I recently spoke with FREYR CEO Tom Jensen for our CleanTech Talk podcast. We discussed FREYR’s plans for battery gigafactories in Europe and the USA, and particularly these regions catching up to China in EV battery production (including the battery supply chain). We also talked innovation in EV battery development and production.
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Tom is an economist by training and says that he’s been “scaling disruptive technology and disruptive business models for the better half of 15 years — broadly speaking in the sustainability space.” FREYR, meanwhile, is a young EV battery company founded in Norway in just 2018. Interestingly, Tom indicates that the company was inspired into existence by Northvolt in neighboring Sweden, even going so far as to humorously say, “and, as good Norwegians, we tend to think, if the Swedes can do it, we can do it a little bit better.” Taking a little bit of the neighborly rivalry and humor out of it, he added, “What Northvolt really have shown the world is that it is possible to think about large-scale giga-scale manufacturing of batteries in the Nordic region, and we looked ourselves in the region and asked, is it feasible to imagine being successful, profitable, cost-competitive in the battery manufacturing space from a Western Hemisphere, let’s call it, vantage point at all, and what is it Norway potentially has to offer to sort of offer some competitive advantages.”
FREYR’s CEO then highlighted a couple of points that struck them from inside Norway’s borders — factors that give Norway some sort of advantage and right to be in the game. The biggest point that rose to the top was that Norway is nearly 100% powered by renewable energy. Furthermore, the country even has a lot of surplus energy from its renewable resources. Lastly on this point, this has historically been extremely cost-competitive (cheap) electricity. “We have also secured, I think, one of the most competitive long-term power purchase agreements for a large-scale energy-intensive industry that the world has ever seen.”
FREYR’s first battery gigafactory has been named Giga Arctic. It is nearly on the Arctic Circle.
Regarding US production, Tom noted that they started searching out sites on this side of the Atlantic more than a year ago, expecting that the US would wake up more to the importance of this industry — and one might say the industrial story of the century. As it was in the middle of searching out sites, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 was passed. Tom notes that over in Europe, this critical legislation is often simply referred to as “the Biden climate bill.” (I found that interesting.) He added that many politicians over there in Europe are “a little bit annoyed by this Inflation Reduction Act — because it kind of breaches with WTO principles” and threatens some of the EV battery projects and growth in Europe. However, on the flip side, Americans he’s talked to about it tend to say, “But hold on — you’ve been barking up the US tree for like decades, [that] we’ve done too little on mitigating climate [change], and here we’re actually doing something that is a massive incentive, the most impactful bill to do something about climate change, and now you’re going to give us heartache for that, too? Come on!” A little later on in the conversation, he added, “The incentive package for batteries is phenomenal, right? It is second to none.” Indeed — the US finally jumped into the game of attracting and stimulating EV battery production stateside, and it did so in a big way.
While the focus was the US and Europe, we did of course talk about China’s leadership in this realm and how it pushed the rest of the world to catch up in order to not be under the thumb of China too much for this critical supply chain. “I think you’re spot on in it. You know, China saw the writing on the wall a couple of decades ago; started copying like madmen the Japanese technology; built up huge local supply chains of cathode material, anode material, all the stuff that goes into battery production; large, local entities like CATL and BYD and others that are both sort of building the entire value chain of battery and battery solutions, but also electric vehicles and other things, so you built up a strong domestic, in a way, customer base which is also very strong.
“So, in earnest, I think it’s fair to say that China’s probably a decade ahead of everyone else when it comes to this thing. …”
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