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With an abundance of clean energy, a world-class process industry and unrivalled access to used EV batteries, Norway is carving the path to green battery production in Europe.
Batteries are the key to cutting emissions from transportation and industry. Both the European Green Deal and the EU Circular Economy Action Plan mention the need to build a sustainable battery value chain in Europe.
“Asia currently leads the way in battery development and production. If we want the European car industry to remain both competitive and sustainable, we need battery independence,” says Lars Petter Maltby.
He heads the Innovation Centre at the EYDE Cluster – the Norwegian Centre of Expertise for Sustainable Process Industry. With industry heavyweights like Elkem, Eramet Norway, Glencore Nikkelverk, Norsk Hydro and REC on board, the EYDE cluster is spearheading the expansion of a sustainable battery value chain in Norway.
This effort has now received a major boost: the establishment of Norway’s first full-fledged battery factory, Morrow Batteries, was just announced.
“This will strengthen the battery ecosystem in Norway considerably,” says Maltby.
Maltby believes that there are good reasons why Norway can play a significant role in a European battery value chain.
Because virtually all energy here comes from renewable sources, processed materials made in Norway have some of the smallest environmental footprints in the world.
“Battery production is very energy-intensive, and thus ideally suited to places with easy access to affordable, renewable energy.”
He also points out that Norwegian industry produces substantial amounts of aluminium and silicon, in addition to refining nickel, cobalt, graphite and copper – all important materials in battery production.
“We are already producing many of the materials that go into lithium-ion batteries. Norwegian companies specialise in delivering high-end materials that need to meet specific quality criteria. This has led to a high concentration of knowledge and skill in material processing within Norwegian industry,” Maltby says.
Nora Rosenberg Grobæk, who is responsible for developing the Norwegian value proposition for batteries at Invest in Norway, believes that the Norwegian battery industry is on the cusp of near astronomical growth.
“The European Investment Bank (EIB) expects investments to reach EUR 1 billion this year. We are seeing a lot of activity and interest here, also from foreign investors and clients. The sustainable profile of Norway and our mature market for EVs and electrification in general, are important selling points in this context.”
Asked to identify the biggest opportunities in terms of growth and investment, she points to four areas:
“With a world-leading process industry, there is great potential in the production of precursor materials in Norway – that is preparing the metals that need to be processed before they go into the batteries themselves. Here we have a high level of competence and expertise, and Norwegian industry workers are known to be both innovative and efficient in delivering high quality products.”
”In addition, there are opportunities for establishing development and production of battery cells here. Up-and coming-companies like Freyr and Beyonder, as well as the newly established Morrow Batteries, show that this is possible. Then there is the technology side of things: Norway is a cradle for developments in autonomous vessels and renewable marine transport. And finally, I think there is great industrial potential in recycling and reusing batteries in Norway.”
Grobæk’s last point is particularly important. In terms of sustainability, a battery’s lifespan is just as vital as the production methods. The European Green Deal states that battery production must be circular, meaning that the batteries of today literally must be used to make the batteries of tomorrow.
Recycling batteries, however, is a challenging task. Maltby of the EYDE Cluster explains:
“Extracting and reusing materials from EV-batteries is a technically intricate process. That is not to say that it is impossible – we see extensive recycling of lithium-ion batteries already. But we still need to refine methods to make it more cost-effective.”
He can also point to promising developments in this regard.
“We have LIBRES, aimed at developing and improving solutions for battery recycling. It is a collaboration between industry, headed by the Norwegian aluminium producer Norsk Hydro, and Norwegian and German research institutions. There’s also the BATMAN project, where we look closely at the material usage and lifetime and Norwegian opportunities that arise as the battery recycling value chain matures.”
Although Norway is not an EU Member State, it is fully integrated in the EU economy through the EEA Agreement. This means that there are no barriers to moving materials, capital, technology and employees between Norway and the EU, so Norwegian industry is able to contribute directly to a European battery value chain.
This is an opportunity Maltby is eager to seize. And with the world’s highest proportion of EV vehicles, Norway could expand its role as a laboratory for circular battery production.
“The fact that we have easy access to a large volume of used car batteries, makes Norway a great place to develop technology and business models for battery recycling.”
He is confident that Norwegian industry is up to the task.
“There are a few regulatory issues to be ironed out, especially with regard to storage, transportation and processing of old batteries. And we need to increase collaboration and cooperation within the Norwegian process industry, which is what we are trying to do at the EYDE Cluster.”
”There is some urgency here – we have a unique window of opportunity, but it won’t last forever”, Maltby concludes.