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How Europe will beat China on batteries
Map shows Europe's imminent Great Leap Forward in battery cell production
- China produces 80 percent of electric vehicle batteries.
- To achieve battery independence, Europe is ramping up production.
- And the U.S.? Action is needed, and quick.
This is a map of the future — the future of battery cell production in Europe. If and when all projects on this map are up and running, Europe will have a battery cell production capacity of around 700 gigawatt hours (GWh). That's crucial for two reasons: (1) those battery cells will power the electric vehicles (EVs) that will soon replace our fossil-fuel cars; and (2) a production capacity of that magnitude would break China's current near-monopoly.
Say what you will about state-run economies, but they're great at concentrating effort on a particular target. About a decade ago, Beijing directed huge resources towards its photovoltaic industry. Today, nine of the world's 10 largest solar panel manufacturers are at least partly Chinese. China is similarly resolved to become the global leader in EVs, including EV battery production.
And so far, it's working. At present, about 80% of the world's lithium-ion battery cells are made in China. Lithium-ion batteries are the ones used in EVs. In sufficient numbers, lithium-ion batteries can also be used for large-scale energy storage, which would help even out power supply fluctuations from sources like solar and wind.
China's dominance in this area is making many outside China nervous. In previous decades, OPEC had a similar stranglehold on producing the oil that makes cars run and factories hum. Then the organization had a political point to make and turned off the tap. During the oil crisis of the 1970s, oil prices skyrocketed and economies crashed.
Avoiding a 21st-century version of that scenario requires a strategy for EV battery self-sufficiency, and Europe has one. In 2018, the EU launched its Battery Action Plan, a concerted effort to increase its battery production capacity. Realizing they couldn't beat China on price, the Europeans resolved that their batteries would be greener and more efficient.
Easier said than done. Setting up battery production is complex, expensive, and slow. And as the EU's woefully slow vaccine rollout demonstrates, the organization's strength-in-numbers argument doesn't always work in its favor. Indeed, by 2020, only four of the dots on this map were up and running:
- a facility by Envision AESC in Sunderland (UK - now ex EU)
- a Samsung factory in Göd (Hungary)
- an LG Energy Solution plant in Wroclaw (Poland)
- a factory by Leclanché in Willstätt (Germany)
But in this case, slow and steady may win the race. At least two dozen battery plants are in the works across Europe (i.e. EU and its near abroad), and four of those should come online in 2021 alone, including Tesla's plant near Berlin. Tesla, incidentally, coined the term "gigafactory" for its facility in Sparks, Nevada. As the title of this map suggests, it's becoming the generic description for any large battery cell production facility.
By the end of the decade, Europe will have around 30 gigafactories.Credit: CIC energiGUNE
Despite the fact that Tesla's Nevada plant is on its way to becoming the world's largest building, battery production capacity is growing fastest in Europe. Predictions vary, but all observers agree that Europe is on the verge of a Great Leap Forward. Here's why:
- Europe's current production capacity is about 30 GWh.
- One forecast puts that figure at 300 GWh by 2029, another even at 400 GWh by 2025.
- Adding up the maximum capacity of all facilities on this map comes close to 700 GWh by 2028.
- In terms of global capacity, BloombergNEF predicts Europe's share could increase from 7% now to 31% in 2030.
- According to Eurobat — disappointingly, not the Gauloises-smoking, Nietzsche-quoting counterpart to Batman — the value of the battery industry will increase from €15 ($18) billion in Europe and €75 ($90) billion worldwide in 2019 to €35 ($42) billion in Europe and €130 ($156) billion worldwide by 2030.
So, who will be Europe's answer to CATL (short for Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Ltd.), China's main battery manufacturer? There are several pretenders to the crown. Here are some:
- Britishvolt, set to go online with Britain's first and largest gigafactory in Northumberland (UK) in 2023, with a maximum capacity of 35 GWh per annum.
- Northvolt, led by former Tesla execs, supported by the Swedish government and the European Investment Bank. Also funded by Volkswagen and Goldman Sachs. Aims to be green and big. One plant coming online in Sweden this year, another in Germany in 2024. Combined maximum capacity is 64 GWh.
- Tesla. Not content with its one gigafactory (40 GWh) opening this year, the company has already announced that it will build a second plant in Europe.
That second plant is not yet on the map. Also missing are the half dozen gigafactories that Volkswagen aims to open in the coming years. If Europe is to become self-sufficient in EV batteries, even more will be needed.
Europe's path to battery supremacy
In 2020, 1.3 million EVs were sold in Europe, edging past China to become the world's largest EV market. In 2021, Europe looks set to maintain that lead. By 2025 at the latest, EVs will have achieved price parity with fossil-fuel vehicles, not just in terms of total cost of operation but also in upfront cost.
