Translation of TU Media AS article by Tore Stensvold, published on March 27, 2017. Original article can be found here.

The Battery Factory Plan B Energy Storage (PBES) in Trondheim, consisted in August 2016 of two people. A careful trial production began in May-June. Now there are 40 employees and PBES expects a turnover of 200 million NOK this year.

About a year ago, fishing boats were produced on these premises. Now large battery packs are put together, which will provide large passenger ferries and other vessels electrical power to plow through the sea.

The shipment with 40 tons of batteries is the second within three weeks. Altogether, 89 tons of battery packs with racks are going to be installed on two ferries that daily cross the strait between Denmark and Sweden at Helsingborg and Helsingør.

From environmental battle to commercial construction.We started off as environmentalists. Now we are about to build an advanced technology environment and a new industry, says production manager Tim Keast.

The maritime industry is becoming battery electric – either hybrid or full electric. Danish HH Ferries Group, which operates ferries under the name Scandlines, opened their eyes to batteries a couple of years ago and replaced a large diesel engine in each of the two Germany Ferries with large batteries. It was a success. Fuel consumption has dropped sharply. Last year they took an even tougher decision: Making Helsingør-Helsingborg ferries 100 percent electric. They are the world’s largest battery ferries.

MF “Aurora af Helsingborg” and “MF Tyco Brahe are 111 meters long, 28 meters wide and were built in Norway in 1991. Now two diesel engines in each of them are thrown out to make room for the battery packs of 8,32 MWh altogether. According to an ABB press release, HH Ferries awarded the contract worth 300 million kroner to ABB. ABB will install the energy management system, Onboard DC Grid and charging system with robot. In April, Tyco Brahe will go to the shipyard Öresund Dry Docs for retrofitting and Aurora will follow in October. ABB relied on PBES as a supplier even though the factory did not even exist other than on paper at that time.

Canadian technology

PBES is founded by two Canadians, Brent Perry and Chris Kruger, and Briton Paul Hughes. All three also co-founded what is now the largest manufacturer of marine batteries, Corvus.

It was while Brent Perry worked at Corvus he became acquainted with boat builder Erik Ianssen and Selfa Arctic, which used the premises in Forsøkslia.

He sold the batteries to Karoline, the world’s first battery powered fishing vessel, which Selfa delivered in 2015. When he broke with Corvus and built up PBES, he saw the benefit of the Norwegian battery environment, both at NTNU, Siemens and the country at large. Not least shipowners here are far ahead, says Erik Ianssen.

 

 

Boats out – batteries in

Selfa’s boat production was already decided moved and leaving the premises vacant from 1 January 2016. Cleaning and painting was needed to prepare for a production that requires dust-free and clean environment. Production Manager Tim Keast started in August last year to build the factory. He was recently a victim of the downturn in the oil sector.

It’s really fun to be part of building a small “start-up factory” to a full-fledged production company, says Keast.

PBES is a Canadian company, but is becoming more and more Norwegian. Although headquarters and development currently taking place in Vancouver on Canada’s west coast, more and more is in the process of moving to Trondheim.

It’s a natural development. We have direct contact with end users and receive feedback that is useful when developing batteries, says Keats.

 

100 tons of cells

Keast demonstrates the production. In a corner, there are pallets on pallets with XALT in capital letters.

There are the cells of all batteries. We received around 100 tons of cells in one shipment. The volume of product is reducing rapidly, says Keast.

The batteries are built at the different workstations. Before that happens, all the cells are controlled and power and specifications are documented. Everything must be traceable. The cells are mounted in cell carriers. Here the business secrets begin. Brent Perry does not aim to create the most vehement batteries in terms of energy density if the safety is compromised. Overheating and fire in cells could have disastrous consequences. Each cell has separate cooling, individual gas venting and management system.

 

Cooling and management systems

The batteries are built so that an internal short does not lead to thermal runaway. Normally, an internal short circuit lead to thermal runaway where a large amount of gas is liberated. Each cell has liquid cooling and electronic monitoring and management. Fire safety is top priority of NMA. They have set world leading standards in order to avoid fire and explosion.

Corvus was the first full-scale fire and explosion safety, which in turn influenced the final demands of NMA and DNV GL class requirements. The major players, including PBES must adapt and meet the strict requirements if they want to deliver to Norwegian ships.

Brent Perry put safety ahead of everything when he developed batteries. Should anything happen to a cell, it can be replaced. The battery pack can be removed and the damaged cell replaced, says Keast.

 

Must endure 20 fast charging cycles a day

There is not only one type of marine batteries, but several with different properties. Some are large power packs recharged occasionally, but which should be able to deliver large amounts of energy in a short amount of time. Other will supply evenly over longer or shorter time, and recharged slow and easy.

 

Ferry batteries – as the four battery packs totaling 4.16 MWh for each of the two Danish ferries, shall endure at least 20 rapid charge a day, every week and month throughout the year.

That means considerable stress for the cells in the batteries. It is the most expensive and most vulnerable parts. We envisage that they might be replaced in a few years while the rest of the battery system remain. That means great savings for the shipowner and less waste for recycling, says Keats.

 

Local vendors

The establishment of the battery factory will resonate. There are already 10 Norwegian suppliers of components and there are more to come.

We see that we can transfer some components from factories in China to local vendors here, says Keast.

Sheet workshop Tromek supply the battery rack and cooling, while Noca supply the circuit board. It was only when we came in place locally that we discovered how much we could actually  get from suppliers in the surrounding area. There might be several more, says Keast. When asked what the status is for PBES in about six months, Keast draws a little hesitantly on the shoulders.

Who knows? We have huge space and can expand production. And then we will build up a control room where we can monitor all batteries we have delivered if the customer wants it, says Keats.

 

LED in all modesty

Marketing Manager Christina Ianssen has a lot to do, but is always ready to talk.

We would like to spread knowledge of the benefits with installing batteries, she says.

Today, virtually all communication and orders go through system integrators like ABB, Siemens, Westcon, NES and others responsible for the electrical and energy management systems on board. There are certainly not all batteries that leave Trondheim with a clear PBES logo.

There are several integrators who want their logos on the batteries. That is not a problem for us, says Ianssen.

The batteries that are assembled and sent to Scandlines, has a discrete PBES-logo on the front panel.

 

Plan B Energy Storage – PBES

  • Canadian company, founded by Brent Perry, Chris Kruger and Paul Hughes in 2015
  • R&D in Vancouver, Canada
  • Production in Trondheim from August 2016.
  • Employees in Trondheim: 40. According to Brent Perry will be 70 in total in 2017
  • Daily production capacity: Approx 60 battery modules / 390 KWh
  • Pr. March 2017: Provided batteries for 6 vessels