The Swedish battery manufacturer Northvolt signed a joint development agreement with the Swedish-Finnish paper products company Stora Enso. The two companies will work on developing lignin-based batteries, a resource that Stora Enso has access to in abundance.
Lignins are a class of organic polymers derived from the cell walls of plants, and acts as a binding agent. Trees are made up of 20% to 30% lignin, making them one of the "largest renewable sources of carbon anywhere".
Lignode, lignin anode
The keystone of Northvolt and Stora Enso's technology is the ability to transform lignin into a material called Lignode, which will be used as the anode material in the new batteries. (Recap: the anodes are the part of the battery that releases electrons, while the cathodes are the part of the battery that absorbs them.)
In summary, Northvolt's device would be the first battery in the world with a lignin anode, entirely sourced from European raw materials. And the world situation of lithium extraction and transformation can make you understand how important this is.
“Lignode will guarantee the strategic European supply of anodic raw material. It will be able to meet the need for sustainable batteries for different applications: from mobility to stationary energy storage, ”he says Johanna Hagelberg, EVP of Stora Enso. And the trees? Lignode and lignin will come from sustainably managed forests, the companies say in their joint statement.
A few notes on production
The headquarters of the "lignin anode factory" will be in Finland, and the plant will have a production capacity of 50.000 tons per year. If Stora Enso will put the infrastructure, Northvolt he will take care of the design of the battery cells and in general of the downsizing of the new technology.
The two companies do not yet unbutton themselves on the type of the first batteries produced: will they initially be limited to electric vehicles or will they also include domestic storage systems? Given that Volkswagen has invested hundreds of millions in Northvolt, I have a half idea of which applications will take precedence.
The times are ripe
5 years ago, in 2017, the head of innovation of Stora Enso, Mikael Hannus, estimated that commercial production of lignin-based products would arrive within 5-10 years. Absolutely centered forecast, following this roadmap.
The former paper mill that Stora Enso converted to battery factory in Borlänge, Sweden, will be fully operational in 2024. It will employ 1.000 people, use 100% clean, local energy and produce more than 100 GWh of cathode material annually.
Europe thanks. The trees ... Let's see.