[Made in Suède] Northvolt is building the largest battery factory in Europe: 3 questions for Luc Hovan, purchasing director
Founded in 2015 by Peter Carlsson, a former Tesla executive, Swedish start-up Northvolt plans to build a factory capable of producing the equivalent of 32 GWh of battery capacity per year that can rival the size of Tesla’s Gigafactory. A project requiring a huge investment estimated at more than 4 billion dollars.
To find out more, I invite you this month to meet the French Luc Hovan, recently installed in Stockholm, and responsible for purchasing.
Hello Luc, after several years in Japan, what brings you to Northvolt in Sweden?
I decided to complete my graduate studies in Japan in 1983 and 1984, out of curiosity for the innovation process and entrepreneurship. I was fascinated by the founders of Sony, Kyocera, Nintendo and even Honda Motors.
After having participated in several automotive projects between France and Japan, I joined Renault in December 1999, a few months after the alliance with Nissan. I worked at the heart of Nissan’s transformation to create a common purchasing organization and foster cross-border partnerships.
When Paolo Cerruti, co-founder of Northvolt and Peter Carlsson, called me last August, I felt an immense curiosity for Sweden and their project. Japan is a leading country in the production of rechargeable lithium ion batteries, so it made sense for me to help Northvolt capitalize on my experience and network. In Tokyo, my friends Michele and Magnus Robach, Swedish Ambassador to Japan, strongly encouraged me to come and settle in Sweden. I arrived in December 2017, exactly one year ago, to strengthen the Northvolt purchasing organization.
The Northvolt project is a pharaonic project, what are the major challenges for the Swedish start-up?
This is a very complex, multi-level project with several different workflows, all of which are interdependent on each other. This makes speed of execution and project management key success factors.
Europe has been lagging behind in the industrialization of batteries for some time now. But there seems to have been a wake-up call on the part of political leaders in Europe over the past twelve months and companies are now willing to create a Europe-wide strategy for battery manufacturing. This is a crucial element for the industry and I am very optimistic about the success of Europe in this transition.
Northvolt has come a long way since its launch in 2015.
First, we have assembled a team of almost 200 international experts here in Stockholm, delivered our first products and are well advanced in building our factories. Our demonstration line and research center are under construction in Västerås, 100 km west of Stockholm. Västerås occupies an important place in the fields of energy and electrification. The city is home to several multinational companies with world-class engineering and R&D skills in the field of electrification and process optimization. The Northvolt laboratory will be used to qualify and industrialize our products and processes in collaboration with our customers. It will be operational next year.
At the same time, our first large battery factory will be established in Skellefteå, in the north-west of Sweden. Skellefteå is part of a deposit of raw materials (nickel, cobalt, lithium and graphite) and a mining site and has a long history of manufacturing and recycling processes. Northvolt Ett will serve as the primary production site, including active material preparation, cell assembly, recycling and auxiliaries. The start of production is scheduled for the end of 2020.
Our mission is to build the greenest battery in the world with a minimum carbon footprint and the highest recycling ambitions, in order to enable Europe’s transition to renewable energies.
The challenge we are solving is to overcome climate change without compromising the protection of ecosystems, the use of natural resources or the pollution of water and soil. This includes the sourcing of raw materials, the transportation of goods and the way we run the factory. It also means that we must anticipate and prepare for the next generation of environmental concerns and lead the change towards sustainability.
France is now the leading European market for electric vehicles, what is the position of the major manufacturers and the French state compared to Northvolt?
The support from the European Union and other European stakeholders has been incredible.
European manufacturers need battery production close to their product facilities. It doesn’t make much sense, from an environmental and economic standpoint, to ship batteries all over the world.
I believe this is a point of view that is supported in large parts of Europe, including France.
Interview by Erwan Derlyn for FrenchWeb.
To learn more about Northvolt: northvolt.com
Erwan Derlyn, is a digital strategy consultant for a start-up.
French expat, based in Sweden since 2008, Erwan began his career in an agency before joining the start-up iZettle between 2013 and 2016.
Now independent, he works with some of the fastest growing companies in Europe in FinTech, music, fashion, design, and healthcare.
Erwan Derlyn is the FrenchWeb correspondent in Stockholm. Each month, he presents start-ups from the region and comments on the dynamic ecosystem of the Swedish capital.