back to article Europe promises all-out assault on batteries to counter China’s lithium-ion domination

The European Union has announced a €2.9bn ($3.5bn, £2.57bn) state aid program to build a full production chain for battery tech, from the extraction of raw materials to the design and manufacturing of battery cells, and their recycling and disposal. The goal of the project is to not only spur new innovations in battery …

  1. IGotOut Silver badge

    Hmmmm

    Where are we going to get the Lithium from in Europe?

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Hmmmm

      Cornwall. In Europe, just not in the EU.

      Meanwhile, we're going to have to duplicate all this in the UK if we want to export UK-built EVs to the EU. IiRC HMG has already promised we'd be the leading place in the world for this which means that we don't stand a chance.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Hmmmm

        we're going to have to duplicate all this in the UK if we want to export UK-built EVs to the EU

        I wondered how long before the first ill-informed Brexit whinge would appear. Read the withdrawal agreement: UK EVs will not face additional tariffs as long as they meet the right %age of EU parts, just like any EU manufacturer. Using an EU battery would obviously be OK, and Nissan is considering building a UK battery plant anyway.

        This initiative is being described as a "new Airbus", so expect US and Chinese trade sanctions any day now :)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Hmmmm

          Under the UK-EU trade deal, UK made EVs will be able to be sold tariff and quota-free to EU consumers, provided enough of the car is of UK or EU origin. The problem is that the UK government tried and failed to get batteries included in the diagonal recognition of origins. This means that a battery imported from Japan and included in a UK-assembled Nissan would tip the contents of that Nissan over the threshold and so that Nissan is no longer sufficiently of UK/EU origin.

          This will be the reason why Nissan has now announced it is creating a battery factory in the UK and why the government is so busy supporting UK based battery production. If the UK doesn't start producing batteries on this island, the UK EV industry is f*cked.

          This is a good read regarding the challenges: Brexit, batteries and the fate of the British car industry

          So, if you have somewhat of a business plan for battery production and went to school with/lived next door to a cabinet minister you can expect to pick up millions in government funding to solve this issue.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Hmmmm

            This means that a battery imported from Japan and included in a UK-assembled Nissan would tip the contents of that Nissan over the threshold and so that Nissan is no longer sufficiently of UK/EU origin.

            Which is exactly why this story is about the EU creating a battery initiative to build batteries in the EU, and therefore why it doesn't mater to the UK, which will be able to use either EU- or UK-sourced batteries & still meet the UK/EU quota.

            It would only be a problem for the UK EV industry if the batteries still had to be imported from outside the EU/UK.

        2. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: Hmmmm

          >"Read the withdrawal agreement: UK EVs will not face additional tariffs"

          Wow! yes that may be correct, but if you have been paying attention to current affairs you would know that the current UK-EU trade problems are nothing to do with 'tariffs' and all about paperwork and its correctness (eg. use "GB" and not "UK").

          Also, you are forgetting about the rules of the Single Market and its "level playing field" procurement preferences for suppliers within the Single Market - which as we know the UK is now outside of...

          So those UK EV's (and batteries) will face additional non-tariff hurdles to their sale in the Single Market...

          Basically, the UK government advice for exporters to set up an operation in say Germany(*) and employ local workers and pay local taxes is fundamentally correct, if you really want to sell in the Single Market on the same level playing field we had prior to Brexit. This situation was obvious the moment it was suggested that leaving the EU also meant leaving the EEA/Single Market.

          (*) or one of the other 26 member nations.

      2. Chris G Silver badge

        Re: Hmmmm

        Depending on a number of factors, extracting lithium from brines can take up to a couple of million litres of water per kilo of lithium.

        There are also the other minerals that come with the lithium such as potassium and magnesium salts or others depending on the content in Cornish brines, they will be dumped if not needed and can then leach into the local environment.

        I can imagine there being a lot of protest at mining anything in Cornwall nowadays.

        1. Colin Bull 1
          Go

          Re: Hmmmm

          "I can imagine there being a lot of protest at mining anything in Cornwall nowadays."

          I think not. Cornwall has been mining for thousands of years. It is still seen here as a future source of jobs. We even had Rick Stein euologising about the china clay slag heaps a few weeks ago on TV. St Austell employs enough people in china clay for the local population to work with it. It will be the same with lithium.

          Cornwall, Nr England

      3. N2 Silver badge
        Paris Hilton

        Re: Hmmmm

        I expect the EU are about to comandeer all supplies to ensure equal distribution?

