After a flurry of investment and project announcements, the nascent Norwegian battery industry is rolling up its sleeves to turn the hype into a success story.
Only a few years ago, Europe did not have the industrial facilities or the expertise to build batteries. Although Asia is still dominant in global battery production, the EU is making progress towards its ambitious goal of achieving full battery independence by 2025.
This provides both opportunities and challenges for Norway, who positioned itself early on as an integral player in the European battery value chain.
“The challenge is to build a viable ecosystem of skills and knowledge for industrial battery production more or less from scratch. As of today, Europe, and by extension Norway, does not have enough homegrown technical and industrial expertise in battery production,” says Nora Rosenberg Grobæk, Investment Manager at Invest in Norway – the official investment promotion agency of Norway.
“It’s no secret that we can’t catch up with Asia’s battery expertise overnight,” she admits.
“But what we can do is to build on our comparative advantages to create the conditions for a battery ecosystem to take root: that is, access to affordable and clean energy, a highly skilled and adaptable process industry, and a significant head start in battery reuse and recycling value chains.”
This strategy seems to be paying off: in 2020 alone, plans for three large scale battery cell production facilities in Norway were announced.
As head of the battery technology initiative at Invest in Norway, Grobæk is tasked with helping Norwegian industry to establish a strong position in the emerging European battery value chain.
“We help to coordinate the growth of the emerging Norwegian battery ecosystem, providing expertise and advice to authorities and private sector players from both Norway and abroad,” she explains.
Working at the nexus between industry clusters, research institutions, potential battery cell producers and Norwegian authorities and regulators, she is confident that Norway is building a solid foundation for the emerging battery industry.
Grobæk likes to make one thing clear: a battery industry is more than battery production. Battery value chains, she explains, are neither sustainable nor viable under EU regulations unless they are imbued with the principles of the circular economy.
In other words, the battery industry must provide pathways and opportunities for battery reuse and recycling.
Here, Norway has one significant advantage: its record-breaking number of electric vehicles (EVs).
“No other country comes close to Norway’s proportion of EVs per capita. This in turn gives Norwegian companies access to a staggering amount of used EV batteries, spurring innovation and helping us to take the first steps towards building circular battery value chains,” Grobæk says.
“We see Norwegian businesses using used car batteries to store energy from solar cell production, in order to help even out the imbalance between solar energy production and demand throughout the day,” she says.
“But the holy grail of a circular battery industry lies in end-of-life recycling: How do you reclaim and reuse the materials that go into battery cells and anodes?”
She points out that scalable end-of-life battery solutions must incorporate two processes:
“On the one hand, there’s the mechanical process of extracting metals from used batteries. On the other hand, we need to find ways to integrate the end material of this process into existing value chains. Neither of these challenges are easy to solve.”
Hydrovolt – a joint venture between Swedish battery giant Northvolt and Norwegian process industry powerhouse Norsk Hydro – is building Norway’s first electric car battery recycling plant, set to come online in late 2021.
The plant 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. The aluminium will be recycled and reused by Hydro, while the “black mass” containing lithium, manganese and cobalt will either be reused in Northvolt’s battery production or sold to other parties.
“I’m very excited about this. It’s a match made in heaven – Hydro is one of the world’s leading companies in metal processing, so if anyone can find a scalable way of re-integrating recycled battery materials into the value chain, it’s them,” says Grobæk.
Although proud of Norway’s position as the EV world champion, Grobæk stresses that electrification is not just about cars, buses and delivery vehicles. She is, for example, eagerly following the development and sale of electric leisure boats.
“Norwegians are a boat-loving people, myself included. Therefore, it’s very encouraging to see that the Norwegian leisure boat sector is embracing electrification too. Although the market is naturally not as big nor as mature as the EV segment, it’s still contributing to achieving society-wide electrification, which in turn provides more support to our battery industry.”
“As with electric car owners, Norwegian boaters have proved willing and able to become early adopters of electrification. This again strengthens our circular battery industry.”
Grobæk and Invest in Norway anticipate busy days ahead as the Norwegian battery industry finds its shape.
“I’m encouraged by the emergence of an industry culture where the attitude towards collaboration isn’t ‘What’s in it for us?’ but rather ‘How can we contribute?’.”
“And what does Norway have to offer? A world-leading process industry powered by clean energy and a dedication to sustainable and circular production,” Grobæk concludes.