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 an emission-free 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.
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, represents significant business opportunities. However, these can only be fully exploited through collaborative effort along the entire battery value chain.
Norway is uniquely positioned to become the epicentre of a circular battery economy. It already possesses one of the most electrified transport sectors in the world, providing a steady influx of used EV batteries. Moreover, Norway is already home to primary producers of many raw materials used in batteries and to world-leading industrial clusters committed to finding solutions for battery reuse and recycling. And finally, Norway’s economy already operates in tune with the underlying principles of circular economy.
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 currently 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 project aims 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 put Norwegian companies in the driving seat in battery development through the development of 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.
The BATMAN project is a collaboration between the industry leaders Agder Energi, Elkem, Fiven, Glencore, Glencore Nikkelverk and Norsk Hydro, with the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, University of Agder, Institute for Energy Technology and Institute for Transport Economics as research partners.
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
In addition to specific initiatives such as the BATMAN project, there are several underlying reasons why Norway is uniquely positioned to take the lead in sustainable batteries.
The Norwegian transport sector is one of the most electrified in the world. In 2018, 20 per cent of all new car sales were EVs, and in September 2019 that number rose to over 50 per cent. After 2025, new private cars, city buses and light vans are to be zero-emission vehicles.
Other means of transport – such as ferries, ships and even airplanes – are following suit. Norway is home to Ampere from Fjellstrand – the world’s first all-electric car and passenger ferry – and what will be the world’s first zero-emission autonomous container ship, Yara Birkeland. Meanwhile, Avinor, the company responsible for running all of Norway’s airports, has set one of the world’s most ambitious targets for sustainable aviation: as of 2040, all domestic flights will use electric aircraft.
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.
Moreover, Norway is making great strides towards a circular economy. The circular economy is the opposite of the linear economy. It is centred on using fewer materials, increasing the lifetime of every single product, making new products from used materials and extracting resources from waste, thereby creating an infinite cycle of use and reuse.
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.
Norwegian companies can also use their expertise to develop more specialised and recycled products for the battery market. Skaland Graphite and Elkem Carbon, for example, are developing specialised products and processes for battery materials such as natural and synthetic graphite.
There are currently two companies focusing on battery cell production in Norway. Freyr is planning to build a 32 GWH Li-ion battery production plant in Mo i Rana in North Norway, with production start in 2023. Beyonder is focusing on a Li-ion capacitor production. Li-ion capacitors are a hybrid between Li-ion batteries and super capacitors and are designed for use in renewable energy networks, transport and offshore energy infrastructure.
Several international heavyweights, including ZEM Energy, Corvus Energy and Siemens, have established large-scale battery pack production in Norway. On a much, much smaller scale, Green Waves is developing fully electric products for small boats.
Taken together, all of these factors – electrification, circular economy and battery production – make Norway uniquely positioned to become the epicentre of the global, sustainable battery industry.