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Battery manufacturers: why does half of Spain want to have one of them?

  • Since 2023.

    Extremadura will have the first battery factory in Spain and Southern Europe

  • Polmica.

    Rebellion in Galicia, Aragon and Extremadura against the Government for giving the battery factory to Catalonia

“Extremadura was 150 years late to the industrial revolution, but the new one does so before the others and, in fact, our lives are going to do so”. The phrase is from Guillermo Fernández Vara, its autonomous president, and he pronounced it last Wednesday after the project that could culminate in the first battery cell factory in southern Europe installed near Badajoz since 2023.

The initiative, which, like the others, would seek the shelter of European recovery funds, culminated two years of shadow work. Above all, because its announcement came in the midst of the dust created since the Ministry of Industry announced the creation of a public-private consortium with a similar objective.

The controversy erupted when it was said that this other plant would be “near Martorell”. Aragn and Galicia, but also Extremadura shouted in the sky for this supposed ‘finger’ in favor of a region whose leaders, moreover, had shown absolute contempt when the Volkswagen Group announced another ‘electric man’ for Catalonia. A man of More than 500,000 small electric cars that it wants to manufacture, for several of its brands, in Seat Martorell since 2025. Although to achieve this, it is not only necessary the institutional support and the funds of the EU, but also to weave a universe of electromobility in which a battery plant is inalienable.

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But what exactly are the manufacturers referring to when they speak of such a factor? Why is it crucial? And why do so many Autonomous Communities want one of them?

Cells, the ‘heart’ of an electric car

Unlike a combustion car, an electric car has a very simple engine (simplifying, it would be worth a washing machine) and it does not have a gearbox either. The essential element, in terms of propulsion, is at the same time from which the energy that moves it comes and which also determines the range and autonomy that we can travel between recharges. But not all are the same, neither in capacity nor in performance. And this is given by the properties of the cells (or units of energy) that, grouped in different blocks, form the packs that later make up the stack. You could think of each of these cells as if they were ‘bricks’ and the battery will be the wall built out of them. That of a Tesla Model 3, for example, has 4,000 of those ‘bricks’

The factories that are the object of desire are those of cells. Because there are others that are dedicated to assembling these pieces according to the puzzle required by each vehicle and of those, there are already several in Spain. Renault had one in Valladolid for years for the old Twizy; Stellantis has them in Vigo or Zaragoza (for 100% electric cars) and Ford has just announced that, by the end of this year, it will have invested almost 30 million for the one it has in Valencia and which supplies its production of hybrid vehicles.

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Battery assembly
Battery assembly at the Stellantis plant in Vigo

Until now, only a few multinationals, basically Korean, Chinese or Japanese like LG Chem, Samsung, CATL o Panasonic, they dominate the chemistry of the cells. It was with the last of these companies that Tesla joined forces to create its own cell plant in the United States. This experience has given a significant competitive advantage to the company chaired by Elon Musk, which will soon begin to use a new generation of cells, called 4680. With much more energy capacity and power, they promise to increase autonomy by up to 16% and reduce the cost by 14% compared to the current ones.

In addition, The Volkswagen Group revealed just a few days ago that since 2023 80% of its electric cars will use the same unified cell, in which to vary the chemistry to give it more or less benefits. Also working on other components, he states that, apart from increasing autonomy and cutting recharging times, the cost of the battery will be reduced by up to 50% in the case of small vehicles and 30% in the rest, situndose “clearly below 100 euros for each Kwh”. To give a reference, the battery of a utility today is around 50 kWh, but there are already quite a few models (large SUVs and saloons) that are in the 90 or 100 kWh.

Necessary condition to manufacture new cars

Spain is the second European producer of vehicles and the ninth in the world. It is a scenario without the coronavirus, it will be around three million units a year. However, within that volume, electrified vehicles are still marginal, although several factors have them. Stellantis makes completely battery-powered models in Vigo, Madrid and Zaragoza. Mercedes-Benz the same in Vitoria and Seat (Martorell), Ford (Valencia) and Renault (Palencia and Valladolid) assemble plug-in hybrids. But the volumes of both are still unimportant. In 2021, the first have represented only 2.6% of the total, quota that in the case of PHEVs amounted to 5.6%.

From Renault, they have defended the validity of this latest technology. “In 2015, 35% of the cars sold in Spain and 45% in Europe will be hybrids, more than three times the number of pure electric cars,” said Luca de Meo, CEO of the French group.

