French pilot plant for solid state battery materials, rare earths

French pilot plant for solid state battery materials, rare earths

Business news |
By Nick Flaherty

Solvay, one of the world’s largest chemical companies, has opened a pilot plant for materials for solid state batteries in France.

The plant in La Rochelle, France, will expand Solvay’s research and innovation capabilities and help support the battery industry for electric vehicles (EV). Solvay is an investor in leading US solid state battery maker Solid Power.

The pilot plant is funded by the Important Projects of Common European Interest (IPCEI) programme to scale up development of advanced inorganic materials for solid electrolytes – a key component of the next generation of batteries for the automotive industry. 

Solvay is also looking to tap the EU’s Critical Raw Materials Act to fund a unit to process and recycle rare earth materials for EV motors.

Solvay is a key player in this field, and expects soldi state batteries to supplant the current lithium ion cells. The pilot unit, which is part of Solvay’s Battery growth platform, will support semi-industrial scale. Solvay will also carry out process studies to help prepare for the industrialization phase in the coming years.

“The world has never needed so many batteries, powering today’s and tomorrow’s sustainable cities, communities and technologies. We are contributing to this underlying trend by focusing our efforts on innovation that will bring new, safer and more efficient solutions to our customers – meeting the automotive industry’s rising demand for electric vehicles,” said Ilham Kadri, CEO of Solvay. “With more than 20 years of expertise, Solvay is the front-runner in Europe for this new technology and we’ll continue to work on innovative and disruptive technologies for the next generations of battery technologies.“

The Nouvelle Aquitaine region and the French state supported Solvay on this project, as part of a wider EU package to boost battery innovation in Europe.

The expansion of the rare earths operations in La Rochelle will see Solvay enter the value chain for rare earths permanent magnets in Europe for electric vehicles, wind power, and electronics markets. For decades, Solvay has been the technology leader in rare earths separation, recycling, purification, finishing and formulation and the plant is already active in the separation and recycling of rare earths for captive use. 

The investment aims to create a powerful rare earths hub in Europe, adding production of separated rare earth oxides for permanent magnets to the site. These are essential components used in the traction motors of electric vehicles, the generation motors of wind turbines and many other applications in electronics. 

At present, most advanced magnets are imported from overseas. The hub will help develop European autonomy for these critical materials and also address the shortage of rare earth key elements by playing a proactive role in the recycling of magnets.

“Rare earths are essential to ensure the green energy transition. Our investments in the magnets’ value chain will help Europe power its new economy with more autonomous and sustainable solutions for electric mobility, clean energy generation and sensitive electronics applications,” said Kadri. “It is a very exciting step that will further strengthen our leadership in rare earths.”

Solvay will pursue alliances with other global champions in this field, and has active participation in European consortia to secure partnerships and funding.

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