The EV Battery Production Chain — Insights from Deep in the Industry

We’re digging deeper and deeper into the EV battery industry and EV battery supply chains. In this Cleantech Talk episode, I interviewed Sebastian Lange, Vice President of Film Division at Brueckner Group, about the EV battery market, EV battery components, and EV battery component production equipment. Listen in for deep insights on the global and US EV battery markets.

As some background, Brueckner Group USA is a family-owned equipment and machine manufacturer whose global headquarters are in Germany. The company has a revenue of about $1 billion a year. In the EV space, Brueckner Group designs and builds production lines for battery separator films. (It also does this for products outside the battery industry, like flexible packaging and shrink film.)

Battery separator film production forecast for Europe. Image courtesy of Brueckner Group.

“To give you a better idea of ​​what we talk about, imagine walking down a football field — that’s probably the length of a smaller film production line we supply to the industry. The biggest can reach a footprint of 500 by 200 ft,” Sebastian tells me.

Battery separator film production line design. Image courtesy of Brueckner Group.

“When we talk about battery separators for lithium-ion batteries as used in today’s EVs, we usually speak about a ceramic coated wet PE processed porous film. It is an extruded UHMW PE film that was blended with a plasticizer that after a biaxial orientation of the film is extracted and creates cavaties in the film — so the film is porous. Now it has the ability to let ions pass through in a defined rate while still being non-conductive.” Got all that? We don’t get so technical in the interview, so don’t be intimidated, but for those of you who are truly deep techies and engineers, those are the details.

Image courtesy of Brueckner Group.

I spent a lot of time trying to get a sense of how the EV battery market — and this subset of the market — is evolving in the US and Europe. Sebastian noted that there are about 270 GWh of battery cell production capacity planned in Europe this year and about twice as much by 2025. Battery cell production plans for the US indicate ~400 GWh of new capacity by the end of 2025. Now we’re going to get into the weeds a bit, but there’s a key point it’s all leading to.

“So, now, let’s do the math: current technology in lithium-ion battery technology requires about 10 sqm of battery separator for each 1 kWh, which means 10 million sqm per 1 GWh.

“One BSF production lines has probably a yield of 100–160 Mio sqm per year depending on configuration. (Film width of up to 6.6m or 22 ft.) That means you can supply a cell factory with 10–16 GWh with one separator production line.

“As CleanTechnica recently reported, there are 13 new EV battery factories planned in the USA on top of those running already. Based on the announcements and current capacity, we would see a cell manufacturing capacity of close to 400 GWh by the end of 2025. That’s a consumption of 4bn sqm separator each year. Which is by the way approx. a $1-2 bn market.

“Now please understand that the current separator industry and its plants sit in China, South Korea, Japan and early stage in Europe, which is already reserved for the EU battery plants supported by governments and the European car industry.

“Up to now the US has barely any domestic capacity for the separator you would need for common EV and consumer electronics. Which makes me wonder where all those big gigafactories that are coming up will source their supplies from. Ultimately, this will lead to an unhealthy dependency with geopolitical strings attached.”

We’ve talked at length the past few years about the need for more lithium and nickel mining and processing, especially domestically, for EV battery cells. It seems like the same issue and lack of long-term planning exists in the realm of battery separator contracts and manufacturing.

The bulk of the industry is based in Japan, China, and South Korea. These markets are capitalizing on the fast-growing EV industry and are focused on continued dominance of battery separator film production unless more businesses decide to focus on localized production in the US and Europe. Consider this a call to action.

“As of right now,” Sebastian Lange told me, “I would say that there are already hundreds of lines out there in the market, and more than 90% is located in the Far East.”

For much more on these topics, listen to the full podcast interview via the embedded SoundCloud player above or on your favorite podcast network: Anchor, Apple Podcasts/iTunes, Breaker, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Pocket, Podbean, Radio Public, SoundCloud, Spotify, or Stitcher.


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