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    looks the goods..

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    The battery is ready to power the world
    After a decade of rapidly falling costs, the rechargeable lithium-ion battery is poised to disrupt industries.

    By RUSSELL GOLD, BEN FOLDY

    Boxes of lithium-ion rechargeable battery cells, stacked at the BMW automobile manufacturing plant in Dingolfing, Germany. Picture: Bloomberg News
    Boxes of lithium-ion rechargeable battery cells, stacked at the BMW automobile manufacturing plant in Dingolfing, Germany. Picture: Bloomberg News
    From Dow JonesFebruary 7, 2021
    7 MINUTE READ51
    Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries were first commercially used in hand-held camcorders in 1991. Laptops soon followed. A decade later, batteries enabled the rise of tech titans such as Apple Inc. by powering smartphones and wearable devices, then made their way into electric vehicles. The basic technology throughout remained pretty much the same: Lithium ions move through a liquid from the cathode to the anode, and back again.

    This, however, was just the beginning. After a decade of rapidly falling costs, the battery has reached a tipping point. No longer just for consumer products, it is poised to transform the way the world uses power.

    In the energy sector, affordable batteries are making it possible for companies to store electricity and harvest renewable power. In the auto industry, they are set to challenge the gas-powered engine’s centurylong domination. Costs have come down so far and so fast that most car makers expect that electric vehicles, which are currently more expensive than their gas-powered counterparts, will cost the same amount to build within the next five years.

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    The gains are likely to continue. Electric vehicles are currently the main source of demand for battery cells. As demand grows and costs fall further, batteries will become even more disruptive across industries. Batteries recently scored a win at General Motors Co., which said it hoped to phase out gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles from its showrooms world-wide by 2035.

    The battery boom could erode demand for crude oil and byproducts such as gasoline -- as well as for natural gas, which is primarily used in power plants. While mining materials and manufacturing batteries produces some greenhouse gas emissions, analysts believe shifting to batteries in the auto and energy sectors would reduce emissions overall, boosting efforts to tackle climate change.

    U.S. power plants alone produce about a quarter of the country’s emissions, while light-duty vehicles such as cars and vans contribute another 17%.

    The rise of rechargeable batteries is now a matter of national security and industrial policy. Control of the minerals and manufacturing processes needed to make lithium-ion batteries is the 21st-century version of oil security.

    A Tesla Model Y charges at a EV charge station in Sydney. Share prices for lithium miners and battery makers continue to rise as global demand for electric vehicles continues to grow. Picture: Getty
    A Tesla Model Y charges at a EV charge station in Sydney. Share prices for lithium miners and battery makers continue to rise as global demand for electric vehicles continues to grow. Picture: Getty
    The flow of batteries is currently dominated by Asian countries and companies. Nearly 65% of lithium-ion batteries come from China. By comparison, no single country produces more than 20% of global crude oil output.

    Companies are working on new configurations -- such as solid-state batteries, which don’t transfer ions through liquid -- that could significantly enhance the power and further lower battery prices. The value of such a breakthrough could be measured in the billions of dollars, if not trillions.

    “There’s still a huge amount of innovation to come,” says Christina Lampe-Onnerud, chief executive at Connecticut-based battery startup Cadenza Innovation Inc. Her company envisions that buildings could someday have their own batteries, giving them reserves of electricity they could use during peak hours to reduce costs.

    The first commercially available electric vehicle that ran off lithium-ion batteries came in 2008, with the Tesla Roadster. One of Tesla Inc.’s early advantages came from figuring out that it could use readily-available laptop battery cells to power its cars. It initially purchased off-the-shelf battery cells manufactured in Asia intended for laptops, which at the time used between six and 12 cells. The two-seater Roadster needed nearly 7,000.

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    Now, more than two-thirds of the world’s lithium-ion batteries are used in vehicles, a figure expected to reach three-quarters before 2030, according to Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, a London-based firm that tracks battery prices and industry developments.

    The same batteries are being deployed on the power grid in growing numbers. Construction began in January on a battery in Florida that will use 2.5 million lithium-ion cells -- similar in chemistry to Tesla cells, only larger. Florida Power & Light, part of NextEra Energy Inc., said the battery will be capable of powering Disney World for seven hours.

