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Forget rare metals, two European companies are making batteries from trees

Two European companies are partnering to develop battery materials made from renewable wood rather than rare or hard-to-mine minerals.

Finnish wood and paper company, Stora Enso is joining forces with the mutli-billion dollar Swedish startup battery maker, Northvolt to make batteries using lignin-based hard carbon produced from renewable wood.

That means the forests from the frozen north could soon be storing the energy that powers cars from Volkswagen, Audi, BMW, and others.

The aim, the companies said in a joint statement, is to develop the world's first industrialized battery featuring anodes sourced from European raw materials.

“The joint battery development with Northvolt marks a step on our journey to serve the fast-growing battery market with renewable anode materials made from trees," said Johanna Hagelberg, Executive Vice President for Biomaterials at Stora Enso in a statement. "Our lignin-based hard carbon, Lignode® by Stora Enso, will secure the strategic European supply of anode raw material, serving the sustainable battery needs for applications from mobility to stationary energy storage.”

The lignin-based anode from Stora Enso will be incorporated into Northvolt's battery design and the Swedish company will drive the manufacturing process to bring the new batteries to market.

“With this partnership, we are exploring a new source of sustainable raw material and expanding the European battery value chain, while also developing a less expensive battery chemistry,” says Emma Nehrenheim, Chief Environmental Officer at Northvolt. "It is an exciting demonstration of how our pursuit of a sustainable battery industry goes hand-in-hand with creating a positive impact both on society and cost."

Lignin is a plant-derived polymer that's found in the walls of dry-land plants like trees, which are made of roughly 30% lignin. It's a strong binder and one of the largest sources of carbon anywhere.

Stora Enso has been manufacturing industrial quantities of lignin since 2015 at its Sunila production site in Finland.

Industry observers said this is a huge, positive step for creating a truly renewable battery industry.

"Reducing the mining intensity of civilization is step 2 after we accomplish step 1 of eliminating most fossil fuel use, especially for energy," wrote industry analyst and startup entrepreneur Alex Grant, a principal with Jade Cove Partners. "And we have to go one material at a time because they're all different."


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