Courtesy of Northvolt.

Scania & Northvolt Announce New Battery For Heavy-Duty Trucks

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Scania, the heavy truck manufacturer that is part of Volkswagen Group, and Northvolt say they have teamed up to create a battery for heavy-duty electric trucks that will last as long as the vehicles themselves — about 1.5 million kilometers (930,000 miles). That’s important to reassure heavy truck customers that replacing batteries will not be part of the electric truck experience.

The world depends on heavy-duty trucks — tractor trailers, box vans, trash trucks, dump trucks, fire engines, and the like — to perform most of the tasks needed to get goods to market. No trucks, no commerce. The diesel engine is the unsung hero of the world’s freight and cargo industries. Its primary feature is an abundance of low-speed torque to get heavily laden vehicles moving from rest. Electric motors also have lots of low-speed torque. In fact, they develop their maximum torque at zero rpm, which makes them ideal for use in any truck designed to carry heavy loads.

The problem is, diesel engines produce quite a lot of carbon dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, and fine particulate matter that spew from their exhaust stacks into the atmosphere. It’s true that there are synthetic fuels that can replace conventional diesel, but there is very little such fuel available and it often costs more than normal diesel fuel made from oil. Plus, there’s still some pollution from burning it.

The Scania–Northvolt Battery

In a joint press release, Scania and Northvolt say that in validation tests, the lithium-ion cell they have developed together has demonstrated an outstanding useful life which will enable battery packs made from those cells to power trucks for 1.5 million kilometers – equivalent to a truck’s whole lifetime. Produced with zero-emissions electricity, the cell’s carbon footprint is approximately one third that of a comparative industry reference.

The collaboration between Scania and Northvolt began in 2017 when the two companies joined forces to develop and commercialize an industry-leading battery cell for heavy commercial vehicles. Now the partnership and its close collaboration have come to fruition, as the long-duration cell is being produced at the Northvolt Ett gigafactory in northern Sweden. Scania says it will inaugurate a new battery factory in Södertälje, Sweden, where battery cells will be assembled into battery packs for the start of production of heavy-duty electric trucks.

electric truck scania norway
A new super-sized electric truck from Scania is hitting the road in Norway. Photo courtesy of Scania.

Peter Carlsson, CEO and co-founder of Northvolt, said in the press release, “At the outset of this partnership, Northvolt and Scania agreed to an ambitious timeline for the development of a high-performance battery cell which would enable their plans for electrifying heavy transport. To have proceeded through extensive development and validation phases, and now be delivering cells from Northvolt Ett which exceed our initial expectations in terms of performance is a tremendous accomplishment for everyone involved.”

“Today marks a milestone on the path towards a sustainable transport system. The future of heavy transport is electric, and to enable the shift and to continue delivering on our brand promise towards customers to be premium, Scania needs top-performing battery cells for our electric trucks,” Scania CEO Christian Levin added. “As the development of the battery cell started, we targeted high performance, low operating costs and long lifetime. We decided on a requirement for the cell to enable a 1.5 million kilometers long lifetime for a heavy-duty Scania vehicle. The tests show that this requirement can not only be met, but also exceeded.”

As part of the Northvolt’s commitment to establishing a supply of sustainable cells, Northvolt Ett is powered by 100% fossil-fuel-free electricity generated by hydropower and wind power. Due to the fossil-free energy and integration of additional sustainable production features at Northvolt Ett, the estimated carbon footprint of the cell at full serial production is approximately one third that of a comparative industry reference cell!

“Northvolt’s mission to build the world’s greenest batteries matches Scania’s purpose to drive the shift towards sustainable transport perfectly. I’m truly looking forward to putting the final puzzle pieces together ahead of the take-off of premium electric vehicles later this year,” said Levin.

Here are the cell specifications provided by the companies in their joint press release:

•    Cell format: Prismatic
•    Capacity: 157 Ah
•    Nominal voltage: 3.6 V
•    Lifetime: 1.5 million kilometers in heavy duty commercial transportation

Regarding the claim of a lower total carbon footprint, in a footnote, the companies compare their battery cell to an IVL 2019 lithium-ion NMC 111 cell: “Cradle-to-gate climate change impact calculation was prepared in the manner proposed by EU legislation using the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) EF2.0 database, to provide a projection of cell footprints from Northvolt Ett in full serial production.”

Careful CleanTechnica readers will notice that the press release avoids providing any details about the new long-life battery cells in terms of what battery chemistry is used or if there are any changes in anode or cathode technology that contribute to a longer than normal service life. There are also no performance data provided that touch on how the new battery cell performs in  adverse conditions such as extreme cold — which has a significant effect on battery performance. We have reached out to the companies for more information and will update this article if we learn more.

The Takeaway

The lesson here appears to be that battery cells are not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Heavy truck customers care not a whit about 0-to-60 mph times or top speed. They do care about reliability, longevity, and total operating costs. If an electric truck requires a new battery pack halfway through its useful life, that is obviously something that will directly affect operating cost calculations.

Battery companies and manufacturers are notoriously tightlipped about the batteries being used in today’s electric vehicles. Tesla, for instance, uses NMC battery cells in many of its cars but LFP in some others. A driver may or may not know from behind the wheel what cells are used in the vehicle’s battery pack. Customers for used EVs know even less about the batteries in the cars they are buying.

To the best of our knowledge, the Tesla Semi will use NMC battery cells in the long-range (500-mile) version but may use LFP in the short-range (300-mile) version. We know that Tesla is committed to using cylindrical battery cells in the 4680 format, but we don’t know much about what is inside those “cans.” It seems that Tesla has settled on the format and is now tweaking the chemistry and the electrodes inside to get the performance it is looking for.

In the future, there could be several versions of 4680 cells for different use cases — one of the Roadster 2.0 and another for the Tesla Semi, for instance. At one time, Ford had two V-8 engines with exactly the same displacement — the 351 Windsor and the 351 Cleveland — but they had entirely different performance characteristics.

Battery technology is changing rapidly. That’s a good thing. The new long-life battery cells for Scania and Northvolt may be lousy at powering a family sedan, but if they help transition the world of heavy-duty trucks to zero-emission driving, that will be a beautiful thing.

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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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