Image: Mercedes-Benz

New eCampus: Mercedes bundles battery development in Stuttgart

Mercedes-Benz has opened the eCampus at its headquarters in Stuttgart-Untertürkheim in Germany. It is where the manufacturer will pool battery research to develop innovative high-performance cells and new manufacturing processes. That way, Mercedes wants to reduce battery costs by more than 30 per cent. electrive was at the eCampus' inauguration.

Ola Källenius kicked things off at the opening of the eCampus, evoking the pioneering spirit of the car manufacturer’s founding fathers. The brand-new facility for battery production research stands where a building for camshafts and crankshafts was built in 1907. Commenting on the recent zigzag course about the phase-out of the combustion engine, Källenius said: “Mercedes-Benz is committed to zero emissions. I want to emphasise that. We are creating the conditions to become fully electric.” The company wants to “press ahead with investments as before,” and “nothing has changed” in this respect. However, the Mercedes CEO cautioned: If the customer hesitates until the 2030s, we will continue to build them “the perfect Mercedes.” So, it’s still a bit of a crankshaft. “But the target station is zero emissions,” Källenius emphasised.

Robert Habeck from the Green Party, and Germany’s Vice Chancellor and Economics Minister, picked up the baton. He said the “sometimes misleading political debate” surrounding the transformation must stop. “If we hesitate now and lose time, we will also lose the competition in the end,” he continued. Other economic areas were not hesitating. “The competition for the best drive technologies is in full swing,” said Habeck. In essence, it all comes down to competitiveness. He wants to stimulate demand with special depreciation allowances for electric cars.

The ‘Industrial Cell Lab’ in Untertürkheim cost a three-digit million sum. As the name already makes clear, the main focus will be on the industrialisation of cells; Mercedes wants to cover the entire product and process chain of cell development and production in the laboratory – and thus enable “the development of expertise for an economical manufacturing process.” It sounds a little like the strategy of the competition from Munich, where the ‘Battery Cell Competence Centre’ has been in operation for several years and the ‘Battery Production Competence Centre‘ in Parsdorf near Munich has been producing its own cell samples since last October.

“The battery production process has a major influence on performance,” emphasised Mercedes Board Member for Development Markus Schäfer at the opening. “Our goal is to reduce costs by more than 30 per cent – and increase performance.” For Schäfer, it is clear that battery production is no longer possible without extensive expertise in the manufacturing process. He repeatedly talked about the “perfect cell design with Mercedes-Benz DNA.”

In the ‘Industrial Cell Lab,’ Mercedes wants to manufacture and test battery cells on an industrial scale in “state-of-the-art production facilities,” with a capacity of “several tens of thousands of cells per year.” It will cover automated and manual work steps from electrode production to cell assembly, including electrolyte filling and forming, through to the “refinement of all battery cell manufacturing steps.”

Mercedes relies on domestic partners

“Take a look around,” said Uwe Keller, Director of Battery Development at Mercedes-Benz AG, in an interview with electrive, pointing to a large Dürr logo under the ceiling. “It was important to us to further develop the processes with domestic partners.” The reference is not entirely unimportant, as many Chinese battery manufacturers also bring their mechanical engineers with them on their way to Europe.

Incidentally, the Stuttgart-based company wants nothing less than “unique” cells that can stand out from the competition thanks to their high energy density, fast charging and performance. However, there won’t be just one Mercedes cell, but rather “different forms of cell chemistries,” according to the company. Mercedes is working on “lithium-ion cells with high-energy anodes based on silicon composites and innovative cobalt-free cathode chemistries as well as on solid-state battery technology, among other things.” Several specific development goals are also mentioned: The high-silicon anodes and solid electrolytes will be used to increase the energy density to up to 900 Wh/l.

However, Mercedes also emphasises that the cell manufacturing process has a “major influence” on the quality of the battery. Therefore, the company is “committed to controlling not only the chemical composition of the cells but also the industrial manufacturing process.” A realisation that took a long time to mature in Stuttgart. The battery is not just a supplier part after all, but a competitive component in which Mercedes wants to influence production as well as development – and now has to build up expertise in the race with the competition and, above all, the innovative cell manufacturers.

Baden-Württemberg’s Minister President Winfried Kretschmann has no doubts about the future of batteries: “Despite all the rumblings we still hear electric mobility will come and prevail. I am even convinced that it is technologically unbeatable,” Kretschmann shouted into the microphone during his opening speech. What is needed is progress and courage, but also investment in infrastructure. “Here in Baden-Württemberg, we have always built the best cars – and we will continue to do so,” Kretschmann said defiantly.

Mercedes will be happy to hear that. The ‘Industrial Cell Lab,’ which has now been put into operation, complements Mercedes’ two existing battery laboratories: Novel cell chemistries and advanced cell designs are developed and evaluated in the ‘Chemistry Lab’ – in other words, it is where the work on the cathodes, anodes and (solid) electrolytes takes place. The new developments are produced and tested in automotive pouch cell format in the ‘Flexible Cell Lab,’ albeit on a smaller prototype scale. If a new development from the ‘Chemistry Lab’ passes the prototype tests, it is transferred to the ‘Industrial Cell Lab’ to refine the production processes and prepare for volume production at a battery manufacturer.

Fewer camshafts, more (own) batteries

The capacities for this will be further expanded: In addition to the 10,000 square metre ‘Industrial Cell Lab,’ a new building with a further 20,000 square metres of space will be completed in a second stage by the end of the year. Among other things, a “battery factory for product and process development” will be built there. These facilities will be used expressly to ensure the maturity level for industrial mass production – and will not represent Mercedes-Benz’s entry into its own battery volume production.

What is unanimously promoted at the opening of the eCampus is a “can-do mentality.” At least, that’s how Ola Källenius puts it. Federal Economics Minister Habeck took a similar view: it is not the time to “always look at the situation with slumped shoulders,” but to get to work. One issue has already been cleared up: “The charging station network is dense and getting denser. Nobody has to worry about that anymore,” said Habeck. It could be interpreted as an indirect demand to the industry to finally get more electric cars on the road. The head of the state gets to the heart of the matter: “Have courage and put it into practice,” Winfried Kretschmann calls out to the guests at the opening of the eCampus. A few minutes later, he starts operations with Habeck and Källenius. And in the end, that means fewer camshafts and more batteries from the centre of the Mercedes plant in Stuttgart-Untertürkheim.


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