Volkswagen: 40 Battery Gigafactories Needed For Electric Car Revolution

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Originally published on Gas2.

The electric car revolution is coming. In fact, it is picking up speed as companies like Volvo say that all of their cars will have a battery and electric motor by 2025. Whole nations such as India and France are suggesting they may ban the sale of cars with internal combustion engines in coming years. Most people assume that lack of charging infrastructure is the primary barrier to more electric cars being on the road, but Volkswagen believes (as others do) that a lack of batteries will be the biggest factor. In fact, Volkswagen believes the world will need the equivalent of 40 Gigafactories by 2025 to meet the demand.

Ulrich Eichhorn, head of research and development for Volkswagen, which has recently reclaimed the title of world’s largest automaker, made that projection just last week. He is basing his claim on an expectation that 25% of Volkswagens will be powered by batteries as soon as 2025. “We will need more than 200 gigawatt-hours,” Eichhorn told the press recently during a presentation at the company’s proving grounds located a half hour north of its headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany.

Just last year, Volkswagen CEO Matthias Mueller said the company would need 150 gigawatt-hours of batteries a year by 2025. The fact that the number has grown by a third in just 12 months is further indication of how quickly the electric car revolution ignited by Elon Musk is growing.

If every other manufacturer also finds electric cars amount to one quarter of their sales, the world will need 1.5 terawatt-hours of batteries each year. That equates to 40 Gigafactories making 35 gigawatt-hours of lithium-ion battery cells each year. Add in batteries for the emerging grid storage market and the need for battery cells will be much more.

One way to decrease the need for massive new battery factories would be to increase the energy density of individual battery cells, something that corporations and researchers around the world are working feverishly to make happen. “We are in the middle of development work. That means we are producing new results every week,” Bosch Mobility Solutions chief Rolf Bulander told Automotive News last week.

New battery technology could include solid-state batteries that replace the liquid electrolyte used in today’s lithium-ion products. Doing so would eliminate the need for complex and expensive battery cooling systems, lowering the cost of electric cars. Different battery chemistries, from lithium-sulphur to lithium-air chemistries, are being researched, but VW’s Eichhorn says such batteries are 15 years away from commercial production.

He has an amusing perspective on how the dominance of the internal combustion engine came to be. After all, Volkswagen was founded by Ferdinand Porsche, whose very first car was an electric vehicle with four in-wheel hub motors. If it wasn’t for the first oil boom in Texas more than 100 years ago, electric cars might have been become the norm, he says.

“If the technologies had been reversed, it would be hard to conceive an engineer now successfully proposing that combustion engines replace electric cars,” Eichhorn says. “Imagine that person would say, ‘Rather than having maximum torque available from the start like an electric car, it had to ramp up over time.’ Imagine he then said it involved a device where thousands of tiny explosions occur every minute using a toxic and highly flammable liquid that had to be stored in the vehicle somewhere. And then imagine him saying that this fuel came almost entirely from crisis regions. What do you think his boss might have said to him?” Indeed.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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