Das Gigawatt-Problem

Batterien gelten als technische Schlüsselkomponente für das Elektroauto – und entsprechend viel investiert die Industrie in ihre Herstellung: In Kaiserslautern baut Mercedes-Benz gemeinsam mit Partnern eine Batteriezellfabrik, im Volkswagen-Werk in Salzgitter wird ebenfalls ein solches Werk errichtet, in Heide will der schwedische Investor Northvolt eine Stromspeicher-Produktion aufbauen, und im thüringischen Arnstadt hat der chinesische Weltmarktführer CATL dieses Jahr die erste große Batteriezellfabrik in Deutschland bereits in Betrieb genommen.

Marcus Theurer

Redakteur in der Wirtschaft der Frankfurter Allgemeinen Sonntagszeitung.

One of the major challenges is the enormous power consumption of the many new battery cell factories. In the planned Northvolt factory in Heide, for which there is still no final investment decision, the electricity demand is expected to be as high as that of approximately 650,000 households. This is a significant disadvantage for Germany in the international competition for future factories.

Scientists from the Fraunhofer Society in Münster and the University of Münster have investigated how much the energy demand of battery manufacturers will grow in the future and to what extent it can be controlled. They have examined these questions not only for Germany but also on a global scale.

Strombedarf so groß wie der von Norwegen?

The analysis, which will soon be published in the scientific journal „Nature Energy“ and is available in advance to F.A.S., presents staggering numbers: According to the experts, with current production methods, the electricity demand of battery cell factories worldwide will multiply to 130,000 gigawatt-hours per year by 2040. „That is as much as the entire current electricity demand of countries like Norway or Sweden,“ says Florian Degen, a Fraunhofer expert and one of the authors of the study.

Um eine Batteriezelle mit einer Speicherkapazität von einer Kilowattstunde herzustellen, würden 20 bis 40 Kilowattstunden Elek­trizität benötigt, rechnet er vor. Die Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft baut in Münster eine Forschungsfertigung für Batteriezellen auf, die vom Bund und vom Land Nordrhein-Westfalen mit bis zu 700 Millionen Euro gefördert wird.

The ramp-up of battery cell production for the automotive industry is still in its early stages globally. Numerous new battery cell factories are planned not only in Europe but also in Asia and North America. These factories are urgently needed if electric vehicles are to replace combustion engines in the world’s major markets as planned. Currently, the demand for battery cells is largely met by suppliers from the Far East, primarily by the two Chinese manufacturers CATL and BYD.

The energy requirement can be reduced by two-thirds.

German car managers warn that the important battery cell production may not be competitive in Germany due to high energy prices, especially since the manufacturers want to operate their energy storage factories with renewable energy from wind and solar power. Volkswagen announced in the spring the construction of its largest battery cell factory so far – but not in Germany, but in Canada, where long-term stable and affordable energy prices are guaranteed.

German industry representatives are calling for a government-subsidized electricity price for energy-intensive sectors. However, the battery experts from Münster point out a different hopeful solution in their study: technological progress. According to Fraunhofer expert Degen, the use of innovative energy-saving production processes and battery designs could drastically reduce electricity consumption in the future. The analysis reveals that up to two-thirds of energy could be saved in the long term compared to current technology. „For Germany, with its high energy prices, this is a huge opportunity,“ says Degen.