Northvolt might use South Shore plant to build aviation batteries: CEO

Swedish company’s first North American factory, which the company announced in September, will initially focus on making batteries for electric cars and heavy vehicles.

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Swedish electric-battery maker Northvolt could devote part of its future Montreal-area plant to the production of aviation batteries.

Northvolt’s first North American factory, which the company announced in September, will initially focus on making batteries for electric cars and heavy vehicles. Located in the South Shore towns of St-Basile-le-Grand and McMasterville, it’s scheduled to be fully operational by 2026. Operations of a new Northvolt subsidiary, called Cuberg, could eventually be integrated into the facility, co-founder and chief executive officer Paolo Cerruti said Tuesday.

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“Cuberg’s main business today is aviation. We are looking at reserving space on site if it makes sense to have the first industrial scale-up in Quebec. This doesn’t mean that we have made any decision on industrializing Cuberg here,” Cerruti told reporters after a speech to the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal.

“We are looking at it. It’s very early on,” he added. “We are a few years away, probably the second half of this decade. Cuberg is a very promising technology, but it’s definitely something which has a relatively small volume and high price point for the industry. It’s going to start with niche industries that are relatively less sensitive to cost, and progressively seep into the mainstream.”

Quebec beat out Ontario and some U.S. states to land the $7-billion facility, which will receive billions of dollars in federal and provincial financing. Northvolt predicts the plant will produce 60 gigawatt-hours of cells, enough to power one million electric vehicles annually.

While Quebec has been courting battery makers for years in a bid to find industrial users for its vast hydroelectric resources, Cerruti told the business audience Tuesday he had no specific expectations when he first set foot in the province in February.

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“Our intention at that time was to set up somewhere in the U.S., probably in New York State, where large volumes of renewable energy coming from Quebec were available,” he said. “We were also looking at Michigan.”

After a few meetings with provincial officials, the executive said he “realized that Northvolt’s objectives were very much aligned with those of Quebec.”

Northvolt aims to decarbonate the electric battery — as well as the entire supply chain — by using only renewable energy. By 2030, the company is aiming to produce half of its batteries with recycled materials.

“There is no better place to build this supply chain than Quebec,” Cerruti said, praising what he called the “effervescence” he found here.

In addition to Northvolt, a series of major industry projects are scheduled to start operating in the province between 2026 and 2028, he added.

“The biggest industrial transition of our times will take place here, in the next 10 to 15 years,” Cerruti said. “Most of the major investment decisions will be taken in the next three years. Quebec has all the ingredients to become an important player of the sector in North America, and maybe even in the world.”

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Despite Northvolt’s aim of playing a role in cutting carbon emissions with its batteries, the company’s decision to invest in Quebec has run into its fair share of opposition. Area residents, for instance, have expressed concern about truck traffic, pollution, housing shortages and the potential destruction of wetlands.

Compared with Northvolt’s home country of Sweden, where Cerruti describes the popular reaction as overwhelmingly positive, “we had a little different reception here,” he said. “Honestly, it surprised us.”

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Nevertheless, the Northvolt CEO said he expects the company’s relationship with Quebec to become “healthy” over time.

“We have chosen Quebec, and I would like Quebecers to choose us as well,” he said in his speech. “I know very well that this will not happen overnight, and that this confidence must be built.”

If job applications are anything to go by, that confidence appears to be growing. Cerruti says Northvolt received about 3,000 “spontaneous” CVs for engineering and project management positions in the week after the project was announced.

Tuesday’s event at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel was disrupted by chanting, whistling and flag-waving public-sector employees on four separate occasions — including three short but noisy protests that interrupted Cerruti’s speech before the demonstrators exited peacefully. To gain access to the gathering, members of Quebec’s union common front had booked three tables of 10 at $1,600 each, according to the rates that are posted on the Chamber of Commerce’s website.

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