But in the long run, the future is 100% electric, necessary to meet the EU CO2 targets: 80 grams of CO2 per kilometer in 2025, 65 grams in 2030 and zero in 2040. So, going back to Renault, of course we manufacture 100% electric … but in the North from France. Last summer, when the French state launched its automobile aid plan (with a significant endorsement from Renault), it imposed the relocation of activities with the highest added value, particularly battery-powered vehicles.

Stellantis produces several the
Stellantis produces several electrics, one is the Peugeot e 2008

In short: in the transition to the new mobility, Spain has to have battery cell factories if it wants to qualify for electric car awards. Seat itself, and its parent company, the Volkswagen Group, repeat it poundingly. A charging infrastructure needs to be created to make battery-powered cars useful and desirable, but it is more important to democratize them by lowering their price. AND Having to bring large and very heavy batteries (about 400 kilos on average) from another country raises the cost of manufacturing by several hundred euros. For reference: when Tesla opened its battery plant in the US in 2015, it did so in Nevada, less than 400 km from the Freemont (California) facility where it assembles its cars. Moreover, in the ‘super factory’ that is already being built in Berlin to supply Europe and which will start in 2022, combine both activities.

What investment do they require? What impact do they have?

In its US plant built together with Panasonic, Tesla spent 5,000 million dollars to reach a capacity of 35 Gwh (gigawatt hours) that allows it to supply batteries to half a million cars, although it also does them for other purposes. In Europe, the most repeated investment figure is 3,000 million euros to supply between 300,000 and 400,000 cars a year. In September of last year, when it became known that two companies (Scheneider Electric and LG Chem) had shown their interest in the facilities that Nissan will leave in Catalonia, the Catalan employer’s association Foment del Treball, said that one of these projects would reach 3,500 million euros. For its part, days after communicating the creation of the consortium between the State, VW-Seat and Iberdrola to start up a cell plant, the Minister of Industry, Tourism and Commerce quantified the project at 5,000 million.

View a
Aerial view of the Tesla Gigafactory in Nevada (USA)

With that said, until now the only adventure to which figures have been put is the one led by Phi4Tech in Extremadura. The planned investment reaches 1,000 million euros and about 1,500 direct jobs will be created. But that data also includes the opening of two mines and a factory for cathodes, one of the components of the batteries. Specifically The cell plant will require 400 million, with 500 permanent jobs for a maximum capacity of 10 Gwh as of the year 2025.

As for its impact, They are not by far the tractor effect of an automobile factory from which it does not stop one of its suppliers, although the main one. In fact, they can be one or more brands. Also, these factories may not be dedicated exclusively to automobiles. Thus, the one designed for Extremadura began working for renewable energy companies. AND Tesla, in the US, also makes cells for the stationary home batteries it sells.

Spain should manufacture 1.5 million electric cars in 2030

How much does Spain need? Where?

According to Jos Mara Recasens, Seat Strategy Director, 1.5 million electric cars will be manufactured in Spain in 2030, which will mean having an installed capacity of about 70 Gwh spread over two or three plants. In the so-called Power Day, its matrix, The Volkswagen Group said that its plans are to install six factories of this type in Europe, each with a capacity of about 40 Gwh and one of them, to be located between Portugal, Spain or the South of France “depending on the conditions that are given.” And it specifies that it will be exclusively to supply its factories (Seat in Martorell and Volkswagen in Landaben) given the specificities of the new cells with which they are going to work.

“The final location will be decided by the partners” said Minister Maroto to appease the first revolt of Aragn or Galicia to the possibility that Catalonia ‘took the cat’ to the water with the project in which the State participates. Days later he pointed out that That decision will be made by a commission created expressly “to act with transparency and rigor.”In addition to the economic conditions and the viability of the project, the geographical situation should be a variable to consider, above all, whether to supply more than one manufacturer.

In this case, Aragn would have an important advantage since Zaragoza would be a perfect hub to supply 80% of the automobile production in Spain (Barcelona, ​​Madrid, Vitoria, Valencia, Pamplona, ​​Palencia and Valladolid, in addition to Zaragoza itself) . Only the Stellantis facilities in Vigo will remain out of hand. Although Extremadura also has strengths such as sheltering under its lands the second largest lithium reserve in Europe, favoring the development of vertical projects.

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