The Fraunhofer IKTS has opened a branch office called the Battery Innovation and Technology Center (BITC) in Germany at Erfurter Kreuz. The location of the battery research centre is not a coincidence of course.
The new BITC is to “intensify existing collaborations with CATL,” said the German institute. The expanding Chinese battery supplier is currently building its first cell production facility outside of China at the “Erfurter Kreuz” industrial site and expects to have production running in early 2022.
The Chinese battery making giant will invest 1.8 billion euros in the site in the medium term as announced last summer. “In many respects, the project is an investment of superlatives,” commented Thuringia’s Economics Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee back then, who has been promoting the location since the beginning of 2017.
Also when welcoming the new battery R&D centre by Fraunhofer now, the minister stressed the “enormous importance” of the planned production research “for the development of new industrial capacities in Thuringia and especially in Eastern Germany”.
The state of Thuringia is supporting the development of the centre over the next five years. The building complex with approximately 5000 m² space for use by Fraunhofer IKTS is owned by the State Development Corporation of Thuringia (LEG). Andreas Krey, Managing Director of the LEG even considered the strategic choice of location and corresponding commitment of the state government “one of the reasons for CATL’s positive decision to locate here”.
Here, the BITC will develop solutions for the “integrated, digitally supported production and quality assurance of battery cells and modules,” according to press information. In other words, they will test ceramic materials, the IKTS’ speciality, among other things, using the latest sensor technology and non-destructive testing methods. Another focus is on scaling of any production, Fraunhofer here speaks of components in “quantities in excess of millions of units” while maintaining consistent quality.
Besides, CATL is not everything. “The great strength of the BITC lies in its development-oriented cooperation with Thuringian companies and research institutions. This allows us to pool our expertise directly at the battery cell production site,” emphasizes BITC Director Dr Roland Weidl. Fraunhofer says that collaboration is planned with the Technische Universität Ilmenau, the universities in Jena and Gera-Eisenach and with “highly specialized” but not further named SMEs in the region. Also, the centre will train skilled workers and teach industry 4.0 concepts in battery production and other branches of industry. The latter makes sense in a location, with existing infrastructure (think Autobahn access) and all German car manufacturers within reach in under four hours.
Meanwhile, CATL is also progressing its research in China. The company has just begun construction of an innovation facility at its headquarters in Ningde in the eastern Chinese province of Fujian. Named 21C Lab, the centre will see the further development of metal lithium batteries, pure semiconductor batteries and sodium-ion batteries, but also focus on the commercial exploitation of its technology. CATL has announced that the investment will reach 3.3 billion yuan (around 410 million euros).
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