How renewable forests could solve a major electric vehicle problem

AAutomakers and energy companies are racing to find innovative options to boost electric vehicle (EV) battery technology as governments around the world try to curb the sale of diesel and gasoline cars, increasing adoption of VE. The latest experiment in this area is the use of wooden components in lithium-ion batteries, as companies invest in making their electric vehicles greener. Finnish-Swedish company Stora Enso and Northvolt, backed by Volkswagen, have teamed up to develop a sustainable battery that uses an anode made from lignin-based hard carbon, which is sourced from renewable wood from northern forests. Through the joint development agreement, the two companies hope to establish the first industrialized battery using the anode, made entirely of European raw materials, reducing the carbon footprint of the battery.

Johanna Hagelberg, Executive Vice President for Biomaterials at Stora Enso, said of the project: “The joint battery development with Northvolt marks a milestone in our journey to serve the rapidly growing battery market with anode renewables made from trees. Our lignin-based hard carbon, Stora Enso’s Lignode®, will secure strategic European supply of anode feedstock, meeting sustainable battery needs for applications ranging from mobility to stationary energy storage.

Each company has specialized experience in the production of batteries, which allows them to contribute effectively to development. Stora Enso will supply the Lignode lignin-based anode material, produced from wood sourced from sustainable forests. Lignin, a renewable carbon source, is a plant-derived polymer that comes from the cell walls of dryland plants, with trees making up 20-30% of the material. Enso already has a pilot plant it uses for its bio-based carbon materials in Finland, producing around 50,000 tonnes of lignin per year. It is currently studying the industrial production potential of Lignode.

During this time, Northvolt will develop the cell design and production process and develop the technology for commercial production. Northvolt, established in 2016, is a European supplier of battery cells and systems. So far it has attracted $55 billion in funding from companies including BMW, Fluence, Scania, Volkswagen, Volvo Cars and Polestar to develop a low-carbon lithium-ion battery for use in electric vehicles. The company is also expanding its battery recycling capabilities with the goal of sourcing 50% of raw materials for new batteries from existing batteries by the end of the decade.

Emma Nehrenheim, Environment Director at Northvolt, explains: “With this partnership, we are exploring a new source of sustainable raw material and expanding the European battery value chain, while developing cheaper battery chemistry. It’s an exciting demonstration of how our pursuit of a sustainable battery industry goes hand in hand with creating a positive impact on both society and costs.

Automakers and energy companies are finding it increasingly difficult to source battery components partly due to global supply chain delays following the Covid-19 pandemic, but mainly due to the lack of mining projects in operation, necessary to supply the metals and minerals needed to produce batteries. The International Energy Agency explained in May that there is a “shift from a fuel-intensive energy system to a material-intensive energy system”, on the need for more extensive mining operations. to meet the global demand for materials needed for renewable energy projects.

As several governments aim to phase out the sale of new gasoline and diesel vehicles from the end of the decade, automakers compete to develop the best and most cost-effective electric vehicle models as adoption in Europe, North America and Asia is growing rapidly. In June, the EU took the decision to ban the sale of internal combustion engine (ICE) cars and SUVs by 2035, making it the first entire region to do so.

But successfully banning ICE cars will require a huge investment in battery research, development and production, as well as scaling up mining operations globally. The decision to ban petrol and diesel vehicles is part of the goal of many governments around the world to reduce their carbon emissions to net zero by 2050, in line with the goals of the Accord. Paris. However, shifting dependency from one natural resource to another can put other materials at risk. However, projects such as the wooden anode could provide a more sustainable alternative to battery development. If new renewable components could be developed for battery production, it would reduce reliance on mining, which could lead to widespread environmental degradation.

As automakers and energy companies strive to develop the most innovative and efficient lithium-ion batteries for use in electric vehicles and several other products, companies are now researching alternative materials to produce these batteries. If companies can find an alternative to the intensive exploitation of natural resources in the development of their batteries, it could provide them with the competitive advantage necessary to make their products stand out for their durability.

By Felicity Bradstock for

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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