Our experts explain
Battery development in Europe:
how the focus on sustainability is shaping the industry
The lithium-ion battery is the current cornerstone of the electric mobility sector. Anode binders, which BASF sells under the brand name Licity®, are one of the ‘under the radar’ components used in such batteries. BASF's Licity® experts Ines Lemke, Senior Commercial Manager, and Christian Brand, Senior Technical Manager, explain why sustainability is playing an increasingly key role and how battery manufacturers are benefiting from it.
In Asia, the market for electric vehicles and lithium-ion batteries is booming. Will e-mobility be a success story in Europe too?
Ines Lemke: The market is indeed growing rapidly. But European suppliers have a lot of catching up to do in terms of regional supply infrastructure. Currently, lithium-ion batteries along with their components and ingredients are manufactured almost exclusively in Asia. This means they have to be shipped halfway around the world to enable local production of e-vehicles. That makes no sense for a product like our Licity®, which consists of 50 percent water. Sustainability requires a different approach.
What alternatives do you see here?
Ines Lemke: Supply chains need to be shortened. This is the only way to ensure delivery reliability, because the shorter the supply chain, the faster and more reliably the goods arrive at their destinations. The fact that long transport routes harbor risks is something we experience time and again. I still remember the incident in March 2021, when giant container ship "Ever Given" ran aground in the Suez Canal, blocking the sea route from Asia to Europe for six days. Supply chains were interrupted, and the negative economic impact was immense.
Christian Brand: That's why we are advocates of the regional principle. We want to produce in the region for the region.
Ines Lemke: The industry has recognized the advantages of this principle. Numerous battery plants are currently being built in Europe and new value chains are being established. And with each additional battery production facility, the demand for binders also increases.
… which BASF can deliver promptly thanks to its short supply routes?
Ines Lemke: … exactly; we want to accompany the development of production capacities in Europe. Our global production network puts us in an ideal position to do this. In addition to our plants on the American continent and in Asia, our European sites in Ludwigshafen, Germany and Hamina, Finland, are also production sites for Licity®. We have the option of expanding production to include our plant in Tarragona, Spain as well. This has two advantages for our customers: supply routes are short, minimizing CO2 emissions caused by transportation. And our supply routes are reliable, because we can incorporate backup sites at any time in the event of impending supply bottlenecks.
Sustainable supply chains as well as battery performance contribute to sustainability. What role do individual battery components play in this respect?
Christian Brand: The comprehensive switch to environmentally friendly mobility will only be successful, if the necessary infrastructure is in place and production capacity for lithium-ion batteries - including all components - is assured. And each individual component can be made more sustainable and, ideally, more efficient. The key factor, however, is the interaction of individual components, such as the composition of the anodes and cathodes, the properties of the electrolyte and the behavior of the binder. The system stands or falls depending on the properties of each individual component. We can demonstrate this in practice.
Speaking of properties, here is a completely different angle. BASF has developed a process in which fossil raw materials are replaced by renewable ones. How does that affect the properties of the binder?
Ines Lemke: Not at all. When we apply our biomass balance approach, only the raw material source changes. Our Licity® products and their high quality are not altered in any way.
What’s behind the biomass balance (BMB) approach?
Christian Brand: Basically, this approach works on the same principle as green electricity. In the BMB process the mix of renewable and fossil resources is fed into BASF plants at the beginning of our production process. The equivalent amount of certified renewables is allocated to the final BMB products. An independent certification confirms the replacement of fossil resources by renewable raws.
And how does the customer benefit?
Christian Brand: The BMB approach enables customers to save fossil resources and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Licity® products produced in line with the BMB approach will be available as "ZeroPCF" versions, i.e. with a cradle-to-gate CO2 footprint of zero. This makes e-mobility even more sustainable.
And where do we go from here?
Christian Brand: I believe that this trend has by no means reached the end of the line. Every single component will be enhanced step by step in the future. Take electrodes, for example: by increasing the silicon content, it is theoretically possible to achieve charging capacities that are up to ten times higher than the capacities of today's lithium-ion batteries. With our Licity® binders, we want to support this trend.
Ines Lemke: Enhancing each component on its own is one thing. What really counts in the end is the performance and sustainability of the battery system as a whole. To achieve this, all components must be perfectly matched. In other words, it can only be achieved as a team.