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燒錢和中國搶未來,德國豪賭這個行業

David Meyer 2019年04月14日

2018年11月,德國政府宣布向該國公司提供10億歐元(11.2億美元)的基金,用于開發生產電池。

該充電了。圖片來源:Florian Gaertner—Photothek via Getty Ima

德國政府押寶電池行業,把它作為國家工業未來發展的關鍵產業。汽車行業對德國經濟至關重要,而汽車正在轉向電氣化。所以,按照這個思路,歐洲——特別是德國——應該制造更多的電動汽車電池。

這當然是一個蓬勃發展的行業。電動汽車電池的銷售額預計將于2030年達到600億美元。但電池制造商絕大多數來自于亞洲,大多又是中國公司,例如寧德時代新能源科技有限公司和比亞迪。它們的崛起得益于中國政府對該國電動汽車制造商的補貼,它們可能會在幾年內占據70%的市場份額。市場上還有來自于日本和韓國的大玩家,比如松下(特斯拉和豐田的電池合作伙伴)、LG化工(LG Chem)和三星SDI(Samsung SDI)。

其實德國也想這么干。2018年11月,德國政府宣布向該國公司提供10億歐元(11.2億美元)的基金,用于開發生產電池。德國在今年2月公布的《2030年國家工業戰略》(National Industrial Strategy 2030)則顯示出了焦慮,表示“如果未來人工智能自動駕駛的數字平臺來自于美國,未來汽車的電池來自于亞洲,德國和歐洲將在該領域損失超過50%的附加值?!苯鉀Q方案是什么?國家對電池生產提供支持。

說的委婉些,并非每個人都認為這是一種合理的辦法?!斑@是在燒納稅人的錢?!倍乓了贡?埃森大學的汽車經濟學教授、曾經在歐寶和保時捷等公司任職的行業資深人士費迪南德·杜登霍夫說,“這么干很蠢,經濟部的所作所為太瘋狂了?!?/font>

按照杜登霍夫的說法,政府找錯了方向,因為利潤其實來自于主要的電池組件:陰極和陽極?!半姵氐漠a值約為15%。陰極材料占60%,陽極材料占20%?!彼f,“他們準備投資10億歐元用于電池生產,但這個過程不產生價值。價值來自于材料?!?/font>

追趕中的困難

德國的巴斯夫(BASF)是世界上最大的化學公司之一,當前的工作中心就是生產電池材料,它正在與俄羅斯的礦業公司Nornickel合作,在芬蘭建立陰極材料工廠。但是,公司的一位發言人表示,巴斯夫還認為“在歐洲國家進行更大規模的電池生產投資十分重要,這樣可以確保電池材料具有足夠的供應,提高競爭力,這樣歐洲就毋需完全依賴進口電池供應?!?/font>

還有很多德國公司——包括像大眾這樣的汽車制造商——也許聽進去了豐田執行副總裁寺師茂樹的意見,“征服電池的人將征服汽車電氣化”,都在認真考慮生產自己的電池。

試圖趕上亞洲電池制造商的最大問題是,該行業起步時需要大量投資,但是這個生產過程一旦開始運行,后續重復建設的成本則相對較低。

正如杜登霍夫所言,世界上最大的電動汽車電池制造商、中國的寧德時代在華擁有三家工廠,目前正在德國的埃爾福特市投入約2.4億歐元建造一座生產電池的“超級工廠”。德國的工程巨頭博世公司幾年前也考慮建一座電池工廠,估計耗資200億歐元。博世在去年放棄了該計劃,稱投資規模太大,風險過高。

新興技術研究機構IDTechEx的首席能量存儲分析師何曉溪同樣認為,對想要生產電動汽車電池的德國汽車制造商和其他公司來說,至少短期內“經濟上的投入產出并不合理”。不過,她補充道,這個行業存在很多變量,比如說公司的規模和經濟實力很重要,與亞洲電池公司的關系也同樣重要。

歐洲“制衡”

如果有公司想表示對德國政府10億歐元的電池基金有興趣,3月中旬是最后期限,申請者可以等到復活節把提案擴充為成熟的申請方案。目前總共提出了大約30個項目,申請者包括汽車制造商,也有零配件、材料和化學品制造公司。

申請者總部必須設在德國,但該援助計劃的最終目的是拓展至整個歐洲,項目將涉及與其他歐盟國家的協調,這些國家也在向德國公司提供資金。

在資金分配的過程中,申請者的詳細信息將保密,但有些公司已經自行發布了公告。汽車制造商包括大眾和寶馬,大眾希望為研發和“產業化實施”得到資助,而寶馬公司將把現金用于研發,該公司已經簽約成為寧德時代埃爾福特工廠的第一位電池客戶。

大眾正在開展規模巨大的電動汽車項目,使用的電池來自于多家亞洲供應商,但公司的首席執行官赫伯特·迪斯在上個月表示,公司“也在密切關注參與歐洲電池制造的可能性?!泵焚惖滤沟闹圃焐檀髂防找呀涢_始在德國生產電池,而且正在波蘭建電池廠。

The German government has placed a big bet on batteries as a key to the country’s industrial future. The automotive industry is vital to the German economy, and cars are going electric. So, the thinking goes, Europe—and Germany in particular—should be making more electric car batteries.