    Used automotive batteries, slightly degraded from years of filling up and discharging, are finding new life as storage projects. Amsterdam’s Johan Cruijff Arena has a three-megawatt “super battery” made from 148 Nissan Leaf battery packs, many of them recycled, storing electricity generated by rooftop solar panels and helping balance the stadium’s energy usage.

    To meet expected demand, global output of lithium, a silvery metal also used to make nuclear bombs and treat bipolar disorder, has nearly tripled in the past decade, according to Benchmark. Lithium is mostly mined in Australia and Chile, where it is found in underground brine deposits, although efforts to increase U.S. output from mines in Nevada and North Carolina are gaining attention from investors.

    Staff in the workshop of a lithium battery manufacturing company in Huaibei, eastern China's Anhui province. Picture: AFP
    Staff in the workshop of a lithium battery manufacturing company in Huaibei, eastern China's Anhui province. Picture: AFP
    In recent years, prices have fallen more quickly than expected due to demand from auto makers. Electric vehicle battery packs and motors currently cost about $4,000 more to manufacture than a comparable fossil fuel-burning midsize sedan engine. By 2022, the difference will be $1,900 -- and will disappear by mid-decade, according to investment bank UBS Group AG.

    Ken Morris, the head of electric vehicles at GM, said in September he expects cost parity in five years. Auto makers such as Volkswagen AG, Tesla Inc. and GM are pushing battery prices down further as they race to lock up the giant capacity needed to power millions of EVs. The rise of electric transportation is also drawing in some of the biggest tech companies, including Apple and Amazon.com Inc.

    Globally, battery-powered electric cars made up around 4% of all new cars sold last year in the world’s largest markets -- the U.S., Europe and China -- up from around 1% in 2017, according to data from Deutsche Bank. In 2025, the bank expects that share of the market to be 22%.

    In the energy sector, power grids have been built around just-in-time electricity generation for more than a century. Every second of the day, the supply of electrons needed to match demand to keep the lights from going out, because there was no way to store energy for use at another time.

    To get around that problem, demand during the hottest and coldest days in recent decades has been met by on-call natural gas-burning plants known as “peakers” that were fired up for a few select hours when needed.

    Large installations of lithium-ion batteries have begun replacing peakers in parts of the U.S. These batteries -- which often draw energy from solar farms, though they can be set up to draw cheap power from the grid -- tend to bank electricity during the day. They discharge power as needed for a couple of hours in the evening when power demand rises, along with prices, after the sun sets.

    Developers and utilities are looking at another evolutionary step in the industry: building batteries to harvest and dispatch inexpensive and clean power from wind and solar farms, and not just for a couple of hours after sunset.

    That threatens not only peakers, but many traditional power plants financed under the assumption that they would be able to competitively sell electricity at all hours of the day for decades.

    Batteries “are right on the precipice of being highly disruptive,” said Chris McKissack, chief executive of GlidePath Power Solutions LLC, an Illinois-based company that builds renewable energy generation. He estimates there are well more than 100 gigawatts of gas- and coal-fired power plants -- out of a total 800 gigawatts plants that burn these fuels -- that could be immediately rendered uneconomic and unnecessary. “This presents a massive opportunity for battery storage,” he said.

    In Texas, which has a competitive power market, economic forces are driving a boom in batteries on the grid. At the end of 2020, installed batteries had the capacity to deliver 215 megawatts of electricity. The grid operator expected nearly 2,000 megawatts worth of batteries by the end of 2023, about 4% or 5% of average electricity demand for the state’s main power grid this time of year.

    California and New York have introduced mandates for utilities to install more batteries, to increase grid reliability and smooth out price volatility as well as to incorporate more renewable energy.

    Last year, two California firms that procure electricity for nearly 700,000 customers expanded an existing deal to acquire the output of a large solar and battery-storage project north of Bakersfield. The companies, Silicon Valley Clean Energy and Central Coast Community Energy, said the batteries would allow them to deliver renewable energy without price spikes.

