Background: This is how BMW makes itself independent of mass battery suppliers: No off-the-shelf battery

Milan Nedeljković is a pleasant fellow.

Background: This is how BMW makes itself independent of mass battery suppliers: No off-the-shelf battery

Milan Nedeljković is a pleasant fellow. The BMW production director speaks in a calm voice, looks his counterpart in the eyes and listens carefully. In short, he has little in common with the rustic, my-word-is-law attitude that “characterized” some of his predecessors. But the manager is no less opinionated on the matter. At the opening of the Cell Manufacturing Competence Center (CMCC) in Parsdorf near Munich, Nedeljković criticized the transport policy of Germany and the EU in clear words. “A functioning and modern infrastructure. Transport, energy supply and digital networks are of utmost importance for the economy. And this is precisely where we fall behind in international comparison. Unreliable transport routes, high energy costs and also a lack of network coverage are unacceptable for a modern industrial location. In particular, the expansion of an economical and at the same time sustainable energy supply must be significantly intensified and pushed forward with the greatest speed. This also applies – in the context of electromobility – to the charging infrastructure.”

Immediately afterwards, the BMW man clearly rejected any protectionism through tariffs, as is always being considered in the EU. “Last but not least, we must ensure that international trade remains free and unhindered. The European Union's economic agreements ensure companies good access to global markets. Protectionism and isolation are worrying tendencies that threaten free trade and particularly affect globally operating companies,” the board makes clear.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that a top manager of a global automobile manufacturer would advocate for trade to be as unhindered as possible. But that doesn't mean that the people of Munich want to slide into fatal dependencies when it comes to electromobility. For this reason, they have now opened the CMCC, where the production and cell manufacturing processes are being perfected for the New Class, which will be launched on the market in 2025. Knowledge is power, as BMW says, and this is particularly crucial with the sixth generation (Gen 6) energy storage devices. The people of Munich have taken a big sip from the Tesla cup. Efficient electric vehicles can only be built if the battery, the electric motor and all drive components are perfectly coordinated with one another.

Particularly for a manufacturer like BMW, which also defines electromobility through dynamics, efficiency and range are important, even at higher speeds. That's why BMW technicians at the Battery Cell Competence Center (BCCC) research the chemistry of the cell and the production of batteries is trained at the CMCC. With the sixth generation, the Munich car manufacturer is switching from prismatic to round cells, which are significantly smaller than before, have a 20 percent higher energy density and thus enable a range of up to 30 percent greater. The loading time of ten to 80 percent should also be around 30 percent shorter. There is therefore a lot of know-how in the battery cylinder, which is between 9.5 and twelve centimeters high and has a diameter of 4.6 centimeters. “There is no component in automotive engineering that is more complex than the battery”; explains Martin Schuster, head of battery cell development at BMW, adding: “Only if we fully understand the batteries can we define exactly what we want to our partners.” That’s important. Because BMW will not become a battery producer. External partners take care of this.

BMW does not see the danger that others will make use of Bavarian energy knowledge. “In a battery cell there are more than 3,000 cause-effect relationships and over 100 process parameters that are crucial for further development,” explains the head of BMW battery production, Markus Fallböhmer. This makes industrial espionage extremely difficult or even impossible. Especially since the energy storage is also coordinated with the drive train. For this reason alone, BMW does not consider off-the-shelf cells. For this reason, the Munich technicians keep a big secret about the composition of the extremely thin films and their coating that are used in the cells. The technicians are even silent about the length of the foil from which the anode and cathode are made, because in connection with the thickness, competitors could draw conclusions about the exact recipe. “Several meters,” is the answer. Nothing more will be revealed.

To ensure that everything runs smoothly in the new class in which the round batteries are to debut by 2025, BMW has installed pilot production in which up to one million cells can be manufactured per year, which corresponds to around 0.1 gigawatt hours. What is important, however, is not the performance, but rather that everything runs smoothly so that it can then function on a larger scale in a gigafactory. Even though the tinkering with the circular line and its production are still being tested, BMW already has its sights set on the next stage of evolution in battery storage: the solid-state battery. This will also be tested in the CMCC, but only in the next decade.