It’s certainly a booming industry; electric car battery sales are projected to hit $60 billion by 2030. But the companies making the batteries are overwhelmingly Asian. Most are Chinese firms such as Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Limited (CATL) and Build Your Dreams (BYD), whose rise was fostered by state subsidies for Chinese electric carmakers and which are likely to hold 70% of the market in a couple years’ time. There are also big Japanese and South Korean players such as Panasonic (Tesla and Toyota’s battery partner,) LG Chem and Samsung SDI.

Germany wants some of that action. Last November, the government announced a €1 billion ($1.12 billion) fund for German companies to develop and build battery cells. Germany’s “National Industrial Strategy 2030,” unveiled in February, fretted that “if the digital platform for autonomous driving with Artificial Intelligence were to come from the USA and the battery from Asia for the cars of the future, Germany and Europe would lose over 50% of value added in this area.” The solution? State assistance for battery cell production.

But not everyone is convinced this approach makes sense, to put it mildly. “It’s burning taxpayers’ money,” said Ferdinand Dudenh?ffer, professor of automotive economics at the University of Duisberg-Essen and a veteran of car firms such as Opel and Porsche. “It’s stupid. It’s crazy, what our ministry of economics is doing.”

According to Dudenh?ffer, the government is looking for value in the wrong place, as the money is really in the main battery components: cathodes and anodes. “The production value of the cell is about 15%. Sixty percent is just in the materials of cathode, and another 20% is the materials of anodes,” he said. “The value does not exist in the manufacturing process in which they want to spend €1 billion. The value is in the materials.”

Catch-up challenges

Germany’s BASF, one of the world’s biggest chemical companies, is focusing on battery materials—it’s building a cathode materials factory in Finland, in cooperation with Russian miner Nornickel. But, a company spokesperson said, BASF also believes it is “crucial to invest on a much larger scale in cell production in European countries and thus ensure reliable supply of battery materials and competitiveness, so that Europe will not be solely dependent on imported cell supplies.”

And there are plenty of German companies, including carmakers such as Volkswagen—perhaps heeding the assertion of Toyota executive vice president Shigeki Terashi that “the one who conquers batteries will conquer the electrification of cars”—that are seriously looking at producing batteries themselves.

The biggest problem with trying to play catch-up with the Asian battery manufacturers is that it takes a lot of investment to get started with the manufacturing process, but, once you’re up-and-running, replicating that process is relatively cheap.

As Dudenh?ffer noted, China’s CATL—the world’s biggest electric vehicle battery manufacturer with three factories back home—is building a “gigafactory” battery plant in the German city of Erfurt for around €240 million. When the German engineering giant Bosch was considering building a battery plant a couple years back, it estimated a cost of €20 billion. Bosch dropped those plans last year, saying the size of the investment made the plan too risky.

Xiaoxi He, lead energy storage analyst at emerging technologies research outfit IDTechEx, agreed that “financially it does not really make sense” for German automakers and other companies to try producing electric car batteries in Germany, at least in the short term. However, she added, there are a lot of variables that could change the business case—size and financial strength matter, for example, as do relationships with Asian battery companies.

A European ‘counterweight’

The deadline for companies to express interest in the German government’s €1 billion battery pot was in mid-March, and the applicants have until Easter to flesh out their proposals into full-blown applications. All in all, there have been around 30 projects proposed, with prospective applicants including everyone from automakers to parts, materials, and chemicals firms.

Applicants have to be based in Germany, but the state aid initiative is ultimately intended to be European in nature, involving coordination with other EU countries that are also offering cash to their companies.

Details of the applicants remain confidential while the allocation process is ongoing, but some have made their own announcements. As automakers are concerned, they include Volkswagen, which wants funding for both R&D and “industrial implementation,” and BMW, which will steer the cash toward research and development: it’s already signed up as the first customer for the batteries coming from CATL’s Erfurt plant.

VW is currently using a variety of Asian battery suppliers for its enormous electric-car push, but CEO Herbert Diess said last month that the company “is also taking a close look at possible participation in battery cell manufacturing facilities in Europe.” Mercedes-maker Daimler is already making some batteries in Germany, and is building a battery plant in Poland too.