    “I am thinking about the grid in an entirely different way,” said Girish Balachandran, chief executive of Silicon Valley Clean Energy, who expects that natural gas will be a smaller part of the company’s portfolio in California as more wind and solar power is stored in batteries.

    He said he is envisioning new ways to deploy batteries as prices continue to fall, to ensure reliable grid operation.

    Prices have come down a long way since January 2010, when Boston Consulting Group estimated battery costs at between $1,000 and $1,200 per kilowatt-hour. It said getting to $250 -- a level car makers were targeting -- “is unlikely to be achieved unless there is a major breakthrough in battery chemistry.” Today, battery prices are about $125 per kilowatt-hour, after big increases in manufacturing capacity lowered costs, and tweaks to chemistry and design yielded further savings.

    Battery costs are widely expected to fall further, said Venkat Viswanathan, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. He expects them to go as low as $80 per kilowatt-hour in two to three years before bottoming out.

    The Wall Street Journal

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    Building the World’s Carbon-Neutral Energy System
    Feb 16, 2021

    Hitachi ABB Power Grids, a joint venture formed in 2020, has created a business dedicated to building a sustainable energy future through pioneering and digital technologies. Gerhard Salge, the company’s Chief Technology Officer, outlines his view that highly interconnected electricity grids will be essential to creating a low-carbon energy system.

    Europe is waking up to a new era in sustainable energy. The NordLink, a 623 km-long electricity connection between Germany and Norway, went live in December 2020. Using high-voltage direct current (HVDC) technologies supplied by Hitachi ABB Power Grids, the interconnector runs under the North Sea and links Germany’s wind- and solar-powered electricity to the Norwegian grid. This allows Norway’s reservoirs to preserve their water levels until their hydropower is needed. And when Germany’s sun is weak and its winds die down, Norway will open the sluice gates on its reservoirs to produce hydroelectric power for both nations. Norway will, in effect, act as an electricity storage center for German demand—a giant Nordic battery. NordLink offers a glimpse into the interconnected future of sustainable electricity.

    The world’s industries are undergoing a rapid process of electrification—from how we move people (electric vehicles) to how we produce materials, such as iron ore and steel, to how we heat our homes and offices. Global electricity consumption is forecast to more than double from 20% of total energy demand today to more than 40% by 2050[1] as transport, industry and buildings switch from fossil fuels to sustainably produced electricity.

    “The forecasts all come to the same conclusion: the carbon-neutral world is electric, and electricity will be the backbone of the entire energy system.”

    Gerhard Salge, Chief Technology Officer, Hitachi ABB Power Grids

    This will require a worldwide network of electric power lines linking renewable energy sources across nations and continents. From Norway to Germany, from the Dogger Bank windfarm to the U.K. mainland, even multiple thousands of kilometres of HVDC power lines in China can bring wind, solar and hydropower electricity from remote wildernesses and oceans to cities and industrial centers.

    “The electricity grids of the future will need to be able to flexibly bridge time zones, climates and seasons,” says Gerhard Salge, Chief Technology Officer at Hitachi ABB Power Grids. “We’re already enabling customers in Sub-Saharan Africa to integrate power from desert solar, and in the future, it’s possible to imagine harvesting the Arctic winds. We need to tap those renewable resources and transport the energy to the population centers.”

    Building a Global Power Network

    Wind and solar power are by nature variable electricity sources, unpredictably fluctuating with the seasons and weather. To manage the increased complexity brought about this more dynamic environment, the world’s electricity grids need to be flexible, resilient, reliable, and sustainable. Salge explains that the journey towards a carbon-neutral energy system will be underpinned by highly interconnected power grids that fit together to enable sustainably produced electricity to be efficiently delivered across the world.

    “It’s all technically possible,” he says. “But the limitation is the element of trust and alignment between nations. We need to find a compromise.” Rather than a global grid, he envisages a web of interconnected power grids and systems that allows nations to choose where their electricity comes from.

    Salge cites Europe as an example of how green policies transcend beyond national borders, for the shared goal of accelerating the energy transition.

