August 17th, 2022 | 13:45 CEST
E-cars? This is what matters now! Mercedes-Benz Group, Altech Advanced Materials, Varta
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"[...] Nickel, therefore, benefits twice: firstly from its growing importance within batteries and secondly from the generally growing demand for such storage. [...]" Terry Lynch, CEO, Power Nickel
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Mercedes-Benz: Greater efficiency thanks to new anode technology
The Mercedes-Benz Group has long been regarded as an e-car laggard. If you spoke to engineers from Swabia, they were never sparing in their criticism of the e-car pioneers from Tesla or Renault. Between the lines, it was often said that German manufacturers were ultimately better at this than their international competitors. **In the meantime, it seems that this self-confidence is well-founded.
Mercedes-Benz Group achieves a range of 1,000km with its EQXX prototype. However, the Swabians do not cite the huge surface area that an SUV, for example, offers for a battery as the reason, but the efficiency: unlike other batteries, the version installed in the EQXX only has around 100kwH and also manages more power per unit of weight: 210Wh/kg are significantly more efficient than the 160Wh/kg in the EQS. In total, the battery weighs only 495kg. Mercedes achieves this efficiency thanks to a silicon coating on the anode. Usually, the anode in the battery is coated with graphite. However, silicon can store more lithium ions, which positively affects efficiency.
Altech Advanced Materials: Plans for high-performance anodes in series production
Bringing this silicon technology to the road is likely to be the most important challenge for Mercedes-Benz. From prototypes with painstakingly manufactured components, on which the engineers themselves may have had a hand, to series production, there is often still a long way to go. But this is where the German company Altech Advanced Materials could come into play. The Company is currently building a pilot plant for revolutionary anode material. The goal is to coat the anode with aluminum oxide in wafer-thin layers. This aluminum oxide can be enriched with the silicon used by Mercedes-Benz in the prototype, thus offering the increase in efficiency already outlined. Altech CEO Uwe Ahrens is pursuing the goal with his company of manufacturing anodes with silicon content on an industrial scale and at low cost.
"Investors need to know that the development of our technology is far from over. If we succeed in increasing the silicon content of the anode, power increases of 50 to 100% are also possible. But in the end, it will not be about a battery in an e-car having a range of well over 1,000km. In the end, it is about achieving practical ranges with batteries that are lighter, smaller and therefore much cheaper," says Ahrens, who emphasizes the medium-term significance for automakers: "Our material represents a drop-in technology that could come into use much faster."
Annual general meeting coming up
Altech Advanced Materials is already cooperating with SGL Carbon and Spanish silicon manufacturer Ferroglobe. The aim of the technology is to be able to respond flexibly to customer requirements. Such an approach is particularly useful for car manufacturers with different model types: Sometimes the maximum range is decisive, other times, it is cost or other factors. Altech seems to be hitting a nerve with its focus on increasing the silicon content in the anode and doing it all cost-effectively - at least for Mercedes, the technology is a key to the convincing performance data of the EQXX prototype. **On August 23, Altech will hold its Annual General Meeting, which will also vote on capital measures. Once there is clarity here, the market is likely to focus more closely on the technology again.
Varta: Not doing well at all
One company that enjoys a good reputation for its technology is Varta. However, this reputation stems primarily from powerful button cells and consumer electronics batteries. With the announced entry into electromobility, the share price surged from more than a year ago, but disillusionment is now setting in. Supply chain problems and semiconductor shortages have indirectly blighted Varta's business recently. Details surrounding e-car technology are also scarce. The stock is currently out of favour in the market.
Most recently, the Company issued new guidance, and the numbers were not well received. "Management would be advised to respond to market expectations and explain the status quo in e-mobility in more detail," stated researchanalyst.com in a report.
The Mercedes-Benz initiative around the EQXX shows that off-the-shelf technology is no longer sufficient for car manufacturers. Breakthrough solutions are needed to win over customers. In addition to the silicon content in the anode, Mercedes-Benz also set new standards in terms of aerodynamics and cooling by airflow. Now the challenge is to mass-produce such engineering cheaply. Companies such as Altech Advanced Materials claim to have appropriate solutions for batteries. If the financing is clarified and the market as a whole cooperates, there may be potential here.
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