The BMW Group is building on its expertise in the world of electric mobility and has pooled its experience with battery cells in its Competence Centre. The company said the purpose of the facility in Munich, Germany, is to advance battery cell technology and carefully dissect the production processes.
BMW’s lithium-ion batteries have been adapted by manufacturers of commercial fleet vehicles, including Motiv Power Systems and Turkish bus builder Karsan. The latter company uses BMW i3 battery packs in its Jest electric bus.
“The new Battery Cell Competence Centre puts us in an enviable position,” said Oliver Zipse, Chairman of the Board of Management of BMW AG. “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.”
The BMW Group is investing a total of €200 million in the Competence Centre and employees 200 people there.
“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,” said Zipse. “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.”
The Competence Centre will map the entire value chain of battery cell technology – from research and development to a cell’s composition and design, and its suitability for large-scale manufacture. The company said it is working on future generations of battery cells, focusing on aspects such as improving energy density, available peak output, service life, safety, charging characteristics and performance at varying temperatures, and reducing battery costs.
BMW Group’s aim of developing the best battery cells for its models was formulated with these specifications at the forefront, reflecting the company’s commitment to giving electrified vehicle owners the best cells for the vehicle concept at hand, it said.
Selecting the right materials from the beginning is crucial. For this reason, the experts at the Competence Centre are constantly investigating innovative materials. This leads to the creation of new material sets for the battery cell’s individual elements: the anode, cathode, electrolyte and separator. The way in which the various materials interact – the cell chemistry – is another fundamental factor in the evolution of the cell design.
To guarantee access to the latest developments and knowledge at all times, the BMW Group works with worldwide partners throughout the value chain, ranging from scientific institutions and universities to established companies and start-ups.
BMW Group said it has been analyzing battery cells since 2008. The laboratory at the new Competence Centre boasts the state-of-the-art technology and methodology needed to further expand the company’s knowledge, it said, as well as monitor trends for the battery cells of the future and play an active role in shaping developments.
The laboratory has been producing internally developed test cells in small formats for some years already with the aim of identifying the ideal cell structure from the myriad materials and variants. Great value is placed here on minimizing the quantities of material used while optimizing their properties. If a cell passes the initial durability and charging behavior tests, it is subjected to further testing in a larger format. An entire testing hall is on hand for this purpose and enables a wide variety of test types. The experts are also able to make use of an in-house safety lab, where the battery cells’ robustness can be investigated under extreme conditions.
Sustainability and supply reliability are key factors in the ongoing expansion of electric mobility. For the BMW Group’s procurement specialists, the company said ethical production and processing of raw materials begins at the very start of the value chain, which is why they closely scrutinize the battery cell supply chains – all the way to the mines from which the materials are sourced.
The company has restructured its supply chains for the upcoming fifth generation of high-voltage batteries and will begin direct procurement of cobalt and lithium for battery cells in 2020. This ensures complete transparency regarding the origin of these two vital raw materials for batteries. Added to which, the relevant agreements guarantee a reliable supply of these materials until 2025 and beyond. In future, cobalt will be sourced directly from mines in Australia and Morocco, and lithium from countries including Australia.
The BMW Group said it is also taking steps to ensure that future generations of battery cells can be manufactured on a large scale. The Competence Centre offers both ideal overall conditions and high-quality production facilities conforming to the industry standards of established cell manufacturers. New production technologies have been integrated here, bearing in mind the importance of flexibility with cell format in order to create greater scope for incorporating different developments.
Manufacturing battery cell prototypes enables the full analysis and understanding of the value chain processes for the cells. Adding the BMW Group’s in-house production expertise to the equation means the company can commission a specific chemical composition, mechanism and design for battery cells. In future, the BMW Group said it will be in a position to enable potential suppliers to manufacture cells in accordance with its particular requirements.
The company said batteries that are no longer fit for vehicles can be reused in stationary energy storage systems, helping to integrate renewable energy into the public power grid, increase grid stability and lower energy costs for consumers. The BMW Group said it is also using battery storage systems to steadily optimize power supply at its plants around the world.