Paris: While electric car sales are soaring, Europe has started building its battery-making capacity on the continent, but it remains far from reducing its reliance on Asia.
China, Japan, and South Korea produce most of the world’s electric car batteries.
According to a June report by Transport & Environment, a non-governmental organization, Europe now has projects to build 38 gigafactories with a combined annual output of 1,000 gigawatt hours (GWh) and an estimated cost of 40 billion euros ($ 48 billion).
That annual supply could be achieved by 2029 to 2030 and would correspond to the production of 16.7 million battery electric vehicles, a T&E spokesman told AFP.
“In view of the enormous increase in demand, there is a great risk for manufacturers to break the oligopoly of battery manufacturers,” said Eric Kirstetter, sector analyst at the consulting firm Roland Berger.
“You also need to ensure access to materials for the electrodes (anode and cathode) that determine the price and availability of the batteries,” he added.
In Sweden, the start-up Northvolt expects an annual production of 150 GWh in Europe by 2030, one plant is currently under construction and two significantly larger ones are on the drawing board.
Northvolt previously announced that production capacity will reach 32 GWh by 2024, or enough batteries for 600,000 electric vehicles per year.
– Asian Competition – In another report, Transport & Environment said battery electric vehicles could account for all new unit sales in the European Union from 27 nations by 2035 – if policymakers have stricter carbon targets and strong support for charging infrastructure of automobiles.
Automakers under pressure to get off fossil fuel vehicles are investing money in battery production.
The German giant Volkswagen has invested in Northvolt and is also planning to build five more battery plants.
Stellantis, which includes brands like Alfa Romeo, Chrysler, Citroen, Dodge and Fiat, is working on two of its own, while electrical pioneer Tesla wants to make its future Gigafactory near Berlin with 250 GWh capacity one of the largest in the world by 2030.
European governments support the projects because they want the continent to keep an important role in future automobile manufacturing.
Asian manufacturers are also investing in Europe, with the Chinese group AESC planning to work with Toyota and Renault on battery plants in the UK and France.
Two South Korean companies, LG Chem and SKI, have already opened factories in Poland and Hungary, while China’s CATL is building one in Germany.
– Less pollution – Maros Sefcovic, Vice President of the European Commission, said in March that the continent needed to achieve strategic independence in a sector that has become a critical sector.
He wants European factories to meet the region’s needs by 2025.
According to Oliver Montique, analyst at Fitch Solutions, this is a big task.
Montique aims to build a “fully closed supply chain in which the vast majority of battery materials on the continent are extracted, refined, processed and produced into battery cells” by 2040.
Europe wants to build factories that are less polluting than Asia or the US, and EU officials are working on a standard that will impose criteria for raw material extraction and recycling of used batteries.
In order to develop a new battery generation that is less dependent on lithium-ion technology, which is dominated by Asian companies, the European Commission started a research and development program in January that is funded with 2.9 billion euros.
European factories could employ 800,000 people, the Commission estimates, but they need to be trained quickly.
Battery factories will also need raw materials.
The European Commission predicts that lithium demand is set to grow a multiple of 18 by 2030, and the sector is also expected to need five times more cobalt.
Germany and the Czech Republic have considerable lithium reserves, but Montique advises the heads of state and government of the EU to also ensure the supply with reliable partners.
“I’m thinking of Australia, Canada, Brazil and Chile,” he said, “so that the supply side is not compromised by normal commercial constraints or political reasons.”