Add to that the increasingly hostile environment — namely, higher taxes and stricter regulations — to fossil-fuel cars in Europe, and the pace of electrification will increase dramatically by mid-decade. Going by EU requirements for CO2 emissions alone, the EV share of the total vehicle market would need to be between 60% and 70% pretty soon.
While that may seem an impossibly high target today, things could start looking different very soon. Volkswagen aims to have full-electric cars make up more than 70 percent of its European sales by 2030. Volvo and Ford even aim to present entirely electric lineups by 2030 at the latest. And that year is also when the UK government intends to ban the sale of new fossil-fuel cars.
All of which could translate into base demand for EV batteries in Europe as high as 1,200 GWh by 2040. Even with all planned factories on the map running at maximum capacity, that still leaves a production capacity gap of about 40%.
To avoid batteries becoming a bottleneck for electrification, the EU likely will pour even more money into the industry via the European Green Deal and Europe's post-COVID recovery plan. Battery production is not just strategically sound; it also boosts employment.
A study by Fraunhofer ISI says for each GWh added in battery production capacity, count on 40 jobs added directly and 200 in upstream industries. The study forecasts battery manufacturing could generate up to 155,000 jobs across Europe by 2033 (although it doesn't mention how many would be lost due to reduced production of fossil-fuel cars).
Coming to America
And how fares America? Electrification is coming to the U.S. as well. By one estimate, EVs will have a market penetration of about 15% by 2025. Deloitte predicts EVs will take up 27% of new car sales in the US by 2030. The Biden administration is keen to make up for past inaction in terms of switching to post-fossil energy. But it has its work cut out.
Apart from Tesla's Gigafactory, the U.S. has only two other battery production facilities. If current trends continue, there would be just ten by 2030. At that time, China will have 140 battery factories and Europe, according to this map, close to 30. If U.S. production can't keep up with demand, electrification will suffer from the dreaded battery bottleneck. Unless America is content to import its batteries from Europe or China.
Strange Maps #1080
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A team of archaeologists has discovered 3,200-year-old cheese after analyzing artifacts found in an ancient Egyptian tomb. It could be the oldest known cheese sample in the world.
A team of archaeologists has discovered 3,200-year-old cheese after analyzing artifacts found in an ancient Egyptian tomb. It could be the oldest known cheese sample in the world.
The tomb that held the cheese lies in the desert sands south of Cairo. It was first discovered in the 19th century by treasure hunters, who eventually lost the knowledge of its location, leaving the Saharan sands to once again conceal the tomb.
“Since 1885 the tomb has been covered in sand and no-one knew about it,” Professor Ola el-Aguizy of Cairo University told the BBC. “It is important because this tomb was the lost tomb.”
In 2010, a team of archaeologists rediscovered the tomb, which belonged to Ptahmes, a mayor and military chief of staff of the Egyptian city of Memphis in the 13th century B.C. In the tomb, the team found a jar containing a “solidified whitish mass,” among other artifacts.
“The archaeologists suspected [the mass] was food, according to the conservation method and the position of the finding inside the tomb, but we discovered it was cheese after the first tests,” Enrico Greco, the lead author of the paper and a research assistant at Peking University in Beijing, told the The New York Times.
To find out what the substance was, the team had to develop a novel way to analyze the proteins and identify the peptide markers in the samples. They first dissolved parts of the substance and then used mass spectrometry and chromatography to analyze its proteins.
Despite more than 3,000 years spent in the desert, the researchers were able to identify hundreds of peptides (chains of amino acids) in the sample. They found some that were associated with milk from goat, sheep and, interestingly, the African buffalo, a species not usually kept as a domestic animal in modern Africa, as Gizmodo reports.
Those results suggested that the substance was cheese, specifically one that was probably similar in consistency to chevre but with a “really, really acidy” taste, as Dr. Paul Kindstedt, a professor at the University of Vermont who studies the chemistry and history of cheese, told the The New York Times.
“It would be high in moisture; it would be spreadable,” he said. “It would not last long; it would spoil very quickly.”
The researchers also found traces of the bacterium Brucella melitensis, which causes brucellosis, a debilitating disease that can cause endocarditis, arthritis, chronic fatigue, malaise, muscle pain and other conditions. It’s a disease usually contracted by consuming raw dairy products.
“The most common way to be infected [with Brucella melitensis] is by eating or drinking unpasteurized/raw dairy products. When sheep, goats, cows, or camels are infected, their milk becomes contaminated with the bacteria,” the U.S. Centers for Disease Control wrote on its website. “If the milk from infected animals is not pasteurized, the infection will be transmitted to people who consume the milk and/or cheese products.”
