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Promises, Promises: BMW Aims To Double Energy Density Of Batteries By 2030, But Will It Ever Mass Produce Electric Cars?

BMW says it is working on battery cells that will have twice the energy density of today’s cells — by 2030. The company deserves some credit for its recycling and ethical business practices but it needs to get in the electric car game in a big way soon.

Hold on to your hats, people. BMW is promising it will find a way to make batteries with double the energy density of today’s batteries and the company is going to do it by — are you sitting down? — 2030! Hurray. To make sure it happens, the company is sinking $220 million into its brand new Battery Cell Competency Center in Munich.

BMW battery research center

Image courtesy BMW

According to a company press release, the purpose of the BCCC is to advance battery cell technology and carefully dissect the production processes. “The new Battery Cell Competence Center puts us in an enviable position,” says Oliver Zipse, Chairman of the Board of Management of BMW.

“Taking the technology currently in the BMW i3 as a basis, by 2030 we will be able to double the energy density of our battery cells — and therefore also the operating range of the vehicles for our customers.

“Battery cell technology is a key success factor in our electric vehicle offensive, as it influences both operational performance and battery costs. Our unrivalled expertise throughout the value chain ensures we are always at the cutting edge of technology. We can specify the exact formats we want to procure, as well as the materials and the conditions involved. As a result, we are ideally positioned to drive forward the rollout of our electrified vehicles.” – Zipse

And when, exactly, will those electric vehicles be in showrooms? The company is quick to point out that it has 12 electrified models in production at the present time and plans to have 25 of them by 2023 — half of them battery electric vehicles.

Maybe. At the present time the company has exactly one battery electric offering in its lineup, the now long in the tooth i3. A new i4 with 300 miles of range is rumored to be in the pipeline but has yet to enter production. In other words, what we have mostly from BMW at present when it comes to electric cars is promises. $220 million compared to Volkswagen’s $60 billion commitment to electric cars is laughable. Show us the EVs, Oliver!

Leading The Way In Battery Recycling

One area that BMW should be praised for is its commitment to battery recycling. When designing battery cells, its primary goal is to make sure the cells can be recycled efficiently at a later stage. It is experimenting with second use battery systems that take batteries that are no longer suitable for use in vehicles and repurpose them for energy storage. Some of those systems are in use in BMW factories around the world.

Once the batteries are no longer suitable for energy storage, the company is developing recycling techniques with various partners. These and other recycling methods are now being upscaled for industrial applications. The objective is to achieve a recycling rate in excess of 90%.

To increase recycling rates, the company is constantly testing recycling concepts for new vehicle components in its recycling and dismantling center. In addition, the BMW Group is collaborating with research institutes and suppliers to drive the implementation of new recovery technologies for materials that will be used more often in future.

New Commitments To CATL & Samsung SDI

Looking ahead to the day when it actually brings several models of electric cars to market, BMW has upped its commitments to purchase batteries from CATL and Samsung SDI. Previously it had committed to €4 billion worth of batteries from CATL but has now raised that to €7.2 billion. At the same time it has committed to purchasing €2.9 billion worth of batteries from its secondary battery supplier, Samsung SDI.

“In this way, we are securing our long-term battery cell needs. Every cell generation is awarded in global competition to the leading manufacturer from both a technology and a business perspective. This ensures we always have access to the best possible cell technology,” says Andreas Wendt, BMW board member responsible for purchasing and supplier network.

BMW will be the first customer of the CATL battery cell plant currently under construction in Erfurt, Germany. “We strongly supported and played an active part in establishing CATL in Germany,” Wendt said.

BMW claims it will source the cobalt and lithium for its batteries from mines in Australia and Morocco, giving the company full transparency over where both raw materials come from. Compliance with environmental standards and respect for human rights have the highest priority. The company’s fifth generation electric drive trains, which will be in use from 2021 onward, will also be produced entirely without using rare earths. “This means we will no longer be dependent on their availability,” Wendt said.

The Takeaway

Give BMW credit for its battery research, ethical sourcing of raw materials, and leading battery recycling efforts. But the company really needs to get on with producing compelling electric cars. A flotilla of plug-in hybrids with less than class leading range is not getting it done. If BMW doesn’t commit to battery electric cars soon, it may find itself having a Kodak moment, which would be a sad state of affairs for a company with such a rich history of success in the auto business. The ultimate driving machine is one with no tailpipe emissions.

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Written By

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. 3000 years ago, Socrates said, "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." Perhaps it's time we listened?


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