EU seeks battery autonomy, but first it needs graphite

Europe needs to make more of the graphite used in electric vehicles. A single model from Tesla, for example, requires about 70 kg of the material. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 23 February 2020

EU seeks battery autonomy, but first it needs graphite

  • The key component in electric vehicles is currently mostly produced in Asia

VÉNISSIEUX: As Europe looks to declare its tech independence by becoming a leader in next-generation batteries, it will have to start by making its own graphite. The problem is, nearly all of it now comes from Asia, mainly China.

So France’s Carbone Savoie and Germany’s SGL Carbon, the only European firms deemed capable of taking up the challenge, have been corralled into an ambitious battery alliance launched by Brussels.

“Thank you for bringing us on board this ‘Airbus for batteries,’ though to be honest, we weren’t even on the passenger list,” Carbone Savoie’s chairman Bruno Gastinne told France’s deputy finance minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher on Thursday.

They were attending the ribbon-cutting for a new, more efficient carbon baking oven, a “brick cathedral” some five meters underground at its site in Venissieux, just south of Lyon in southeast France.

The €11 million ($11.9 million) investment will allow the company to double its carbon production, the first step for making the synthetic graphite prized for batteries.

The carbon is then shipped to its factory at Notre-Dame de Briancon in the Alps, where hydroelectric dams provide the intense electrical currents needed to turn it into graphite.

Carbone Savoie says it has developed a new production technology that uses just half the energy required currently, and cuts waste levels in half. “It will be less expensive and more efficient than Chinese graphite, while consuming less energy. The hard part is that we have to move quickly,” said Regis Paulus, the firm’s head of research and development. “To catch up with the Chinese, we have to invest massively,” he said.

EU authorities in November unlocked a whopping €3.2 billion for the European Battery Alliance, hoping to attract an additional €5 billion in private money to build the factories needed to meet homegrown demand.

Automakers are racing to shift to electric fleets, under growing pressure to cut carbon emissions and the reliance on fossil fuels. Batteries make up about 40 percent of the value of an electric car, but are currently made by companies in South Korea, China and Japan.

A single electric model from Tesla, for example, requires around 70 kilogrammes (150 pounds) of graphite, Carbone Savoie’s CEO Sebastian Gauthier said. While the material can be mined, battery producers usually prefer the more expensive synthetic versions that offer improved technical performance. It is the only key component of lithium-ion batteries that can be produced in a factory — nickel, lithium, manganese and cobalt must be mined.

But without government help, few of Europe’s industrial giants were willing to embark on the costly crusade to build their own batteries.

The push has been a boon for Carbone Savoie. Even so, the company still does not produce anywhere near enough graphite required to fulfil Europe’s electric car dreams, or its own goal of becoming “the European leader in battery graphite” by 2025.

That would require a good chunk of the funds promised by Brussels, which have been pledged by Germany, France, Italy, Poland, Belgium, Sweden and Finland.


India to invest $1.46 trillion to lift virus-hit economy

Updated 15 August 2020

India to invest $1.46 trillion to lift virus-hit economy

  • Modi announced a national digital heath plan under which every Indian will get an identity card containing all health-related information
  • Modi said the government has identified 7,000 infrastructure projects to offset the economic impact of the pandemic
NEW DELHI: India’s prime minister said Saturday his country has done well in containing the coronavirus pandemic and announced $1.46 trillion infrastructure projects to boost the sagging economy.
The key lesson India learnt from the pandemic is to become self-reliant in manufacturing and developing itself as a key supply chain destination for international companies, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said.
“The coronavirus epidemic is a big crisis, but it can’t stall India’s economic progress,’’ Modi said in a speech from New Delhi’s 17th century Mughal-era Red Fort to mark 74 years of the country’s independence from British rule. He wore an orange and white turban with a long scarf around his neck.
He also said that three vaccines are in different phases of testing in India and it will start mass production as soon as it got a green light from scientists. “Detailed plans are in place for large-scale production of corona vaccine and making it available to every Indian,” he said.
India’s coronavirus death toll overtook Britain’s this week to become the fourth-highest in the world as the country reported over 2.5 million confirmed cases, just behind the US and Brazil.
Modi also announced a national digital heath plan under which every Indian will get an identity card containing all health-related information.
The celebrations were curtailed on Saturday because of the pandemic, with invitations going only to 4,000 guests instead of normal 20,000, media reports said.
The International Monetary Fund projected a contraction of 4.5 percent for the Indian economy in 2020, a “historic low,” but said the country is expected to bounce back in 2021.
Modi said the government has identified 7,000 infrastructure projects to offset the economic impact of the pandemic.
“Infrastructure will not be created in silos anymore. All infrastructure has to be comprehensive, integrated and linked to each other. Multi-modal connectivity infrastructure is the way forward,” he said.
He said that India saw a record 18 percent jump in foreign direct investment in the past year, a signal that the international companies are looking at the country.
Modi didn’t refer to China directly, but India is trying to capitalize on its rival’s rising production costs and deteriorating ties with the United States and European nations to become a replacement home for large multinationals.
Referring to border tensions with China in the Ladakh area, he said Indian forces had given a befitting response in the mountainous region where thousands of soldiers from the two countries remain in a tense standoff since May. India said 20 of its troops died in hand combat with Chinese troops on June 15.
“Whether it’s terrorism or expansionism, India is fighting the challenges bravely,” Modi said in apparent references to threats from neighboring Pakistan and China.