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How we can build a future for greener batteries

John Barry - Greener batteries post
Low-carbon aluminium is one of the most important materials in the creation of the greenest battery packs
John J. Barry, Head Of Technology at Norsk Hydro looks at how electrification will be part of the energy game, and how batteries present a tremendous opportunity to lift profitability and contribute to sustainability.


John Barry - Greener batteries post two
John J Barry

The coming decade will be the energy sector’s most disruptive. It is changing. And fast.

I believe the fundamentals of power generation will shift, decentralization will continue, electrification will become part of the game and storage and flexibility solutions will become more prevalent. As one of the largest energy consumers in Europe, we in Hydro work to be able to adapt to this changing landscape and use new technologies to improve our operations and drive sustainability.

A strong base and a lot done. But more to do

I am proud of what my company, a global aluminium producer, has achieved so far. In the metal and mining industry, we can say we are at the forefront of renewable energy production, renewable energy sourcing and energy efficiency.

Today in Norway, Hydro is the largest power consumer and we are also the largest privately-owned power producer. We have operating and ownership interests in 26 hydroelectric power plants that produce 10 TWh of renewable energy per year. This year we become the operator of one of Norway’s largest wind farms, Tonstad.

In this fastest moving of technological spheres, we continue to learn and innovate across the energy spectrum – our active engagement across the breadth of the battery value chain is a good example.

Low-carbon battery material sourcing will be vital

Let’s start with the materials. As part of the New Circular Economy Action Plan, the European Commission will propose a new regulatory framework for batteries. It will include measures to improve the collection and recycling rates of all batteries and ensure the recovery of valuable materials.

It will also include sustainability requirements for batteries, the level of recycled content in new batteries, and importantly, transparency provisions to help consumers understand the sustainability characteristics of the product.

Therefore, low-carbon battery material sourcing will be vital. Low-carbon aluminium will play a large part. A typical electric vehicle (EV) battery pack contains around 25% aluminium. And of course, light-weighting EV bodies is also important in the range game.

Roughly speaking, for every 100 kilograms saved, an EV can increase its range by 10%. So, while aluminium and batteries deliver wonderful value to the world – we should also remember that not all aluminium or all batteries are created equal.

Battery manufacturing

In 2019, Hydro invested in Northvolt, a company founded with a mission to build the world’s greenest batteries, which will help to enable the European transition to renewable energy.

Fundamentally, Northvolt’s cell manufacturing will be powered by 100% renewable energy. This matters – to manufacture a 100 kWh battery in China or Poland can result in emissions of around 4 tonnes CO2, and this does not include the CO2 emitted from raw materials extraction and processing. To manufacture a similar battery in Sweden, the emissions are closer to 100 kilograms.

This is important and it is very much aligned with our green ambitions. To produce 1 kWh of battery pack storage requires nearly 120 kWh of energy. As a rule of thumb, 50% of this energy can be attributed to the manufacturing process and the remaining 50% is in the extraction and processing of the raw materials.

Here aluminium alone can contribute up to 30 kWh of the final energy consumption. A sizeable proportion. This highlights that low-carbon aluminium is one of the most important materials in the creation of the greenest battery packs.

Battery use in the aluminium value chain

Over the course of the last year, several our plants worldwide have begun or have finished the process of implementing of a number of large, some close to 10 MWh, batteries across our aluminium value chain.

We will continue to evaluate our value chain for the suitability of battery energy storage systems and mobility solutions. Already we see positive results – large batteries at our plants are lifting profitability and contributing to sustainability.

Recycling and circularity of batteries is a must

Already this year, electrical passenger vehicles sales have now nearly reached 70% in Norway.

Considering that Norway has plans to phase out internal combustion engine passenger vehicle sales by 2025, while countries such as Denmark and Sweden have similar plans by 2030, the Scandinavian market will need to handle its large volume of batteries in a sustainable and responsible way.

Here Hydro will be part of a sustainable and circular solution.

In May, Hydro and Northvolt announced the formation of a joint venture to enable recycling of battery materials from EVs. The partnership, known as Hydro Volt, is a good example of the emerging potential for synergies between different industries as the European economy becomes more circular and decarbonized.

The recycling hub, which will be highly automated and designed for crushing and sorting batteries, will process more than 8,000 tonnes of batteries in the early stages of the launch, with the capacity being expanded over time.

Aluminium plays a significant role in the light-weighting of electric and hybrid vehicles

Today in Europe, close to 250 GWh of battery manufacturing capacity, enough for around 5 million mid-size EVs, has been announced. European demand for EV batteries alone is expected to be around 400 GWh by 2028. Half a million tons of aluminium per year will be needed to meet this demand.

We need to consider what kind of aluminium we want to meet this battery demand. It is important to understand that the embodied energy in aluminium does not reflect the embodied carbon. Worldwide, for every 1 kilogram of primary aluminium produced an average 17 kilograms of CO2 is emitted. This is due to the large number of global producers who source their power from coal. Europe, however, is in a better position.

Along with having record amounts of renewable energy sourcing, recycling infrastructure and world-class energy-efficiency technology throughout our value chain, Hydro is well-positioned to be part climate-neutral European Circular Economy. Towards 2030, I know Hydro will strengthen and build on this position.

Sustainability is not a part of our strategy; it is our strategy.

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