        Paris, because its in the EU

        1. LogicGate

          Re: Hmmmm

          Pot, meet kettle:

          https://www.politico.eu/article/uk-coronavirus-vaccine-astrazeneca-export-boris-johnson/

    2. jmch Silver badge

      Re: Hmmmm

      Spain, apparently:

      https://www.spglobal.com/_division_assets/images/articles/lithium-supply-is-set-to-triple-by-2025.-will-it-be-enough/lithium-mines.jpg

      1. MiguelC Silver badge
    3. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Hmmmm

      Seawater would probably do. Doesn't alter the fact that this is barely disguised handout to the car industry.

    4. NeilPost Silver badge

      Re: Hmmmm

      Portugal??

      https://www.ft.com/content/efa997fc-1b7a-11ea-97df-cc63de1d73f4

    5. Adelio Silver badge

      Re: Hmmmm

      So what is Britain going to do? Probably nothing, but then Bogo probably has problems turning on his laptop.

    6. Mips
      Childcatcher

      Re: Hmmmm

      Now here’s a thing.

      Each electric car needs 10kg of lithium, each truck or bus needs 50kg and the there are all the vans. Each wind turbine needs 10000kg for backup and solar power a similar amount.

      For the UK to go all electric as planned we will need over 500,000 tonnes of lithium metal.

      Now here’s the problem the provable world wide recoverable reserves of lithium are only 350,000 tonnes. So go figure. Will this work?

      We need to make sodium batteries work.

  2. Len
    Thumb Up

    Northvolt

    I was surprised to see them missing from the press release but fortunately they are involved too.

    Northvolt are on my ones-to-watch list as they are doing some very interesting things (Battery gigafactory energises the frozen north and Europe’s Tesla rival is fixing the huge battery recycling mess) and have the investment to back it up (Northvolt: $3 Billion For 2 Battery Gigafactories In Europe).

    I would love if it El Reg sent a reporter to see how they are getting on.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    state aid program to build a full production chain for battery tech

    I'm not anti-EU, but I can see the project developing thus: 2022: €2.9bn has been spent, another 3 - 5bn pumped in. 2022 - onward: no news of any kind on the project (keep pumping). Year 2047: on page 34646 of the yearly report on "projects temporarily suspended": state aid program to build a full production chain for battery tech

    I WOULD like to be an optimist. Not that it matters, eh, brexit means brexit, and the above can be easily replicated to indicate, I dunno, that 6th generation British-developed fighter jet? Or that London-north fast rail connection? Or Heathrow expansion plan take 36? Obviously, our expenditure would not match the size of what the EU is willing to spend, but... not for lack of trying!

    1. Len
      Stop

      Re: state aid program to build a full production chain for battery tech

      Small nitpick, this is not EU funding. These are a bunch of countries, all EU members, that have joined forces and put their own money in a pot to accelerate these developments. The only role for the European Commission has been to give a seal of approval that the project has been designed to not fall foul of EU state aid rules. Apparently it doesn't have a market-distorting effect, probably because joining the project was open to every company and every member state.

      The giveaway should be that it lists which countries are involved, you would not see that for an EU project. The fact that it's such a merry band of countries (and some notable countries missing) also shows that these are all countries that have some businesses in this field already and that they would like to support without falling foul of state aid rules. Countries that don't have a foothold in this sector already have clearly passed on the opportunity.

  4. Missing Semicolon Silver badge

    "To do so required some special state aid rules to be approved, the EU said."

    Oh-ho! Betcha we get in trouble for doing the same thing here!

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Two threads needed

    Lithium based batteries for vehicles and sodium or maybe sulphur based batteries for grid applications

  6. John Sager

    Grid applications? ROFLMAO!

    The Oz battery was a vanity project by Elon Musk. It's useless as storage for the grid for any reasonable length of time. What it does do, and I think this may have been unexpected, is provide second-by-second frequency control. Apparently the installation makes good money doing that.

    Battery tech isn't going to get more energy dense or even much more energy-cheap in a big step, so energy storage on the scale of even Dinorwig is not going to happen soon. And Dinorwig only works for 6 hours or so at full chat.

    1. katrinab Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: Grid applications? ROFLMAO!

      For grid applications, storage density isn’t really an issue. You could fit a lot of batteries in a power station sized building. You don’t want a power station sized building full of lithium catching fire though, and you don’t want to have to replace all the batteries in it after a couple of years.

