The company ACC, which is preparing to deliver to its customers its first batteries intended to equip electric vehicles, must be a driving force for the creation of the European industrial battery sector.
ACC (Automotive Cells Company), a joint venture created by Stellantis and Saft in 2020, aims to manufacture battery cells and modules for electric vehicles. The commissioning of a first gigafactory in Hauts-de-France last May illustrates the ambition of the company, which plans to build two others in Germany and Italy. All in order to be competitive, in a market currently crushed by Asian players.
Matthieu Hubert, secretary general of ACC, explained to Techniques de l’Ingénieur ACC’s strategy to be competitive in the market for batteries for electric vehicles, and the importance for Europe to have an industrial sector competitive in this area, across the entire value chain.
Engineering Techniques: How was Automotive Cells Company (ACC) born?
Matthieu Hubert: ACC is a relatively young company, launched in August 2020 by its two historic shareholders, Saft and PSA at the time (which has since become Stellantis).
Saft, now a subsidiary of Total Energies, has been a battery manufacturer for more than 100 years and develops numerous cutting-edge applications for lithium-ion batteries, of which it is the world leader. However, Saft had not yet entered the field of batteries for the automobile before the birth of ACC.
The other shareholder, Stellantis, has a very complementary profile to Saft, since it is a large series automobile manufacturer, ready to take the turn towards electrification, but which until 2020 had not direct access to the technologies implemented for electric vehicle batteries.
This is therefore a very coherent team, of two industrial giants whose needs and know-how complement each other.
Since then, a third shareholder, Mercedes Benz, has joined this team. The European Union supported ACC through the PIIEC batteriesWho allows Member States to invest massively to promote the development of future industrial battery champions, in order to create a complete industrial sector in this field.
What industrial ecosystem has been developed since the creation of ACC?
We inaugurated a R&D center in Bruges near Bordeaux in 2021, which is fully operational today and brings together 800 employees. It is an essential tool for ACC in terms of innovation.
Also, last year, we inaugurated our pilot plant in Nersac, where 250 employees work, and which makes it possible to bring about the convergence of the product with the process, in order to prepare for the large-scale industrialization of our manufacturing, in our Gigafactories. The first of them is located in Billy-Berclau in Hauts-de-France, the first block of which was inaugurated last May, and which should make it possible to deliver to our client, Stellantis, in the coming weeks. .
Ultimately, the French gigafactory will have three blocks, just like the two other gigafactories which will be built in Germany and Italy. Our strategy is to put the gigafactories into production block by block: thus, after the commissioning of the first block in Billy-Berclau, we will commission the first block of our Gigafactory in Germany, and so on, to reach the commissioning of the nine blocks of our three gigafactories in 2030. This will then correspond to a power of 120 GW of installed capacity, or 2.5 million electric vehicles equipped per year.
Behind the commissioning of the ACC gigafactory, there is the European desire to set up a real European battery sector. What is the place of ACC in this ambition?
ACC is an important building block of this European battery industry. If other building blocks are currently being put in place in Europe across the entire battery value chain, it is clear that there is still a lot of work left. I will give you two examples. First on the first brick, which concerns the materials. The extraction of raw materials is an activity which is being structured in Europe, which is beginning to emerge, but which is not currently operational. Which forces a manufacturer like ACC to source from outside Europe, where the raw materials are extracted. Subject of course to compliance with a very strict purchasing charter to guarantee the appearance
social and environmental aspects of the products that our suppliers deliver to us. Then, at the other end of the value chain, there is the recycling. In this sector of activity, the sector is still only emerging, and does not currently constitute a pillar on which we can rely to recycle our batteries. That said, this is less problematic than for the extraction of raw materials, since the need for recycling will only appear in practice in a few years, given the life expectancy, and second life, of the batteries that we produce.
What strategy are automobile manufacturers adopting in the face of the planned end of thermal vehicles and the massive deployment of transport electrification?
The very restrictive European regulations around standards (Euro 6, Euro 7) for the development of new engines have forced manufacturers to change their approach, to concentrate today on the switch to electric. And so on to the batteries. Today, this is a short and medium term issue. By 2035, nearly 12 million batteries will be needed on a European scale each year to equip electric vehicles. Today, the only batteries sold come from China, South Korea and Japan. It is therefore imperative to be able to equip European vehicles with locally produced batteries. In this sense, Mercedes looks favorably on the development of an ACC gigafactory in Germany, and more generally, the creation of a competitive European battery sector is a guarantee of independence for the future, particularly in relation to the ‘Asia. But this is only true from the moment when we are truly competitive compared to our competitors, hence strong pressure on emerging European players in the field of batteries.
What is your state of mind regarding this pressure to be competitive with the Asian market, and more generally on the future of the European battery industry?
If I take a step back from the activity we are developing at ACC, I will mention three points. First, the fact that we are working to ensure that the planet does “less badly” in the years and decades to come. We all know the conditions in which batteries are produced today, it seems necessary to make efforts to clean up this situation and make battery production methods more virtuous, ecologically speaking. We are working on it.
The second point that motivates us is the reindustrialization aspect. Through the development of ACC, there are numerous job creations, in our R and D center, and in our gigafactories, which will each employ 2,000 employees in the long term. This in
territories which are in the process of “reinventing” themselves, and in the immediate vicinity of industrial sites today dedicated to the production of mechanical automobile parts and which will see tomorrow
their activity is inexorably reduced due to this shift towards all-electric.
Our locations allow these sites to reinvent themselves rather than decline, which helps avoid further social disruption, and allows France to partially achieve its objective of reindustrialization.
Finally, we are helping to enable France and Europe to ensure a certain form of autonomy, a certain form of technological and industrial sovereignty, on this
key element that is the battery for electric vehicles.
Comments collected by Pierre Thouverez