The future of battery technology in Sweden looks promising
The battery industry is on its way to becoming a new key industry in Sweden, alongside industries such as steel and forestry. But what does the future hold for Swedish battery production?
Ragnar Sjödahl, Director of Recycling Operations at Northvolt, instructing a colleague.
In order for us to continue using electricity when we want, rather than when the most electricity is produced, it must be stored. Therefore, batteries play a significant role in the future of energy supply.
There are several innovative Swedish companies in the battery field, and one of the most successful is Northvolt. Their ambition is to produce the world's most sustainable batteries, both environmentally, economically, and socially. Northvolt also actively works on recycling. The goal is for 50 percent of their batteries to consist of recycled material by 2030.
– It is an ambitious goal and a big challenge, but we really want to prove that it actually works excellently to use recycled material in battery production, says Ragnar Sjödahl, Director of Recycling Operations at Northvolt.
The Swedish Energy Agency recognized the potential of Northvolt
The Swedish Energy Agency provides support to companies to contribute to the energy transition, and through electrification, move society away from fossil fuels. Northvolt is one of the companies that has received support from the Swedish Energy Agency.
When they started, few believed that it was possible to start large-scale battery production in Sweden, since Asia was so far ahead. The Swedish Energy Agency saw the potential and had high hopes for how far Northvolt could go if they only had the right conditions.
– To give large support to something that is completely untested in Europe requires careful consideration. We needed to look at it objectively and see if there were conditions to carry this out. And our assessment was that, yes, the time is probably right, says Greger Ledung, expert in battery research at the Swedish Energy Agency.
The support that Northvolt has received from the Swedish Energy Agency has come in various stages and had different purposes. With the first support stage, a feasibility study was conducted. The second stage was a loan and a business development grant. The third stage was to build a pilot plant in Västerås – Northvolt Labs. This was necessary because technology needs to be developed as far as possible before it begins to be produced on a large scale. Making mistakes on a large scale can be incredibly costly.
– This support was very important to us. It was a prerequisite for us to be able to move forward and gain credibility with our customers, lenders, and other investors in the company. The fact that an agency that looks at many similar proposals believes in us, is a stamp of high credibility, says Ragnar Sjödahl.
Employee in the hydrometallurgical process at Northvolt Labs in Västerås.
Today, the pilot plant in Västerås has nearly 1 000 employees and around 4 500 people work for Northvolt. The confidence that the Swedish Energy Agency has shown in Northvolt has had a ripple effect and led to investments from other sources, something that has made the rapid growth possible.
– After our support for the plant in Västerås, other business associates came in and invested many times more. Sweden has gotten a lot out of it by spending relatively few tax dollars, says Greger Ledung.
An industry that creates jobs and export
The fact that we are getting a new key industry will affect Sweden's prosperity. When the whole world is phasing out fossil fuels, there is a great need for batteries. By taking a place in the global market and establishing Swedish companies, the Swedish business community is strengthened, and thus also the economy and labour market. At the same time, we have the opportunity to leave the fossil society behind faster.
– Our establishment creates many new establishments. For example, if we say that we need a producer of renewable chemicals, it can lead to the establishment of a new company. And that can, in turn, create further ripple effects, says Ragnar Sjödahl.
But as the battery industry develops and grows in many countries simultaneously, investors, materials, and expertise become scarce. If Sweden is to succeed in the battery field, competence will be required from both Sweden and the rest of the world.
– When it comes to competence supply, the Swedish Energy Agency supports several initiatives to increase competence in the field, including collaborations with various colleges and universities, says Greger Ledung.
By using the strengths that exist here, such as Sweden's powerful environmental legislation and good access to fossil-free electricity, we can ensure that Swedish batteries are the most sustainable. This gives them value, which in turn gives competitive advantages. The result is a stronger business community with room for new and growing companies that lead to new job opportunities. Those who thought it was impossible to catch up with Asia are therefore proven wrong – now Sweden is put on the map as one of the leaders in the battery field.