Rising battery demand Race for the best production technology

Prof. Dr. Johanna Wanka, BMBF: »Damit Deutschland eine führende und wettbewerbsfähige Position in der Elektromobilität und Speicherung regenerativer Energien einnehmen kann, ist der Aufbau einer Großserien-Fertigung durch deutsche Unternehmen unabdingbar.«
Professor Johanna Wanka, FMER: »To ensure that Germany can gain a leading and competitive position in electromobility and storage of renewable energy, it is essential for German enterprises to set up mass production.«

For the firms kitting out plants to manufacture electrical energy storage units, the indicators are pointing toward sustained expansion, with industry association VDMA Battery Production predicting growth of ten percent in 2016. At the same time, German research institutions are making good progress on the development of enhanced lithium technologies and their production processes.

Just a few months ago, the German Federal Minister of Education and Research Professor Johanna Wanka reiterated her view that, to ensure that Germany can gain a leading and competitive position in electromobility and storage of renewable energy, it was essential for German enterprises to set up mass production. It was, she said, in the interests of the German government to keep this value-creating activity in Germany. In her eyes, it is now primarily up to industry to set the direction of travel for future production.

Hartmut Rauen, Deputy Executive Director of VDMA, recently demanded the following at the IAA International Motor Show in Frankfurt: “The further development of the production techniques for the battery cell is important for Germany AG. So our message to the politicians is to start at the beginning of the value chain and invest in production research and shared industrial funding.” The VMDA believes that, in the final analysis, excellence in production technology and in research will decide who wins the battle for the mobility of tomorrow.

In its latest business climate survey, VDMA Battery Production concludes that German plant and machine manufacturers have gained a foothold in the hard-fought battery-production market. The firms equipping plants to manufacture electrical energy storage units are anticipating sales growth of over 10 percent in 2016. According to Dr. Eric Maiser, Director VDMA Battery Production, over 65 percent of the machines and systems for battery production manufactured in Germany are currently exported to Asia and North America. Accordingly, he believes how Germany positions itself will be crucial in the field of battery cell production: “The machine-builders would completely lose touch in the international marketplace if they wait for the next generation of batteries.” The race for the best production technology is, he warns, “in full swing way.”

The business climate survey conducted by VDMA Battery Production indicates that firms are ever more willing to hire new staff. Whereas back in March most companies believed they could cover the anticipated sales growth with their existing staffing levels, today nearly 40 percent of the firms surveyed are planning to add to their workforces. In other words, the enterprises are now permanently gearing up for the anticipated upturn. For battery-makers, gaining market share remains the primary way to boost earnings. Where the current challenges in the development of more efficient batteries for e-mobility applications reside is made clear by Dr. Thorsten Ochs, Head of the Battery Technology research unit at Bosch’s new Renningen Research Campus: “To ensure broad acceptance of electromobility, we need usable energy of 50 kilowatt hours in a mid-range vehicle. So our goal is to accommodate 50 kilowatt hours in 190 kilos.”

Today, a 380 kilogram battery would still be required for 50 kWh. At the same time, Dr. Ochs and his colleagues aim to greatly reduce the time it takes to refuel a vehicle. “It should be possible to recharge our new batteries to 75 percent capacity in less than 15 minutes,” is the target he sets. Enhanced lithium technologies are to be employed to make this achievable. Working on this task alongside the team in Renningen are Bosch experts from Shanghai and Palo Alto. Bosch is also carrying out lithium research as part of a joint venture with GS Yuasa and Mitsubishi Corporation.

Simply packing more lithium into the battery will not yield the desired result. Instead, improvements are needed in terms of atoms and molecules in the lithium technology. One key element in this regard is to reduce the proportion of graphite or to go without the graphite in the anode altogether. If it would be possible to use metallic lithium instead of graphite, much more energy could be stored in the same space. After acquiring the American startup Seeo, Bosch now boasts game-changing expertise in the implementation of innovative solid-state batteries that contain no liquid electrolytes.