Gotion and InoBat outline key points for cell factory in Central Europe
The Chinese battery cell manufacturer and Volkswagen partner Gotion High-Tech has just signed a “pre-joint venture agreement” with Slovakian battery company InoBat in Berlin. The main goal is the operation of a joint battery cell factory in Europe, the construction of which could begin next year. The agreement follows a non-binding letter of intent between the two companies in February 2023 and a 25 per cent stake in InoBat announced by Gotion about two weeks ago.
But first things first. What is known so far is that the joint battery cell factory will have an annual capacity of 20 GWh in the first phase. According to InoBat, the decision on the location has not yet been finalised, but the focus is on the “Middle-European region.” Other than that, the company remains rather general: “The future gigafactory should cover an area of more than 100 hectares and create thousands of jobs.” The partners expect it to be fully operational by 2026.
InoBat CEO Marián Boček lists “strong support from the state and state institutions in building critical infrastructure, construction permits and providing competitive state aid” as key factors for the investment decision and expresses that “Slovakia has the opportunity to fight for the location of the factory and thus be competitive in the field of electromobility.” The partnership with Gotion High-Tech is thus strategically important for InoBat in several areas.
Steven Cai, board member and CTO of Gotion, comments that InoBat has impressed his company with its strong expertise in research and development of its own batteries. “This gigafactory is to meet the localisation demand from our European customers currently supplied out of China as well as our new customer nominations in Europe soon to be announced,” he says, without going more into detail.
Gotion supplies batteries to Volkswagen, among others – the Wolfsburg company has been the largest single shareholder since 2021. On the one hand, Gotion is a technology partner for the PowerCo battery cell factory in Salzgitter. On the other, it is also building its own cell production in Göttingen. So, the cooperation with InoBat is not the first European activity for the Chinese.
The plans of the Chinese-Slovak alliance had already become apparent. Two weeks ago, Gotion High-Tech announced that it would take over a quarter of InoBat. The duo did not disclose the financial details of the investment.
InoBat calls the deal a “Gotion-InoBat-Batteries (GIB) transaction” and stresses that Gotion High-Tech has “committed significant capital and technology support to ensure and safeguard InoBat’s success of the GIB framework.” According to the Slovaks, this is the “first such major investment by a top tier Chinese global battery maker in a European premier startup with a significant portfolio of IP Industrialisation and scale-up projects […].”
When Gotion’s entry was announced, it was already said to focus on localising the battery value chain for customers – with an initial focus on Central and Eastern Europe and developing “green battery materials” in Morocco.
InoBat Auto pursues the goal of supplying customers with customised battery cells. With high-throughput screening (a method from pharmaceutical research) and artificial intelligence, the company wants to find individually suitable cell chemistry in each case. The Slovaks count the passenger car, commercial vehicle, motorsports and aerospace sectors as their potential customers.
According to InoBat CEO Marián Boček, Europe has great potential, a strategically favourable location and a long tradition in the automotive industry. “InoBat has proven that in a relatively short time, it can choose a suitable location, successfully manage the permitting process and complete the construction of such an extremely complex technology as a battery factory. Our R&D centre and pilot line in Voderady are progressing, and the technology is already working there.”
The company plans a 100 MWh pilot production line in Voderady and a 10 GWh factory from 2024. Manz will supply some of the manufacturing equipment. By early 2022, InoBat had already attracted Ideanomics, an eMobility company based in New York, as an investor. Other backers included Rio Tinto, Amara Raja and the private arm of the World Bank, the IFC. The InoBat announcement did not disclose what the shareholder structure will look like now that Gotion has taken a 25 per cent stake.
The Chinese and the Slovaks had already signed a memorandum of understanding in February 2023, which, among other things, provided for the examination of a joint factory with annual production capacities of 40 GWh for battery cells and packs, preferably in Central or Eastern Europe. In addition to this factory, the memorandum of understanding also mentioned a technical cooperation for LFP and NMC batteries. In addition, the potential for producing batteries for stationary energy storage in the existing InoBat plants in Slovakia was to be examined to give Gotion quick access to the European market. And, as in almost every battery cooperation, recycling concepts for production waste and used batteries were also examined.
Despite the cooperation and partly technical collaboration, both companies affirmed in February to “maintain their independent businesses and chemistries.” Instead, they want to “devise new and exciting technologies in mutually beneficial areas.” Specifically, InoBat intends to benefit from Gotion’s expertise in electrical storage solutions, while Gotion wants to benefit from InoBat’s market connections in Europe.