As the world moves away from internal combustion engines and towards batteries, volts, and motors, it is only natural that an increasing number of companies would be looking to create gigafactories to meet the demand.
However, Eurocell, which recently joined the fray, has a slightly different outlook on how to sate Europe’s growing demand for lithium-ion batteries.
“We are part of the automotive ecosystem,” says Recardo Bruins, Eurocell’s CEO. “It’s the same as building roads – it’s not really part of the automotive sector – but without roads, they can’t sell cars.”
That attitude, being connected but separate from the automotive world, is leading Eurocell down some interesting and novel avenues.
Last month, the company announced that it would be seeking to build a new gigafactory somewhere in Europe. However, while the European market is driving demand, Eurocell is more of a global effort.
From Korea to Europe
“The battery industry originated in the UK but the mass production has always been something that has been done in the Far East, mostly in Japan, Korea, and China,” explains Bruins.
“I got involved [in Eurocell] quite a few years ago. My professional background is in the financing and financial advisory for independent power projects, including a 600-megawatt offshore project here in the Netherlands. On the back of that, I experienced that there was a big mismatch in terms of energy production and getting that energy to users.”
Following this experience, Bruins divided that the only viable option to get power to the people would be in a storage solution – batteries.
“I got in touch with a group of very smart people in South Korea,” Bruins says. “They have been developing a fit-for-purpose battery and they had only just formed the company. It’s sort of a 15-year development. We got together and formed a company called Eurocell and, on the back of that, they said ‘We are ready to commercialise’ as they had done all the testing and lab-scale development.”
However, while the expertise is located in South Korea, Bruins thought that the best way to move forward with the product was to base the factory in Europe.
“With all the electrification going on in Europe, we might actually have a better shot of rolling this out in Europe or the UK,” says Bruins.
“If we’re going to do it, we don’t want to do it in the same way as LG, Samsung, or any of these conglomerates. We want to be seen as a local entity.”
Plus, says Bruins, with upcoming global trading restrictions and rules of origin on products entering Europe, Eurocell is able to future-proof itself.
Building Batteries Better
Throughout our chat with Bruins, he was at pains to make clear that Eurocell’s batteries are better than the competition’s – but not for the reasons you might expect.
“I think there are two sides to why our batteries have really good commercial value,” says Bruins.
“One end is the production and the other end is performance. One of the most important boxes for us to tick was that they needed to be mass-producible for the right price.”
“You have so many new technologies coming to market and they’re all fantastic. In terms of performance, they might get very close to Eurocell, they might be even better. But, the fact that Eurocell can produce on a conventional manufacturing line on proven equipment explains why we can roll this out in such a short period.”
The other side of the equation is performance. However, despite relatively run-of-the-mill production techniques and chemistry, Bruins is promising big performance claims.
“Our battery is so much better in terms of performance for energy storage,” says Bruins. “We’re not using very exotic materials on the electrodes or the chemistry. We are sticking very close to conventional, off-the-shelf materials. The way we apply them in our process and how we form the chemistry is what gives us the performance.”
According to Eurocell, its batteries could last ten times longer than conventional lithium-ion cells and would come with no end-of-life issues. Eurocell also says that its batteries have a wider range of operating temperatures – making them better suited to areas with extreme weather and without access to an existing grid network.
However, while Eurocell believes its batteries have benefits for the European car industry, the cells could also transform how Europeans access electricity.
The Need for Better Energy Storage
“Electrification is starting here in Europe… that sounds so fantastic – and it is,” says Bruins.
“But there is one thing that people are not really aware of and that they don’t see, they think someone else will solve it, and that’s the electricity grid.”
Delivering power to homes around Europe is, currently, relatively easy. However, according to Bruins, as electric cars become more commonplace, they will completely transform the demands on the grid.
“In 2025, a six o’clock in the afternoon, when people get home from work and they all plug in to charge overnight, the strain on the electricity grid will be massive and it was never designed for that,” says Bruins.
“In order to prevent blackouts, a multi-billion investment is required to upgrade the energy transmission network. I think the only real solution is to put batteries on people’s homes, in offices, and at the end-user stage.”
However, simply sticking a load of regular lithium-ion batteries on houses won’t solve the problem.
“You need a fit-for-purpose battery,” explains Bruins, “because, if you just take a lithium-ion car battery and you mount it to a house, if there’s a fire, the whole street will burn down. Insurance companies and fire departments are already worried about it.”
“The Eurocell,” according to Bruins, “is safe and has the ability to quick charge and quick discharge. Let’s say a Tesla Powerwall is mounted to your house, you can’t quick charge your car. There will always be moments in your life that you get home at six o’clock, you plug it in overnight, and then you realise that you only have 30 miles left in your car and you need to go somewhere quickly.”
This section of the market – energy storage – will, according to Bruins be a huge part of the automotive ecosystem and Eurocell’s future business.
Before any of that can happen, though, Eurocell needs to build a factory.
“In terms of location, on one hand, we’re quite flexible in terms of where we can go,” says Bruins.
“On the other hand, there are some conditions to meet from our end and that has to do with the site plot and maintaining the electricity connection, because we need a lot and, ideally, we want to have green energy feeding our factory.
“In terms of workforce, we need quite a few people to work in the factory. If you look in the UK or Europe in general, you won’t find many people that actually have hands-on experience working in factories.
“What we will do is as soon as we have the site locked in and we have the construction ongoing, we will also send a core group of people that will work in the factory to South Korea to work and get training on the actual equipment so, by the time the factory in Europe or the UK is ready to start, these people are all trained and have experience with the machinery.”
Eurocell’s plan is ambitious and requires a number of moving parts to align in order to work – don’t forget that the company expects to be producing “production-ready” batteries within the next year.
However, with its reliance on off-the-shelf components and relatively unexotic chemistry, Eurocell might just make it work – not because it is ripping up the rulebook but because it is staying within the margins of possibility.