Tidal power fuels Scottish electric vehicles

Shetlanders on Yell can rely on the tides to keep their wheels turning. Image: Courtesy of Nova Innovation

Electric vehicles are catching on in many countries, notably the Nordic states – and Scottish tides are powering cars there.

LONDON, 30 March, 2021 – The race to meet present and future demand for electrically powered vehicles (EVs) is on, with new projects being announced or swinging into action with increasing frequency.

The latest to join the rush into EV technology is the Norwegian company Freyr AS, which has announced plans to build a multi-billion dollar battery cell production facility in northern Norway.

The company has big ambitions: by 2025 it aims to become one of Europe’s biggest cell suppliers.

The oil, gas and aluminium industries have traditionally played a central role in Norway’s economy. But now there are signs of a change.

Useful similarities

The Freyr facility is being constructed in the small city of Mo I Rana, close to the Arctic Circle. The company says it’s hiring many executives and workers formerly employed in the country’s fossil fuel and aluminium industries.

Tom Einar Rysst-Jensen, Freyr’s CEO, says battery production is complex and has many similarities with the oil and gas industries.

“Battery production are large, capital-intensive, energy-intensive projects,” Rysst-Jensen told the Bloomberg news service. “If you want to be competitive, then you have to build on scale.”

Norway is a world leader in the uptake of EVs. At present about 60% of new vehicle sales in the country are fully electric and the government has announced a deadline of 2025 for ending the sale of all fossil fuelled transport.

“Most people in Shetland live close to the sea – to be able to harness the power of the tide in this way is a great way to use this resource”

The Nordic region is positioning itself as a centre of battery development and technology in Europe.

Two of Norway’s largest companies, the oil firm Equinor and aluminium producer Norsk Hydro, are teaming up with Japan’s Panasonic conglomerate to build a large battery production facility in northern Norway.

In neighbouring Sweden the Northvolt company, backed by car makers VW and BMW together with the furnishings conglomerate IKEA and bankers Goldman Sachs, is due to open a battery-making factory in the north of the country, close to the Arctic Circle, in 2024.

The Nordic region is viewed as well placed to meet Europe’s fast-expanding EV market. Battery production is power intensive: most electricity in the area comes from hydro sources – renewable and relatively cheap.

Mineral wealth

The region also has access to many of the commodities needed for producing batteries. “Seabed minerals have been proven in the Norwegian Sea, with large concentrations of cobalt and manganese”, Freyr’s Rysst-Jensen told Bloomberg.

“In the Nordics you will find graphite, cobalt, lithium – everything you need of raw materials for battery cell production.”

At present China dominates the market for EV batteries, with about 70% of the world’s total production.

Europe, which has only a 3% share, is keen to lessen its dependence on China for batteries and aims to have a 25% share of the global market by 2028. In late 2019 the European Commission announced a €3.2bn (£2.7bn) package for funding battery technology research and development.

Tidal help

A smaller but nonetheless significant EV-related development has been announced in the past few days – this time on the Shetland Islands, off the far north of Scotland.

Tidal energy company Nova Innovation has put into use what it says is the world’s first EV charge point with energy sourced from the power of the sea.

The company’s tidal turbines have supplied power to homes and businesses in Shetland for more than five years. EV drivers on the island of Yell can now charge up their vehicles from a charge point adjacent to the sea and have their cars powered entirely by the tide.

“Most people in Shetland live close to the sea – to be able to harness the power of the tide in this way is a great way to use this resource” said one local EV driver. – Climate News Network