大眾公司位于德國沃爾夫斯堡車間的內景。圖片來源:Photo by Julian Stratenschulte/picture alliance via Getty Images

按照德國經濟部的說法,幫助歐洲公司“制衡”已有的亞洲供應商是非常重要的。

“未來電力存儲單元將用于許多不同的產品(自行車、汽車甚至飛機),對電池的需求將與生產能力同步增長。這將關系到未來大量的工作崗位、價值鏈和專業知識?!苯洕康囊晃话l言人表示,“因此,我們德國和歐洲需要具有競爭力、創新及環保的電池制造能力?!?/p>

“已經有許多家感興趣的公司根據我部發出的邀請申請資金?!卑l言人說,“申請額度已經超過可用金額數倍,說明行業對推動這項工作十分感興趣?!?/p>

未來的技術

對于一些爭奪政府資金的公司而言,“推動”意味著將目前的液態鋰離子電池技術推向可能需要幾年發展時間的新技術:固態電動汽車電池。

業界希望固態電池能夠提供更大的能量密度,擁有更大的電池容量、更長的行駛里程。它們還應該比液態鋰離子電池充電更快,并且不易著火。

“我們認為液態鋰離子技術的潛力無法完全滿足市場對于行駛里程、重量和成本的要求,因此我們認為我們需要跨越至另外一種技術,這種技術可能是固態電池?!钡聡嚵悴考檀箨懠瘓F(Continental)的發言人表示,該公司希望使用部分政府資金用于研發?!艾F在進入液態鋰離子市場已經太晚了。投資太高,而且我們看不到未來的潛力?!?/p>

大陸集團表示將在明年決定是否繼續推進固態電池的生產。然而,哪怕這種商業模式看起來有足夠的吸引力,該公司最早也要到2025年才能夠建立起充足的產能,實現規?;a。該公司的發言人表示,即使到那時,出于對工廠成本的考慮,東歐國家“當然比德國更有潛力”。

杜登霍夫教授認為,固態電池需要十年或更長時間才能實現產業化?!霸诮酉聛淼奈迥昀?,沒有人真的會期待實現技術突破,徹底淘汰液態電池?!彼f。巴斯夫也表示,預計“在可預見的未來,鋰離子電池仍將繼續是電動汽車的主流技術”。

與此同時,杜登霍夫建議,歐洲公司應該先把生產拋諸腦后,專注于研究可以克服寒冷天氣耗電快等問題的材料。

“在我來看,或許寶馬[的方法最好],因為他們只是想了解電池中的化學成分?!倍诺腔舴蛘f道,“他們想找出哪種是最好的電池,最好的性能是什么,然后去問他們的供應商:‘我想要那個電池,價格是多少?’”(財富中文網)

譯者:Agatha

According to Germany’s economics ministry, there really is a point to helping European companies “form a counterweight” to the established Asian suppliers.

“Electricity storage units will be used in many different applications in future (bicycles, cars, even aircraft), and demand for batteries will rise in parallel to the production capacities. This will involve a large amount of jobs, value chains and expertise for the future,” said a ministry spokesperson. “We in Germany and Europe therefore need competitive, innovative and environmentally friendly battery cell manufacturing capacities.”

“Numerous interested companies have applied for funding in response to the invitation issued by the Ministry,” the spokesperson said. “The amount available is oversubscribed several times over, suggesting that industry is extremely interested in moving forward on this.”

Future technology

For some of the firms vying for government funding, “moving forward” means looking beyond today’s liquid lithium-ion battery technology to a development that could be some years away: solid-state electric car batteries.

The industry hopes that solid-state batteries will provide greater energy density, and therefore greater capacity and driving range. They should also charge more quickly than liquid lithium-ion batteries, and be less prone to catching fire.

“We think that liquid lithium-ion technology does not have the potential to fully fulfill the demands we see from the market regarding range, weight and cost, so we think we need to have a leap to another technology that could be solid-state,” said a spokesperson for the German automotive parts supplier Continental, which wants to use some of that government cash to fund R&D. “It’s too late to go into the liquid lithium-ion market. The investment would be too high and we do not see the future potential.”

Continental says it will decide next year whether it wants to press ahead with the production of solid-state batteries. However, even if the business model looks sufficiently attractive, it would take the company until 2025 at the earliest to build up its capacity and go into mass production—and even then, the firm’s spokesperson said, plant cost considerations mean Eastern European countries are “of course more promising” than Germany.

As far as Professor Dudenh?ffer is concerned, it will take a decade or more for solid-state batteries to become an industrial reality. “In the next five years, nobody is seriously expecting a breakthrough technology which will make liquid obsolete,” he said. BASF, too, said it expects that “lithium-ion batteries will remain the prevailing technology in electric vehicles for the foreseeable future.”

In the meantime, Dudenh?ffer suggested, European companies should forget about production and focus on researching battery materials that can overcome problems, such as the tendency of cold weather to drain batteries more quickly.

“From my point of view, BMW [has the best approach] because what they want to do is just to understand the chemistry in the cell,” Dudenh?ffer said. “They want to find out which is the best cell, what is the best performance, and go to their supplier and say, ‘I want to have that cell, what is the price?'”

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