Chinese Battery Maker Ramps Up Plans

Cobalt-free units due next year, $2.4 billion European plant to open in 2023


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China’s SVOLT Energy Technology aims to quickly become a major supplier of electric vehicle batteries, including the industry’s first cobalt-free units.

The company, which was spun-off from Great Wall Motors two years ago, is investing $9.5 billion to open four factories with a combined capacity of 100 GWh by 2025. That’s enough to power as many as 2 million electric vehicles (depending on size), according to the supplier.

Global Expansion

The first facility was opened a year ago in Jintan, China.

SVOLT plans to launch production in Germany in 2023. (Images: SVOLT)

This will be followed by a cell factory in Uberherrn, Germany, that’s due to launch production in 2023 and eventually will have an annual capacity of 24 GWh. SVOLT also plans to open a module and pack assembly plant in nearby Heusweiler. Combined investment in the two facilities is about $2.4 billion.

Two other cell factories are planned in Asia. Combined output of the three plants is estimated at 76 GWh.

SVOLT also is said to be considering adding production in North America.

No Cobalt!

SVOLT plans to introduce a cobalt-free lithium-ion battery next summer, which the company claims will be the world’s first mass-production use of the chemistry.

In place of cobalt, the NMX batteries will use a greater proportion of nickel (75%) and manganese (25%).

The cobalt-free design has an energy density comparable to that of traditional NCM battery cells, thanks in part to SVOLT’s doping and coating processes. SVOLT says the new batteries are cheaper and more durable too.

The company is in the process of completing endurance testing for the batteries in EVs. Initial applications are expected to be in unspecified midsize Great Wall models.

Why It Matters

Competition among battery suppliers is intensifying as carmakers rapidly ramp up their plans to launch new EVs and plug-in hybrids.

In addition to SVOLT, two other Chinese companies—CATL and Farasis—are planning facilities in Europe. They join a trio of South Korean firms (LG Chem, Samsung SDI, SK Innovation), Tesla and Northvolt that also are expanding in the region. Northvolt alone aims to have 150 GWh of capacity by 2030.

The increased demand is causing battery suppliers and carmakers to search for more sustainable alternatives to cobalt, which currently accounts for as much as one-third of a battery’s cathode material. Prices for the rare metal rocketed to as much as $100,000 per ton in 2018 but have since dropped to a still exorbitant $32,000/ton.

Half the world’s cobalt supply comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where mining is plagued by hazardous conditions, child labor and an unstable government.

What’s Next?

Other companies also are developing cobalt-free cathodes. But SVOLT stands to capitalize on being the first as it ramps up production. To support its efforts, the company aims to raise more than $300 million from investors.

SVOLT, which filed some 550 patents last year, also is developing next-generation lithium-ion batteries. No timeframe was given for that program.