Quebec-based battery maker Blue Solutions just struck a co-development deal with the world’s largest electronics manufacturer and is looking to build an entire solid-state battery ecosystem, potentially in Canada
The Blue Solutions plant just outside Montreal is one of two manufacturing facilities operated by the company that produce a slightly mystical technology in the electric vehicle world: solid-state batteries.
France-based Bolloré Group owns Blue Solutions. Its batteries are in over 1,000 transit buses in France and Australia as well as automated guided vehicles (AGVs) that move containers at shipping ports.
The Boucherville, Que., plant has quietly been producing long-range, solid-state batteries since 2007. But now it appears there is growing interest in centring the technology in Canada from Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. (also known as Foxconn), a Taiwan-based electronics manufacturing giant.
Earlier this year Hon Hai signed a memorandum of understanding with Blue Solutions to develop solid-state batteries to power e-bikes. It’s a signal that, in addition to the government’s ambitions to turn Canada into the “global supplier of choice” for lithium-ion batteries, the market views Canada’s solid-state players as equally important.
“Canada has the resources, the energy, the labour, the engineers… We have all of the ecosystem to build the battery of the future in Canada, through the whole chain from the mine to the vehicle. You cannot find any country like that on the Earth that does everything like that,” says Richard Bouveret, CEO of solid-state batteries for e-mobility at Bolloré Group.
Real world applications
Bolloré began its research into solid-state batteries in 1980. Bouveret says that some Blue Solutions batteries have been in use since 2011.
The Blue Solutions batteries currently found in transit buses are the company’s third-generation model. (The company is targeting 2028 for production of its fourth-generation battery.)
Some of the buses are Bolloré’s own product, designed and manufactured under its Bluebus brand. But Blue Solutions also has contracts to supply Daimler with batteries for its eCitaro buses and an arrangement to provide batteries for Dennings-branded buses.
According to Bourveret, buses with Blue Solutions’ solid-state batteries have travelled approximately 500 million kilometres and have a minimum of 3,000 charge cycles.
A six-metre Bluebus has a range of 280 km while a 12-metre models goes 380 km.
While Blue Solutions has enjoyed some successes with its bus batteries, it has also suffered some challenges.
In April 2022, two RATP 5SE series Bluebuses caught fire in Paris. No injuries were reported, but a month later, the transit agency pulled its remaining 149 buses off the road and mothballed them.
When asked about the situation with the Paris buses by Electric Autonomy, a spokesperson for Bolloré Group said, “Unfortunately, I can’t comment on the news about Bluebus fires. The company is working with RATP teams about this subject so I can’t give you any information on it.”
Hon Hai partnership
One of the advantages with solid-state batteries is that they can be smaller and lighter than batteries containing liquid while delivering the same (or more) power.
For example, Bourveret says Blue Solutions’ fourth-generation car-sized battery is expected to deliver 450 watt-hours-per-kilogram (or 900 watt-hours-per litre) with a 1,000 km range from a 120-to-160 kilowatt-hour battery.
It’s that power-to-weight aspect that has led Blue Solutions to team up with Hon Hai (Foxconn) to collaborate on swappable battery e-bike infrastructure for Indonesia.
“We will bring the battery with the Gen Four technology… That will be from Blue Solutions. And the final battery pack that is used as a swap system, that will be developed by our partner Foxconn,” says Bouveret who expects the actual manufacturing will be a joint effort.
Bouveret says battery swap infrastructure already exists across Asia. He points to plentiful “refilling stations”, especially ones operated by Gogoro, a partner of Foxconn, that already offer swappable batteries for e-bikes and scooters.
“When they will use our Gen Four, they will have possibly twice as much range as they have today. And that would be a great breakthrough for the two-wheeled user,” says Bouveret.
Bikes, buses and vehicles in between
With e-bikes on one side of the scale and buses on the other, it’s only natural to think about what fits in the middle and that’s passenger vehicles.
It’s a segment on the minds of the Blue Solutions team.
Blue Solutions’ 2028 fourth-generation battery production timeline is also the target date for the company to start producing batteries for higher-end cars in both Europe and North America.
“It will not be used for all passenger cars. At the beginning … they will be more for the premium cars, German cars or Italian sports cars. And then, later on, we will increase the [manufacturing] capacity and then go down into the segments from the large to the medium to the smaller cars.”
But, in order to meet the needs of the passenger-vehicle industry, Bouveret says the company will have to build giga-factory sized manufacturing plants.
Since batteries are heavy, the company wants to build close to the customer, so that means one plant in Europe and one in North America. That one could be in the U.S., but Canada hasn’t been ruled out.
“Ontario is a very dynamic area,” says Bouveret. “We will be nimble and adapt to the customer’s needs.”
And Blue Solutions isn’t the only company seriously looking at putting solid-state batteries in passenger vehicles in the next four years.
Toyota Motor Corp. recently announced a deal with Idemitsu Kosan Co to co-develop mass production technology of solid electrolytes for long-range, solid-state batteries, with the end goal being full-scale mass battery production for BEVs, beginning sometime between 2027 and 2028.
An eye to end-to-end sustainability
Blue Solutions’ solid-state batteries are lithium-metal-polymer (LMP) batteries.
Bouveret cites a 30 per cent cheaper manufacturing cost to making LMP batteries compared to nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) batteries. He also says that while more precision is required, the process also involves fewer steps and takes less time — two days instead of the current 22 days.
And, when it comes to recycling, Bouveret explains that the company is looking to reuse most of the battery components.
“Today, we have developed a prototype and we are testing a new recycling line…able to recycle 90 per cent of the lithium metal. Now, we are working with a partner to recycle the phosphate and the iron that remain in the other side of the battery. We are not using cobalt or nickel in our third generation, so we don’t need to recycle that.”
Part of being sustainable is also working with resource producers. To that end Blue Solutions is negotiating a partnership with a mining company (it won’t say which one as a deal is not final). Bouveret says Blue Solutions wants to ensure the lithium can be refined in such a way as to be usable by the company in battery production. He adds it is important to build relationships that will ensure North America and Europe aren’t dependent on Asia for lithium resources.
And that’s another area where Canada may play an important role in Blue Solutions and others’ solid-state battery manufacturer’s supply chains.
“Lithium exists in Canada as spodumene. It’s not in liquid, but it’s in the rock,” explains Bouveret. “To produce pure lithium, you need energy. Canada has a superb advantage, especially Quebec, which has a fantastic energy provider of electricity that is clean, hydroelectric and with the best cost-competitive rate in the world.”