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    These Battery Factories Are Much More Advanced Than Tesla In Grunheide

    Jul 23,2022 | Chloe Lacour

    Tesla wants to produce batteries in Grünheide in addition to electric cars. But when the battery plant will start is unclear. Competing battery makers, meanwhile, could overtake Tesla. They are about to start production, as shown by exclusive satellite images. "Economy from above" is cooperation with LiveEO.

    Electric cars are selling better than even the most optimistic forecasts had promised. Accordingly, the demand for e-car batteries is exploding. Most of the battery cells that German carmakers install in their cars in Germany come from China, South Korea, and Japan. But in the long run, importing the cells is too expensive and CO2-intensive. That's why car manufacturers and battery companies are pounding cell factories out of the ground across Europe.

    A factory that is said to be almost finished is in Grunheide: Tesla wants to produce batteries in Brandenburg in addition to e-cars and thus supply its entire European production.

    But the Tesla battery plant is still at a standstill. When it can start is not known. Construction sites of other European battery manufacturers are further along - production is already underway there or there will be official production starts this year. Exclusive satellite images from LiveEO show how the situation really is.

    The Volkswagen Group is planning the most massive battery investments of all European manufacturers. Europe's largest car manufacturer intends to produce most of the batteries it needs, including the battery cells, itself in the future. In early July, the group laid the foundation stone for its first battery factory in Salzgitter, Lower Saxony. Five more are to follow in Europe. Production in Salzgitter is scheduled to begin in 2025. "In the future, we will take all relevant fields into our own hands and thus secure a strategic competitive advantage," says Thomas Schmall, head of VW technology responsible for the battery factories.

    All that can still be seen in Salzgitter is a cleared area and the first construction work next to the VW engine plant that has existed for decades. As soon as battery production is up and running, it should offer 5,000 jobs. In Europe, Volkswagen plans to employ up to 20,000 people in battery production. From Salzgitter, VW's global battery business is to be managed under the umbrella of the newly founded subsidiary Powerco. She is then responsible for the entire value chain from battery raw materials to production and recycling. There is also a battery research center in Salzgitter. According to VW forecasts, Powerco is expected to generate sales of more than 20 billion euros by 2030.

    The work of the Chinese battery manufacturer CATL in Thuringia is not as big as the VW plans but has made much more progress. Hardly noticed by the general public, CATL - short for Contemporary Amperex Technology - has become the largest battery cell manufacturer in the world. The company is currently in talks with almost every car manufacturer in the world about larger battery cell deliveries. Luckily for the German auto industry, the company announced the opening of a factory for electric car battery cells south of Erfurt at the end of 2018.

    Construction has been going on there since October 2019. After several delays, including those caused by the corona pandemic, series production is due to start in the second half of 2022. In the first expansion stage, 1,500 employees will produce batteries for 120,000 electric cars per year. According to CATL Europe boss Matthias Zentgraf, they go to the VW Group, BMW, and Daimler.

    Daimler, unlike VW or BMW, already has its own battery factory in Germany, it is often said. In fact, the Swabians get their batteries from the Daimler subsidiary Accumotive at the Kamenz site in Saxony, among others. However, the actual technology carriers, the battery cells, are not manufactured there. Automotive does what BMW or VW do: The company assembles Asian battery cells into complete car batteries.

    This also contains important know-how, because the connection of hundreds of individual cells per car is not trivial and can decide the performance and safety of the electric vehicles. Nevertheless: an assembly of battery cells is not a battery cell factory, such as that operated by Chinese or Korean market leaders or the US company Tesla.

    Accumotive has been building drive batteries for hybrid and electric vehicles from Mercedes-Benz and Smart as well as for commercial vehicles with the star at the Kamenz site since 2012. The site has two battery factories. The second factor was added in 2018 and should produce CO2-neutrally. A combined heat and power plant, a photovoltaic system, and geothermal energy supply the factory with energy.

    The approximately 1,300 employees there produce, among other things, drive batteries for the EQ models. The second factory increased the production and logistics area to a total of around 80,000 square meters. Since the start of production, Accumotive has built batteries for well over a million vehicles in Kamenz.

    In the long run, however, Daimler does not want to be satisfied with the assembly of battery cells, but - like the Volkswagen Group - wants to get into the production of battery cells: In 2021 Daimler announced that it would take a 33 percent stake in ACC, a cell consortium of the automobile manufacturer Stellantis (brands: Opel, Peugeot, Citroën, Fiat, Chrysler, Alfa Romeo) and the French oil company TotalEnergies. ACC wants to develop and manufacture high-performance battery cells in Europe. This should reduce dependence on Asian cell manufacturers. Daimler boss Ola Källenius said about the project: "We are making a contribution to ensuring that Europe remains a center of the automotive industry."

    Two years ago, the US company Microvast celebrated the topping-out ceremony in Ludwigsfelde, Brandenburg: Within a few months, a white factory building had been built there. The company not only wants to produce here: At the beginning of 2021, Microvast also relocated its European headquarters from Frankfurt to Ludwigsfelde. For more than a year now, the company in Brandenburg has been building special battery systems for vans and trucks as well as for sports and off-road vehicles. They are made from battery cells that Microvast sources from China. Cell production is also planned for this summer at a new facility in Clarksville, Tennessee.

    New technology will soon be introduced in Ludwigsfelde. Microvast recently presented two new lithium-ion cells that are said to be particularly suitable for special and commercial vehicles. The cells can be charged to 80 percent in just 16 minutes and are said to have a long service life. Microvast is planning mass production of the cells, which will then also be processed into complete batteries in Ludwigsfelde, for the coming year.

    The German car manufacturers are less concerned with a German than with a European counterweight to the Asian battery cell dominance. In the opinion of VW & Co, there must be production capacities and in-house know-how in Europe if the company is not to become completely dependent on China, South Korea, and Japan.

    The young Swedish battery manufacturer Northvolt is just what the Germans need. Volkswagen and BMW have already agreed on a cooperation with Northvolt. The company has secured a total of around eight billion euros from investors for the massive expansion of production. Northvolt used the money to set up, among other things, the main factory in Skellefteå in northern Sweden, which can be seen in the pictures and where production began at the end of 2021. The factory has been delivering cells to automakers since this spring. Northvolt has orders worth more than 50 billion euros on its books, including from VW Group, BMW, Volvo Cars, and Scania.

    Northvolt recently announced the signing of a $1.1 billion convertible bond. The company wants to use the fresh capital to accelerate battery cell production in Europe. In addition to other investors, the VW Group participated in the capital increase. Northvolt not only wants to produce the cells but also to recycle them. The goal: by 2030, half of the company's raw material requirements should come from recycled batteries. Peter Carlsson, co-founder and CEO of Northvolt, promises: "We will continue to work hard to deliver on our promise to build the greenest battery in the world."

    In addition to the Northvolt Ett Gigafactory in Skellefteå, the company is also building a gigafactory in a joint venture with Volvo Cars in Gothenburg and another, called Northvolt Drei, in Heide, Schleswig-Holstein. A cathode factory is also being built in Borlänge, Sweden. Northvolt was only founded in 2016 - by two former Tesla managers.

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