding with Panasonic to explore possibilities for establishing a sustainable, cost-competitive European battery business in Norway.
Moreover, Norwegian companies are working on environment-friendly battery materials. Elkem is developing synthetic graphite and silicon-graphite composite materials. A pilot battery graphite factory in Kristiansand will come online in early 2021. In 2020, Elkem announced plans to build a large-scale battery graphite factory at Herøya Industrial Park.
Taken together, all of these factors – battery circularity, electrification and battery production – make Norway uniquely positioned to become the epicentre of the global, sustainable battery industry.