Newcomer Verkor to set up ‘giga-battery factory’ in France
Newly set up company Verkor wants to produce batteries ‘made in France’ for electric vehicles and stationary storage. The company announced on Wednesday its plan to open a ‘giga-factory’ by 2023. In the first phase, the plant will be capable of equipping some 300 000 EVs with batteries.
The company is based in Grenoble and gets support from Schneider Electric, the European EIT InnoEnergy incubator, and the Idec group, a real estate player. Prospecting is currently underway to find a 200-hectare site. Verkor will require a €1,6 billion investment to get off the ground and provide 2 000 direct jobs.
Focus on France
“Solutions must be found for sustainable mobility accessible to all. There is accelerating demand for electric vehicles, but batteries are still being imported from Asia,” says Verkor president Benoit Lemaignan. “We need to provide France with production capacity.”
The idea is to be operational as quickly as possible,” emphasizes the entrepreneur. He also points out that France has a lot of expertise, particularly in electro-chemistry. Verkor wants to start from existing technology and improve it, rather than focusing on future developments in battery technology.
The latter is the goal of another French initiative, with French carmaker PSA and Saft, a Total subsidiary, who have launched a joint venture to produce batteries for electric vehicles by 2023.
Verkor is initially targeting a capacity of 16 GWh, with a target of 40 to 50 GWh by 2030. Schneider Electric, which has a strategy of supporting emerging sectors, specifies that it will contribute its expertise in setting up operations and procurement.
Verkor likes to compare its philosophy on that of Northvolt, a Swedish start-up founded in 2016, which will produce for Volkswagen and BMW. With Volkswagen holding 20% of its capital, and an order book worth billions of euros its building two factories, one in Sweden and one in Germany. “We want to build a kind of Southvolt,” Philippe Chain, former Renault and Tesla employee and one of the initiators, told Les Echos.
The production of batteries is very energy-intensive, especially for the refining of raw materials. In France, electricity is largely of non-carbon origin. By producing there, “we can produce a battery with a low-carbon footprint,” Verkor president, Benoit Lemaignan, argues. A CO2 footprint of three to four times smaller than a Chinese battery, and traceability on the origin of the metals.
While looking for land, the team, which includes former Tesla employees, has to structure itself and validate its technical choices. Verkor wants to install a pilot site by the end of the year to optimize the production method. Once it completes this, the company will launch the industrial investment phase.