SB LiMotive starts lithium-ion battery plant

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SB LiMotive starts lithium-ion battery plant


Bosch Group Chairman Franz Fehrenbach, third from right, and Samsung SDI President and CEO Choi Chi-hun, second from right, speak yesterday at an event tied to the opening of SB LiMotive’s battery plant in Ulsan. Provided by Bosch

ULSAN, South Gyeongsang - Amid the growing attention given to “green” cars, SB LiMotive - a joint venture of Korea’s Samsung SDI and Germany’s Bosch - officially opened its first electric vehicle battery plant in Ulsan, South Gyeongsang, yesterday.

In the long run, the 34,000-square-meter (365,976-square-foot) factory is expected to diversify the overall automotive market away from internal combustion engines and toward electric mobility once it begins mass production of lithium-ion batteries starting next year.

By 2015, SB LiMotive said the plant will be able to supply enough batteries for 180,000 electric vehicles annually.

“In light of finite oil reserves, the rising price of fuel and stricter environmental standards, we can say with certainty that the market share of all-electric vehicles will increase every year,” said Franz Fehrenbach, chairman of the Bosch Group, during a press conference yesterday in Ulsan after the inauguration ceremony.

Samsung SDI President and CEO Choi Chi-hun, Bosch Korea President Hermann Kaess and SB LiMotive CEO Lee Jin-gun were also present.

“Between 2020 and 2030, we will see an acceleration of penetration [of electric vehicles in the market] and by then we have to be ready to produce lower-cost batteries that have more power and higher energy density,” Fehrenbach said. “Strong penetration in electric vehicles will happen in megacities, most likely in Asian cities such as Seoul and in China.”

Fehrenbach added that “the Korean government’s aim of promoting e-mobility by supporting the development of battery technology shows that the issue is high on the political agenda.”

In such an environment, Samsung SDI head Choi said that the new plant “will contribute to the success of vehicle electrification.”

The opening of the plant comes just nine months after the groundbreaking ceremony. The plant began pilot production in May before its official open yesterday.

SB LiMotive was founded in September 2008 with the objective of developing lithium-ion battery technology and exploring the market for hybrid and electric vehicles.

By 2013, Samsung SDI - the world’s second-largest maker of lithium-ion batteries - and Bosch, the world’s largest automobile component supplier, will have invested some $500 million in SB LiMotive.

The joint venture gained traction even before the plant opened. Early last year, BMW said it would purchase SB LiMotive battery cells for the all-electric BMW Megacity vehicle. SB LiMotive also won an order from U.S.-based Chrysler to provide lithium-ion battery packs. “Based on Samsung SDI’s know-how in this technology and Bosch’s strong relationship with automotive players across the world, we were able to work with BMW and Chrysler,” Choi said. “We received orders from these two companies even before our plant was completed.”

The executive also noted that SB LiMotive is looking to expand further into other overseas markets despite the fact that it is a late-comer in the industry.

There are challenges, however, in accelerating an overall industry shift from the current gasoline and diesel engines to electric.

“The safety of the battery must be guaranteed under all operating and climatic conditions,” Fehrenbach said. “What’s more, the battery must be able to store enough energy to increase the range of electric vehicles to over 200 kilometers (124 miles), a level that customers are demanding. To achieve this, engineers and scientists are looking to double energy density by improving the chemicals used in battery cells.”

By Lee Eun-joo []
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