Batteries, Lithium Ion and the Automotive Industry

MEET (Muenster Electrochemical Energy Technology), Germany is getting ready to launch a new 2000sqm research hub focusing on battery technology, most likely a significant effort will go into lithium-ion.

Prof Winter, MEET (University of Muenster, Germany)Professor Winter (recently at Graz, Austria) will chair the workgroup at MEET (homepage). Research-in-Germany.Org gives a summary of the plans and objective proposed by MEET. We note that the commitment by the regional government, the University and the private sector (including Volkswagen, Evonik and Chemetall) is impressive, on a regional scale: “The Ministry of Innovation, Science, Research and Technology of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia is funding the project to the amount of €5.5 million for the coming three years. Münster University is contributing €7.5 million. Further funding is coming from the North Rhine-Westphalian Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy as well as the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology.” The private sector is financing the chair at the University with some €2.25m which is certainly impressive given the economic climate we are in.

We wrote about Evonik previously and consider it a very interesting company that may be in the position to shape the future of lithium-ion batteries. Naturally, since Volkswagen is one of the key sponsors of the centre we must assume that they have a commercial interest to link themselves with Professor Winter and his battery research team. The automotive industry is bound to change forever, no doubt. My colleagues focused on the supply side of the lithium-ion market and whether, subject to a successful scale of electric vehicles, the supply chain is secure. In his piece “The Great, Fake Lithium Supply Scare” Brett draws the conclusion that we should not worry. Although the market is too young to make credible predictions the debate is certainly worth watching. Arguably we need to better understand whether lower grade lithium-ion can be used as an input into a high-end technology process.

Autocluster, NRW (http://autocluster.nrw.de/)

Autocluster, NRW (http://autocluster.nrw.de/)

We wrote about the need to direct further money into research for energy storage and continue to see this as one of the most important research and investment themes for any serious cleantech venture investor. It is interesting that governments can play a significant role in kick-starting a debate as well as put money into the area with a targeted approach. Autocluster.NRW gives a strong, systematic approach how to create a new hub/ cluster that can concentrate core capabilities in a region. We would like to draw readers of the report to page 58ff (‘Screening of R&D project in NRW’). It highlights the efforts of various academic institutions and how their co-ordinate their efforts to maximize their combined research capabilities. The report highlighs efforts currently made by industry to drive battery technology forward. ‘According to the German government, the number of electric vehicles on the road will be 1 million by 2020’ and ‘[a]ccordingly, the resultant higher electricity needs for 1 million vehicles in 2020 must be addressed’. The authors deduct that this would require some 5 power plant blocks of 600 megawatts each (~total need about 3TWh).

To contrast the recent UK initiative of a Green Investment Bank, Autocluster’s core competence building based on a regional level sounds proactive, constructive and combines both a coordinated effort made by governments and the private sector. Can the UK mirror the effort and come up with a strategy that is as visible? Bob Wigley, good luck!

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