Dr. Kindstedt said one reason the study is significant is for its novel use of proteomic analysis, which is the systematic identification and quantification of the complete complement of proteins (the proteome) of a biological system.
“As I say to my students every year when I get to Egypt, someone has to go ahead and analyze these residues with modern capabilities,” he told the The New York Times. “This is a logical next step and I think you’re going to see a lot more of this.”
'The Great Pyramid of Chee-za'. An artist's interpretation of a very ripe, slightly deadly Egyptian tomb cheese. (Credit: Creative commons/Big Think)
However, Dr. Kindstedt did offer a bit of caution on the conclusions the researchers drew from the findings.
“The authors of this new study did some nice work,” he told Gizmodo in a statement. “But in my view, on multiple grounds (I suspect in their zeal to be “the first”), they inferred considerably beyond what their data is capable of supporting within reasonable certainty, and almost certainly they are not the first to have found solid cheese residues in Egyptian tombs, just the first to apply proteomic analyses (which is worthy achievement on its own).”
As bad as this sounds, a new essay suggests that we live in a surprisingly egalitarian age.
- A new essay depicts 700 years of economic inequality in Europe.
- The only stretch of time more egalitarian than today was the period between 1350 to approximately the year 1700.
- Data suggest that, without intervention, inequality does not decrease on its own.
Economic inequality is a constant topic. No matter the cycle — boom or bust — somebody is making a lot of money, and the question of fairness is never far behind.
A recently published essay in the Journal of Economic Literature by Professor Guido Alfani adds an intriguing perspective to the discussion by showing the evolution of income inequality in Europe over the last several hundred years. As it turns out, we currently live in a comparatively egalitarian epoch.
Seven centuries of economic history
Figure 8 from Guido Alfani, Journal of Economic Literature, 2021.
This graph shows the amount of wealth controlled by the top ten percent in certain parts of Europe over the last seven hundred years. Archival documentation similar to — and often of a similar quality as — modern economic data allows researchers to get a glimpse of what economic conditions were like centuries ago. Sources like property tax records and documents listing the rental value of homes can be used to determine how much a person's estate was worth. (While these methods leave out those without property, the data is not particularly distorted.)
The first part of the line, shown in black, represents work by Prof. Alfani and represents the average inequality level of the Sabaudian State in Northern Italy, The Florentine State, The Kingdom of Naples, and the Republic of Venice. The latter part, in gray, is based on the work of French economist Thomas Piketty and represents an average of inequality in France, the United Kingdom, and Sweden during that time period.
Despite the shift in location, the level of inequality and rate of increase are very similar between the two data sets.
Apocalyptic events cause decreases in inequality
Note that there are two substantial declines in inequality. Both are tied to truly apocalyptic events. The first is the Black Death, the common name for the bubonic plague pandemic in the 14th century, which killed off anywhere between 30 and 50 percent of Europe. The second, at the dawn of the 20th century, was the result of World War I and the many major events in its aftermath.
The 20th century as a whole was a time of tremendous economic change, and the periods not featuring major wars are notable for having large experiments in distributive economic policies, particularly in the countries Piketty considers.
The slight stall in the rise of inequality during the 17th century is the result of the Thirty Years' War, a terrible religious conflict that ravaged Europe and left eight million people dead, and of major plagues that affected South Europe. However, the recurrent outbreaks of the plague after the Black Death no longer had much effect on inequality. This was due to a number of factors, not the least of which was the adaptation of European institutions to handle pandemics without causing such a shift in wealth.
In 2010, the last year covered by the essay, inequality levels were similar to those of 1340, with 66 percent of the wealth of society being held by the top ten percent. Also, inequality levels were continuing to rise, and the trends have not ended since. As Prof. Alfani explained in an email to BigThink:
"During the decade preceding the Covid pandemic, economic inequality has shown a slow tendency towards further inequality growth. The Great Recession that began in 2008 possibly contributed to slow down inequality growth, especially in Europe, but it did not stop it. However, the expectation is that Covid-19 will tend to increase inequality and poverty. This, because it tends to create a relatively greater economic damage to those having unstable occupations, or who need physical strength to work (think of the effects of the so-called "long-Covid," which can prove physically invalidating for a long time). Additionally, and thankfully, Covid is not lethal enough to force major leveling dynamics upon society."
Can only disasters change inequality?
That is the subject of some debate. While inequality can occur in any economy, even one that doesn't grow all that much, some things appear to make it more likely to rise or fall.
Thomas Piketty suggested that the cause of changes in inequality levels is the difference in the rate of return on capital and the overall growth rate of the economy. Since the return on capital is typically higher than the overall growth rate, this means that those who have capital to invest tend to get richer faster than everybody else.