    “In Europe, countries have for decades collaborated beyond borders to develop an interconnected pan-European power system,” says Salge. “This process of interconnection already started some decades ago, however, the way things are now evolving is that by 2050 we are likely to see many more connections—short, medium and long—propelled by the ambition towards carbon-neutrality and simultaneously, to fulfil ambitious climate targets.”

    An Interconnected Power System in Europe and Beyond

    The evolution of an interconnected pan-European power system and potential future developments needed to achieve carbon neutrality. (Source: Hitachi)

    “Nations won’t necessarily have to fully synchronize and depend on each other,” says Salge. “Technology allows us to connect in such a flexible way that you can exchange energy whenever it’s good and useful, but you don’t have to necessarily fully rely on each other.”

    To build a carbon-neutral energy system which enables access to reliable, and sustainable access to energy for all means the existing grids needs to be updated and made more flexible. Ever-longer cables must be laid, and grid technology requires innovation. Various connected sensors will deliver lots of useful data, a digital network is created so the grid can respond flexibly to variations in the renewable power supply. Existing power networks must be improved, and new ones need to be built.

    The High Voltage Solution Transforming Power Grids

    The technology that underlies NordLink and other transformational electricity connections is HVDC, a key driver of this interconnected, sustainable energy network. HVDC is emerging as a star performer in electricity transmission across vast distances. The electrical grids built in the 20th century mainly relied on alternating current (AC). However, HVDC technology for short, medium and long distances has developed in an impressive way such that it does not only serve as one of the most cost-effective solutions for long-distance connections, but also as a flexible power quality element of an embedded DC/AC grid.

    Grid technology will play a vital role in the global transition towards a carbon-neutral energy system, which requires an expanding and increasingly efficient electricity network. The transition will also require greater electricity storage capacity, using batteries and other storage systems, to handle surges in demand and declines in supply.

    Planning for the energy needs of the future requires an open-minded approach, and a new era of partnerships between all stakeholders. Network operators, technology providers, power producers, along with regulators, governments and private investors, need to work hand-in-hand towards a common vision and clear target—a carbon-neutral energy system, which is reliable, affordable and sustainable.

    “As Hitachi ABB Power Grids we see ourselves as a partner and technology provider that is part of the team that is accelerating the energy transition – turning the vision into reality,” says Salge.

    Hitachi Social Inno

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    The next electric-car battery champion could be European
    Tara Patel and Ewa Krukowska
    Apr 5, 2021 – 8.17am

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    With Europe expected to lead the world in electric-car sales for a second straight year, an epic rush to build a battery-supply chain from scratch is playing out across the continent.

    After years of ceding the EV battery business to foreign companies, Europe wants in.

    Prospective manufacturers are popping up in the Nordic region, Germany, France, the UK and Poland in a transcontinental competition to chip away at the dominance of China’s Contemporary Amperex Technology and South Korea’s LG Energy Solution.

    Electric car ID.3 cars stand at the factory area during a press tour at the plant of the German manufacturer Volkswagen. AP

    Fuelled by state support of at least 6.1 billion euros ($7.3 billion) and investment plans totaling 10 times that in just one year, the race is on for a regional champion to emerge.

    The contestants include startups Northvolt AB in Sweden, Britishvolt and France’s Automotive Cells Co, and powerhouses Tesla and Volkswagen.

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    BloombergNEF estimates the continent could see its share of global battery production rise to 31 per cent by 2030 from just 7 per cent last year.

    “We’re creating a new industry in Europe; we’re creating a completely new ecosystem,” Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission vice president overseeing the battery initiative, said in an interview. “The investments are really pouring in.”

    Sefcovic estimated the planned investments just for 2019 to be about 60 billion euros ($71 billion), triple that being spent in China. Those eye-watering totals cover the entire supply chain, from materials and cells to assembly and recycling.

    Amid tougher emissions rules and fines for violating them, sales of EVs -- both battery-electric and plug-in hybrid models -- in Europe more than doubled last year to about 1.3 million units, topping China for the first time.

