Porsche Sidles Up to BASF For a Cosy Cathode Cocktail

Porsche won’t be travelling far for the power to drive its future electric sports cars.

The German maker of the 143mph battery-powered Taycan will be sourcing its next-generation of cathodes, the key component of an EV battery, from BASF’s plant in Schwarzheide, a six-hour drive away. The actual li-on batteries will be made in Tübingen by Cellforce Group, a joint venture between Porsche and Customcells. The precursors will be derived from Finnish cobalt and nickel.

Porsche had to go local, given it wants to be CO2 neutral by 2030. The accelerating transition from the combustion engine to EVs and the chemical industry’s own transformation to lessen a dependency on fossil fuels are helping create corporate ecosystems, with partnerships spanning the entire value chain allowing control over emissions as well as security of supply.

The need for local suppliers plays into the hands of BASF, which is joining the EV battery-arms race relatively late compared with Umicore of Belgium and Asian players that grabbed market share with their experience in making batteries for power tools and consumer goods. Cathodes are now one of BASF Chief Executive Officer Martin Brudermueller’s top priorities. BASF will supply a bespoke NCM cathode to Cellforce, with the emphasis on high-energy density and fast charging. To close the loop, production waste from the Cellforce plant will be siphoned back to BASF’s prototype recycling plant.

“A low CO2 footprint, closed-loop recycling and sustainability are increasingly in the foreground,” Michael Steiner, executive board member for R&D at Porsche, said in a statement. “European sources for the materials nickel and cobalt, the associated security of supply and the short transport routes from Schwarzheide to Baden-Württemberg in Germany were all important arguments for the decision to work with BASF.”

Details of the collaboration between BASF, Porsche and Cellforce remain under wraps for now. BASF’s so-called HED NCM cathode will be supplied on an exclusive basis, that much is known. Its wider range includes the traditional NCM 111 composition all the way to the more nickel-rich NCM 811 and NCA offerings, both well-suited to Germany’s premium- and performance-car markets. Coating and doping options allow the mixtures to be tailored to specific needs, whether that’s enhanced safety, longer life, high-energy delivery and chemical stability.

For reference, a VW e-Golf is driven by a li-on NCM 333 battery, according to PushEVs, with equal parts nickel, cobalt and manganese. Tesla uses NCA.

Cellforce Managing Director Markus Gräf highlighted BASF’s commitment to adapting cathodes to the next generation of silicon anodes that could be a game changer when it comes to energy density and rapid charging. As always in battery chemistry, it’s a case of given and take. What silicon brings to the anode in the form of performance, it takes away by shortening a cell’s cycle life.

The Cellforce plant is expected to start operations in 2024, with the capacity to produce 100 MWh a year, enough for a 1,000 motorsport and high-performance vehicles. BASF is constructing its European battery operations to add to facilities in Japan and the U.S. Both local plants are expected to come on stream next year.

“This will not only shorten logistical routes; we will also reduce our dependence on imports from remote areas,” BASF said by email.

Photo by Justus Menke on Unsplash

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