While this does explain a great deal of the graph after 1800, his model fails to explain why inequality fell after the Black Death. Indeed, since the plague destroyed human capital and left material goods alone, we would expect the ratio of wealth over income to increase and for inequality to rise. His model can provide explanations for the decline in inequality in the decades after the pandemic, however- it is possible that the abundance of capital could have lowered returns over a longer time span.
The catastrophe theory put forth by Walter Scheidel suggests that the only force strong enough to wrest economic power from those who have it is a world-shattering event like the Black Death, the fall of the Roman Empire, or World War I. While each event changed the world in a different way, they all had a tremendous leveling effect on society.
But not even this explains everything in the above graph. Pandemics subsequent to the Black Death had little effect on inequality, and inequality continued to fall for decades after World War II ended. Prof. Alfani suggests that we remember the importance of human agency through institutional change. He attributes much of the post-WWII decline in inequality to "the redistributive policies and the development of the welfare states from the 1950s to the early 1970s."
What does this mean for us now?
As Professor Alfani put it in his email:
"[H]istory does not necessarily teach us whether we should consider the current trend toward growth in economic inequality as an undesirable outcome or a problem per se (although I personally believe that there is some ground to argue for that). Nor does it teach us that high inequality is destiny. What it does teach us, is that if we do not act, we have no reason whatsoever to expect that inequality will, one day, decline on its own. History also offers abundant evidence that past trends in inequality have been deeply influenced by our collective decisions, as they shaped the institutional framework across time. So, it is really up to us to decide whether we want to live in a more, or a less unequal society."
Our love-hate relationship with browser tabs drives all of us crazy. There is a solution.
- A new study suggests that tabs can cause people to be flustered as they try to keep track of every website.
- The reason is that tabs are unable to properly organize information.
- The researchers are plugging a browser extension that aims to fix the problem.
A lot of ideas that people had about the internet in the 1990s have fallen by the wayside as technology and our usage patterns evolved. Long gone are things like GeoCities, BowieNet, and the belief that letting anybody post whatever they are thinking whenever they want is a fundamentally good idea with no societal repercussions.
While these ideas have been abandoned and the tools that made them possible often replaced by new and improved ones, not every outdated part of our internet experience is gone. A new study by a team at Carnegie Mellon makes the case that the use of tabs in a web browser is one of these outdated concepts that we would do well to get rid of.
How many tabs do you have open right now?
We didn't always have tabs. Introduced in the early 2000s, tabs are now included on all major web browsers, and most users have had access to them for a little over a decade. They've been pretty much the same since they came out, despite the ever changing nature of the internet. So, in this new study, researchers interviewed and surveyed 113 people on their use of — and feelings toward — the ubiquitous tabs.
Most people use tabs for the short-term storage of information, particularly if it's information that is needed again soon. Some keep tabs that they know they'll never get around to reading. Others used them as a sort of external memory bank. One participant described this action to the researchers:
"It's like a manifestation of everything that's on my mind right now. Or the things that should be on my mind right now... So right now, in this browser window, I have a web project that I'm working on. I don't have time to work on it right now, but I know I need to work on it. So it's sitting there reminding me that I need to work on it."
You suffer from tab overload
Unfortunately, trying to use tabs this way can cause a number of problems. A quarter of the interview subjects reported having caused a computer or browser to crash because they had too many tabs open. Others reported feeling flustered by having so many tabs open — a situation called "tab overload" — or feeling ashamed that they appeared disorganized by having so many tabs up at once. More than half of participants reported having problems like this at least two or three times a week.
However, people can become emotionally invested in the tabs. One participant explained, "[E]ven when I'm not using those tabs, I don't want to close them. Maybe it's because it took efforts [sic] to open those tabs and organize them in that way."
So, we have a tool that inefficiently saves web pages that we might visit again while simultaneously reducing our productivity, increasing our anxiety, and crashing our machines. And yet we feel oddly attached to them.
Either the system is crazy or we are.
Skeema: The anti-tab revolution
The researchers concluded that at least part of the problem is caused by tabs not being an ideal way of organizing the work we now do online. They propose a new model that better compartmentalizes tabs by task and subtask, reflects users' mental models, and helps manage the users' attention on what is important right now rather than what might be important later.
To that end, the team also created Skeema, an extension for Google Chrome, that treats tabs as tasks and offers a variety of ways to organize them. Users of an early version reported having fewer tabs and windows open at one time and were better able to manage the information they contained.
Tabs were an improvement over having multiple windows open at the same time, but they may have outlived their usefulness. While it might take a paradigm shift to fully replace the concept, the study suggests that taking a different approach to tabs might be worth trying.
And now, excuse me, while I close some of the 87 tabs I currently have open.