Lithium batteries are an essential tool for energy storage and, therefore, for sustainability: not only because they allow the continuous use of intermittent renewable sources but also to ensure balance on the electricity grids.
To make the sector even more sustainable, it is possible to plan the use of clean energy sources also in the very earliest stages, beginning with the construction of the building that will produce the batteries. This is the vision of the young Swedish company Northvolt, with which Enel Global Thermal Generation has signed a partnership agreement.
Northvolt’s goal is to use solely renewable sources in the construction of the factory in Skellefteå (Sweden) that, from 2024, will produce large-scale lithium batteries for use as parts in electricity generating plants and as stand-alone units. The factory, with an estimated production capacity of 32 GWh per year, will be one of the largest of its kind in Europe.
Beyond even its size, the project is revolutionary for its innovative concept that sees the entire value chain in an integrated picture. Care for the environment will be key to the entire lifecycle: from extraction of the raw materials, their processing and the production of the batteries, to recycling those materials at end-of-life.
The partnership with the Swedish company will allow Enel to share experiences and skills to evaluate the economic, social and environmental benefits linked to projects of this kind, with a strategy of shared value creation attentive to environmental aspects and to the impact on the community, in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Furthermore, it will help us to identify the best technological solutions and the most efficient techniques for managing operations, maintenance and end-of-life.
It is this end-of-life phase that is particularly important from a sustainability perspective: the Enel Group is fully committed to the circular economy philosophy which goes beyond the recycling and reuse of materials to propose an overall approach that prioritises efficiency and the reusability of the materials employed, from the very first phase of planning the equipment.
An example of circular economy in the battery production industry is the Melilla Second Life project that Enel is developing in the Spanish city on the North African coast, an enclave that is isolated from the national electricity grid. The project, which was selected as a “member initiative” by the World Economic Forum 2019, involves the creation of a large storage plant, the recycling and assembly of car batteries that have reached their end-of-life as vehicle components.
From the African coast to Sweden, the latitude may vary but Enel’s commitment to innovation and sustainability in storage remains constant.