    2. martinusher Silver badge

      Re: Grid applications? ROFLMAO!

      Lithium, maybe not. Sodium, quite likely. Sodium batteries aren't as energy dense as lithium ones and they're a lot heavier for a given capacity but for static applications this isn't important. There's significant work going into making sodium batteries a reality so I expect them to be common in the not too distant future.

    3. Francis Boyle Silver badge

      Re: Grid applications? ROFLMAO!

      The Hornsdale Battery was a direct response to 2016 South Australian blackouts. Musk, being the consummate showman, he is simply identified the PR opportunity and made the SA government an offer they couldn't refuse. (There were many other proposals but presumably the companies behind them were constrained by having to make a profit.) The installation's primary function was always the prevention of load-shedding (by holding the until backup generation capacity can come on line) not grid storaage.

  7. Charlie Clark Silver badge
    Facepalm

    The car industry doesn't need more state aid

    Most of the beneficiaries, espeically Tesla, have virtually zero costs when raising new capital so this money will either end up as dividends or share buy backs.

    This money would be far more effective if spent on research for the catalytic creation of hydrocarbons and fuel cells. Unlike the physics around energy density of Lithum batteries, which set some firm limits, the chemistry (and biochemistry) around creating hydrocarbons using renewable energy does look like it can be done below cost. This would give us a safe, efficient and fungible way to store excess renewable energy, which would be carbon neutral at minimum. If we can then develop fuel cells that can use what's produced we can create more efficient vehicles and reduce our dependency on energy imports.

    But this is just another example of politicians chasing the lamplight…

    1. Bilious
      Trollface

      Re: Hydrocarbon synthesis with renewable energy

      They could build the first plant close to a fusion power station. The synergies.will save them lots of money.

    2. ian 22
      Flame

      Re: The car industry doesn't need more state aid

      Catalytic reactions or not, to input 2KwH and getting 1KwH out is not a economically (or energetically) sound investment! Even if the energy inputs are renewable. More like burning money.

      1. hoola Silver badge

        Re: The car industry doesn't need more state aid

        A bit like wind and solar, install x MW of capacity and get x/2 MW output. Add in the days when we the generate too much from wind in particular and there is not enough load. To a certain extent it does not matter if the catalytic reaction is inefficient, if it can make use of excess generation capacity then we are in a better position.

        If the result of the catalytic reaction is something that can be transported around the country in tankers, offloaded into a tank and then squirted out of a hose in minutes at the point use then it is better than battery.

        Batteries have a huge fundamental limitation and that is recharging. Unless the point is reached were a battery can be recharged in minutes all the EV limitations remain. That is both a technical issue in terms of power availability or transfer and the rate of a chemical reaction.

        Now if a battery could be "hot swapped" so to speak, the single biggest issue disappears. Currently there is no sign of movement in that area.

      2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Re: The car industry doesn't need more state aid

        Where do you get your numbers from? If the conversion can be done catalytically then it should be energy neutral. Currently, it's above 50% and, thus, better than batteries, which only look good because they're charged with power that doesn't include fuel duties.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A BIG beneficiary of this will not be a European Biz

    According to 'insideevs' (https://insideevs.com/news/482462/tesla-will-get-a-portion-of-35b-battery-aid-for-giga-berlin-4680-cells/)

    a lot of the dosh will be going to Tesla. Yes, that Tesla that is the car company worth the most in all the world.

    Talk about the rich getting richer... any developments paid for out of EU funds will go straight back to the USA.

    Well done EU. So much for wanting to get your own industry going.

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: A BIG beneficiary of this will not be a European Biz

      Tesla will only get money because it satisfies the criteria of being an EU manufacturing company, which means it has to have facilities in the EU and employ EU residents. So whilst some monies will wing their way across the pond, much will remain within the EU - just like the monies and tax revenues the UK gained from having Google et al set up R&D facilities in the UK.

      Perhaps you are suggesting that the UK government shouldn't have encouraged Nissan to set up in Sunderland because profits would go back to Japan...

    2. phogan99

      Re: A BIG beneficiary of this will not be a European Biz

      I thought the goal was EU produced batteries to reduce dependence on China. Tesla making batteries in the EU satisfies that goal. They'll still benefit regardless of where the company is originally from.

  9. Citizen99

    Quote ... the idea behind the European Battery Innovation project is to offer pan-European economies of scale for battery companies by pooling resources. .../Unquote

    That worked well for vaccines. Oh, wait ...

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