Planet Earth needs to consign the carbon economy to the history books and the transition to clean energy from the wind and the sun is already underway.
But how to keep the lights on when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing?
The answer is battery storage on a massive scale and a new class of 21st century manufacturer is stepping up to the challenge.
“In the future, perhaps 10 giant companies will control this new global business,” Kees Koolen, the Chairman of Lithium Werks, told the BBC on Thursday. “We aim to be one of them.”
“It will be a multi-trillion dollar industry,” he added, “and we are the first European company to have control of the cell technology at the heart of the battery.” Lithium Werks already owns a battery cell factory in China, producing cells for lithium iron phosphate, or LFP, batteries.
The company’s grip on the technology is set to tighten thanks to its 1.6 billion euro (1.8 billion dollar) gigafactory that it is now building in China’s Yangtze River delta, near Shanghai. The plant will make both battery cells and complete modules when production starts in 2022.
Lithium Werks is now seeking a site for a similar multi-billion euro gigafactory in Europe and has already started talks with the Polish government. And that will just be the start. The company predicts literally hundreds of such projects in Europe alone over the next two decades.
Speaking earlier in the day on CNBC’s Squawk Box Europe, Kees Koolen said customers across industry would drive the market at an accelerating rate.
“We expect demand for batteries to increase 50 to a 100 fold from where we are today,” he said, “I want many of these batteries to be produced in our part of the world and it’s time for European companies [and governments] to step up to the challenge.”
He also had advice for European policy makers.
“It’s much easier to build a plant in Asia,” he told CNBC, “Europeans will have to look at the way permissions are granted if the industry is to prosper here.”
There can be little doubt that governments around the globe will be eager to host the new plants. As employment numbers dwindle in the carbon economy, the high value jobs offered by the gigafactories will be much sought after.
Lithium Werks’ first European plant is expected to create around 10,000 direct and indirect jobs – a number that would be replicated with each further project. The benefits don’t stop there. The skills required to produce the batteries at scale involve researchers and producers in everything from chemical engineering to software design and the technology underpinning the industry will continue to evolve.
It’s not the first time that the Lithium Werks chairman has been in at the start of groundbreaking corporate ventures. He’s served in the past as CEO of booking.com and as COO of Uber. As he told the BBC: “In new “disruptor” technology companies, timing is everything. The time for battery storage is now.”