Varta CEO Herbert Schein has now confirmed the rumour that the company also wants to produce battery cells for electric cars in the future and revealed more details about the initiative. Production is scheduled to start in 2024 at the latest. Varta presented impressive performance data for the cells themselves and special applications.
As previously leaked, a pilot line for cells in the 21700 format (2.1 cm diameter, 7 cm long) is planned. Tesla uses this cell format for the Model 3 and Model Y, for example. The cells are manufactured, among others, by Panasonic in the jointly operated Gigafactory 1 in Nevada.
However, as Schein states in an interview, his 21700 cells are not necessarily to be used as the sole traction battery, as is the case with Tesla. “With our new 21700 cell, we are not directly competing with existing pure energy cells, such as those produced by CATL and LG,” Schein says.
The big difference with the well-known “energy cells”, as Schein calls them: Varta’s 21700 cell is said to be able to be fully charged in six minutes. “No other battery in this category on the market offers this feature yet,” says the Varta CEO. “In the automotive sector, we see a very big opportunity for a segment where this power and fast-charging capability is particularly urgently needed. And that brings us to electromobility.”
While Schein mentions the high-voltage battery for powering electric cars as a possible application, he adds: “Ideally with an optimised range extender or with an optimised fuel cell.” The combination with the fuel cell makes particular sense for trucks, he says. It is also possible to use it in 48-volt hybrid systems, he says. “Our battery could accelerate the car to save CO2, as a so-called booster,” Schein said.
For BEVs, he said, the cell is particularly suitable for new vehicle concepts in the premium and sports vehicle segments. “The small form factor brings advantages in the efficient use of space in the car and it offers more power to accelerate the car,” says Schein. “And if you need smaller batteries that can also be quickly recharged while driving, the car becomes lighter and thus needs less energy.”
Varta is thus focusing on a similar use case for the 21700 cell as the Estonian company Skeleton Technologies, which has a German site in Großröhrsdorf. Skeleton, which specialises in ultracapacitors, is developing a graphene battery together with KIT for this purpose, which is to be charged in only 15 seconds. The properties of the Varta cell are likely to be somewhere between the graphene battery and conventional lithium-ion cells.
Varta talks mainly aimed at German carmakers
When asked why “Varta does not build a fully-fledged battery for electric cars, i.e. a pure energy cell”, Schein replies: “Entering markets for products that are already there today was not and is not our strategy”. Varta is “in close contact with many car manufacturers, but there are confidentiality agreements.” The car manufacturers based here are “the top priority”.
According to Schein, “two-thirds, i.e. 200 million euros” of the 300 million euros that Varta received from the Federal Ministry of Economics as part of the first battery IPCEI went into the development of the 21700 cell. In total, Varta has invested about one billion euros in lithium-ion technology in recent years.
The pilot line for the 21700 cell in Ellwangen should be ready by the end of the year. “After that, we would like to go into mass production. The size of production will of course depend on customer orders. We plan to start with a production of at least between 100 and 200 million battery cells per year by 2024 at the latest,” said the Varta CEO.
With reporting by Sebastian Schaal, Germany.
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