    The market will be colossal
    That could reach 1.9 million this year as VW, Stellantis NV and BMW AG map out plans for new models and higher output, and Ford and Volvo commit to going almost all-electric.

    Those ambitions will require a lot of power packs, and the local auto industry’s reliance on overseas suppliers grates on political leaders in Germany, France and Brussels. They are loath to have local automakers, which are major employers, be reliant on battery makers based outside the region.

    The clamber to build up local supply chains is palpable. Traditional car-making countries Germany, France, Italy and the UK are especially keen to stay competitive in battery technology and maintain their manufacturing bases.

    Germany is elbowing its way to the front of the pack, committing as much as 2.6 billion euros to the battery business and luring Tesla, CATL, LG Energy and ACC to set up shop there.

    “Every nation wants a battery plant,” said Jean-Pierre Corniou, a former Renault SA executive now a partner at consultancy SIA Partners.

    There are plans for 27 battery-producing sites across the region that could churn out least 500 gigawatt-hours of cells this decade, he estimated.

    VW made a massive bid for the pole position last month by unleashing an estimated $18 billion plan for six battery factories in Europe – including one in Salzgitter, Germany -- and to expand its network of fast-charging stations.

    If all goes as intended, the German automaker and partners could leapfrog challengers and become the world’s No. 2 cell producer behind CATL, according to BNEF.

    “Automakers are realising they would lose out on a lot of added value, so they want to re-appropriate the manufacturing process,” Corniou said.

    The European Commission set a target of getting at least 30 million zero-emission cars on the roads by 2030, and the ambition is that European factories would cover more than 90 per cent of the demand for batteries.

    VW will plug its own packs into its own cars, leaving wide-open lanes for competing battery makers to nab customers. European automakers are under pressure to meet stricter European Union emissions rules, and consumer spending is expected to explode as nations emerge from Covid-19 lockdowns.

    Battery demand is forecast to be so strong that production barely will keep pace by decade’s end, according to UBS Group AG analysts.

    So the market is there. Yet it won’t be easy for the startups to catch CATL, Panasonic and LG Energy, all of whom spent years honing operations in Asia and the US before moving into Europe.

    Tesla is the biggest thorn in the side
    CATL, the largest producer of rechargeable cells, will invest 78 billion yuan ($12 billion) to add about 230 gigawatt-hours of capacity worldwide within the next four years. The Ningde, China-based company supplies almost every major global EV brand, and it’s scheduled to start producing in Germany this year.

    And then there’s Elon Musk. Tesla is the biggest EV maker, selling about half-a-million cars last year, and plans to assemble Model Ys and batteries in Germany to juice its European expansion.

    Musk’s operations are becoming a magnet for EV suppliers and triggering a local industrial renaissance. That expertise is daunting for competitors, said Isobel Sheldon, chief strategy officer for Britishvolt.

    “Tesla is the biggest thorn in the side for the European cell-manufacturing base,” she said.

    When it comes to the startups, Northvolt -- founded by former Tesla executives -- is years ahead of rivals.

    The company has a $14 billion supply deal with VW and another with BMW AG, and is preparing to churn out cells by year’s end at its Skelleftea site. Northvolt wants to grab 25 per cent of Europe’s battery market by 2030, Chief executive officer and founder Peter Carlsson has said.

    That was before the VW offensive. Automakers “are putting more and more efforts behind their electrification plans and have revised their battery needs upwards,” said Jesper Wigardt, a Northvolt spokesman. “We will need to evaluate our target continuously.”

    Britishvolt plans to start building a 2.6 billion-pound ($3.6 billion) factory in northeast England later this year. The site will use hydropower from Norway and could be online by 2023.

    The Blyth-based startup is in talks with EV makers in the UK, EU, US and Japan, she said without elaborating.

    Further behind -- but flush with public funds for development – is a joint venture between Stellantis and oil giant Total SA. Instead of starting from scratch, ACC plans to hasten expansion by producing batteries at two former car-parts plants.

    “Europe isn’t too late,” said Corniou, the SIA consultant. “The market will be colossal, and there’s a need for competitive technology.”

    Bloomberg

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