Weekly Brief: More Asian Battery Tech Heading to US Automakers

Ford broke ground on its $5.6Bn BlueOval City complex, which will serve as the carmaker’s future hub for manufacturing electric vehicles and advanced batteries.

The complex is located in the rolling hills and wide river bottoms of West Tennessee, in the tiny, 500-person town of Stanton. Into this pastoral setting will soon arrive a six-square-mile mega campus that employs approximately 6,000 people when production gets rolling in 2025. Ford aims to reach a two million EV annual run rate globally by late 2026. Without BlueOval City, that target will be impossible to reach.

“We are building the future right here in West Tennessee,” said Eric Grubb, Ford’s director of new footprint construction. “This facility is the blueprint for Ford’s future manufacturing facilities and will enable Ford to help lead America’s shift to electric vehicles.”

BlueOval City is part of a joint venture with South Korean battery maker SK on. Significant site prep has already taken place in Stanton with construction crews moving more than 4.6 million cubic yards of soil, enough to fill approximately 34,500 backyard swimming pools. Nearly 370,000 tons of stone have been laid and more than 4,600 deep foundations implemented. Next up is installing structural steel to take this project vertical.

Battery factories and EV manufacturing hubs like BlueOval City may soon become commonplace for carmakers that wish to compete in the North American EV market. As the auto industry descended on Detroit last week for the North American International Auto Show, 15,000 people headed west of Motor City to the Battery Show, which highlighted start-ups and established players in the EV battery industry and discussed the many possibilities and complexities facing the industry today. Among the biggest conversation points was how to develop a robust North American-based battery industry so that carmakers can take full advantage of the tax incentives in the newly signed Inflation Reduction Act.

Those incentives extend the $7,500 federal EV tax credit for 10 years to 2032 for all carmakers and create a new tax credit of up to $4,000 for used EVs. At the same time, to qualify for these credits, carmakers must complete final assembly of EVs in North America and source the majority of key components like batteries in North America as well. The latter requirement is a huge challenge for carmakers given that most lithium battery manufacturers are currently based in Asia, in countries like China and Korea. Hence the reason that building mega campuses like Ford’s BlueOval City in collaboration with one of these Asian battery companies may soon become commonplace.

General Motors introduced another option last week: building new lithium batteries from recycled lithium batteries. The carmaker invested an undisclosed amount in Canadian start-up Lithion, whose technology recovers more than 95% of lithium from old batteries. Lithium mining has exploded in the last 10 years as EVs have grown in popularity. The process is incredibly disruptive to local environments and requires immense amounts of water – up to 500,000 gallons per ton of lithium – to feed the salt flats that produce it. A green sustainable revolution in the global north that is powered by environmental degradation and impoverishment in the global south is no green revolution at all. Recycling will thus be an essential component of any EV marketplace and may help carmakers like GM satisfy made-in-America requirements. Paul Myles has more details on the GM deal and took a look last week at BMW’s pursuit of round battery cells to increase EV range.

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in Europe. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

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