The mobility rEVolution: Honda ups the ante on EVs, solid state batteries


As the mobility revolution picks up the pace, legacy carmakers around the globe have already outlined big plans for an EV future and timelines for the switch having reconciled with the inevitable end of sales of gasoline-powered vehicles. The latest one to up the ante in the electrification race is Japanese automotive giant Honda which has revealed plans to launch 30 EV models globally by 2030 with a production volume of more than two million units annually. This week, the company said it will invest 5 trillion yen ($39.9 billion) to further accelerate its electrification over the next ten years. Honda is striving toward 100% electric sales by 2040, which is a less ambitious goal than the industry average. In terms of production, Honda said it would look to set up EV plants in the Chinese cities of Guangzhou and Wuhan, in addition to plans for a dedicated EV production line in North America. On the battery front, Honda said it is planning to build a demonstration line for the production of all-solid-state batteries with an investment of approximately 43 billion yen ($343.2 million) with a goal to start production in spring next year. Just like Nissan, Honda aims to make solid-state batteries in-house whereas carmakers in the West have been more eager to explore this energy-dense battery tech through partnerships with specialized manufacturers. Honda aims to bring vehicles powered by its next-generation batteries to the market in the second half of the 2020s.

Meanwhile, widespread Covid-19 lockdowns in some parts of China continue to negatively impact the battery supply chain and broader EV industry. Tesla Shanghai Gigafactory remains closed for production since late March, missing out on some 24,000 units to date. Furthermore, Chinese EV maker Nio was forced to suspend operations due to local supply chain issues caused by the impact of further Covid-19 restrictions in several places including Jilin, Shanghai, and Jiangsu. “The price momentum for battery raw materials against the weakened sentiment caused by the pandemic means a slow production pace for the EV battery supply chain is likely in the short term, including precursor, cathode, and batteries,” says Echo Ma, an analyst at Norwegian consultancy Rystad Energy. In the meantime, metal supply concerns are driving carmakers to secure core battery component supply deals and explore new upstream solutions. As Rystad Energy says in its battery materials market note, lithium shortage continues to be a major bottleneck in the supply chain and rising costs combined with a directional push to lithium iron phosphate (LFP) chemistries will continue to see more automakers moving upstream to secure metals supply.

Only this week, US-based General Motors has signed a multi-year sourcing agreement with raw materials company Glencore to supply the U.S. carmaker with cobalt from its Murrin Murrin operation in Australia. The cobalt will be used in GM’s Ultium battery cathodes, which will power EVs such as the Chevrolet Silverado EV, GMC HUMMER EV, and Cadillac LYRIQ. Glencore already has a long list of cobalt customers including Samsung SDI, SK On, Britishvolt and Tesla. Another upstream deal was announced by Ford. The U.S. carmaker has signed a preliminary agreement to buy lithium from a Lake Resources NL facility in Argentina, marking the first time the automaker has publicly announced where it will procure the EV battery metal. Ford aims to buy 25,000 tons annually of lithium from Lake’s Kachi project in northern Argentina, which is being developed in collaboration with privately held extraction startup Lilac Solutions. Lithium will be mined at the site using Lilac’s direct lithium extraction (DLE) technology, a relatively novel approach that involves filtering the metal from brines and uses far less acreage than open-pit mines and evaporation ponds. Other carmakers that are also pursuing DLE through deals with other extraction companies include BMW, GM, and Stellantis.

Speaking of raw material sourcing, BMW has pledged to use sustainably sourced aluminum wheels from 2024 onwards. According to BMW, the production of wheels has accounted for around 5% of supply chain CO2 emissions, mostly due to the energy-intensive electrolysis used in producing aluminum and the wheel-casting process. Presently, the BMW Group procures around 10 million light-alloy wheels each year, with 95% of these made from cast aluminum, and a shift to a more sustainable production chain is hoped to reduce these emissions by more than half. “Green power is one of the biggest levers for reducing CO2 emissions in our supply chain. We have already signed more than 400 contracts with our suppliers, including suppliers of wheels and aluminum, requiring them to use green power,” says Joachim Post, member of the Board of Management of BMW AG. Through independent audits, the carmaker hopes to save up to 500,000 tons of CO2 per year. Previously, BMW began sourcing aluminum from the United Arab Emirates that was manufactured exclusively using electricity generated by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park.

Meanwhile, legacy carmakers continue to explore the possibilities offered by the two-way flow of electricity from EV batteries known as vehicle-to-grid (V2G). German automaker Porsche has recently demonstrated the V2G capabilities of its all-electric Taycan in a pilot conducted together with German grid operator TransnetBW and consulting firm Intelligent Energy System Services. The demonstration pilot used five Taycans connected to the grid through the Porsche Home Energy Manager both in domestic and laboratory environments. The pilot was underpinned by a cloud-based pooling system developed by IE2S, which coordinates and controls the charging processes of the electric vehicles in real time. During the test, detailed measurements showed that the target values from the grid control system were met. This applied to both the primary (FCR: frequency containment reserve) and secondary (aFRR: automatic frequency restoration reserve) balancing power. FCR is required to stabilize the grid quickly, while aFRR has five minutes to become fully available.

Finally, when it comes to cutting-edge charging technologies, there is also wireless charging of EVs. One of the pioneers in this field, Israeli startup Electreon has announced the extension of its wireless electric road for trucks and buses in Sweden. Since the initial implementation of the Smartroad Gotland wireless charging project in November 2019, the company has demonstrated the operation of Electric Road Systems utilizing a 40-ton e-truck and a commercial passenger e-bus and has now been approved a €2 million ($2.17 million) budget for the extension. The funds allocated by funded allocated by the Swedish Transport Administration will be used for an upgrade of 400 m of the existing installation as well as to increase the capacity of its receivers to transfer energy to approximately 30 kW and examine a new generation of its technology. The company will also deploy software capabilities, such as its billing feature, which allows it to invoice vehicle subscribers using the Electric Road System. The company will also extend the run of the electric airport shuttle bus, which will continue to undergo testing and simultaneously be available for commercial rides as of summer this year. To date, Electreon’s patented technology has been integrated with a number of vehicles, as part of its ongoing collaborations with auto manufacturers including Renault, Stellantis, Iveco, and Volkswagen.

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