Lignin is a polymer found in the cell walls of the plants that grow on dry land. It’s the stuff that gives trees, which are up to 30% lignin, their strength. It is also one of the largest renewable sources of carbon. Northvolt, the Swedish battery manufacturer, is vitally interested in sourcing more of the raw materials it needs from local sources as companies everywhere are discovering that over-reliance on distant suppliers can lead to severe supply chain interruptions.
Stora Enso is a company based in Finland (which happens to be next door to Sweden, for those of you who were out sick the day they taught world geography in school). It says it is the largest private forest owner in the world. Its business is focused on providing renewable products for packaging, bio-materials, wooden construction, and paper to the global community. “We believe that everything that is made from fossil based materials today can be made from a tree tomorrow,” the company says.
In a press release this week, Northvolt and Stora Enso say they are working together to create sustainable batteries using lignin-based hard carbon produced with renewable wood from Nordic forests. The aim is to develop the world’s first industrialized battery featuring anode sourced entirely from European raw materials, lowering both the carbon footprint and the cost.
“The joint battery development with Northvolt marks a step on our journey to serve the fast-growing battery market with renewable anode materials made from trees. Lignode, our lignin-based hard carbon, will secure the strategic European supply of anode raw material, serving the sustainable battery needs for applications from mobility to stationary energy storage,” says Johanna Hagelberg, who is the head of biomaterials at Stora Enso.
Stora Enso will supply Lignode derived from its sustainably managed forests, while Northvolt will be responsible for the design, production process development, and scale-up of the Lignode-based technology
“With this partnership, we are exploring a new source of sustainable raw material and expanding the European battery value chain, while also developing a less expensive battery chemistry. It is an exciting demonstration of how our pursuit of a sustainable battery industry goes hand in hand with creating a positive impact both on society and cost,” says Emma Nehrenheim, chief environmental officer at Northvolt.
Stora Enso has established a pilot plant for bio-based carbon materials located at its production site in Sunila, Finland, where it has been producing lignin commercially since 2015. Today, its annual lignin production capacity is 50,000 tons, which makes the company the largest kraft lignin producer in the world.
According to CNBC, companies such as Volvo Cars, BMW, and Volkswagen have placed orders for more than $55 billion worth of product with Northvolt, whose first battery factory has started delivering battery cells to European customers. Volkswagen was part of a recent $1.1 billion funding round for Northvolt.
Making batteries for electric vehicles from locally sourced sustainable materials is great news for those of us who welcome the EV revolution.
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