Earlier this month at the Frankfurt auto show, Mercedes-Benz announced that it would source battery cells from carbon-neutral production for the first time. 

The CO2-neutral sourcing is via a newly inked partnership with Farasis Energy, of China, and Mercedes’ parent company Daimler says that it will save more than 30 percent of the carbon footprint of the battery by producing it entirely with electricity from renewable sources. Farasis uses a mix of hydropower, wind, and solar energy. 

Daimler partnership with Farasis reduces battery CO2 footprint

Daimler partnership with Farasis reduces battery CO2 footprint

The move is part of Daimler’s Ambition 2039, a plan that aims to make the automaker’s entire fleet carbon neutral in 20 years. And Farasis is one of many suppliers the company plans to engage toward that goal

As part of that—especially on the details of cell supply—Daimler is getting help from DEKRA, a testing organization, to look at the upstream supply chain, and from RCS Global, to look at the cobalt supply chain and potential human-rights issues in the supply chain. 

“We’re going to the mines,” said Jochen Hermann, Daimler’s head of development for electric drive. “For cobalt, we’re going back seven steps in the supply chain.”

Hermann sat down with Green Car Reports, on the day of the announcement, to talk a little more about batteries and cell sourcing. The executive is responsible for battery technology in cars and trucks, hybrids, battery-electric vehicles, and fuel-cell models—a huge portion of the company’s future.

Tesla Gigafactory battery plant in Nevada

Tesla Gigafactory battery plant in Nevada

He explained that the company’s approach for the future will be to tap into commodity cells made on an existing production line, “but with other requirements that we place on them.” 

“We think for us it’s appropriate knowing all the details on the development side, but to make use of the investments done already on our supply side,” he said. 

What he’s referring to started ten years ago, when Daimler AG established Accumotive as a wholly owned subsidiary to develop and sell lithium-ion batteries. “We have a lot of experience there with cell production, and also the battery.” Hermann said. “We have done the production side and decided it’s not so important...But the development side of it is very important.”

According to Hermann, Daimler has moved many of its own engineers from the production side of the cells to the development side. 

2011 Smart electric drive - first drive

2011 Smart electric drive - first drive

When Daimler and Accumotive opened the second factory in Kamenz in 2017, it decided it would have parallel organizations in Stuttgart, the U.S., China, and India—all production-focused, while it would keep development in-house, in Germany. 

Since then, Hermann explained, Daimler’s strategy with electric-vehicle projects has been to use commodity cells but be in control of all the details on the development side. “We specify all the details, and then we go with the right partner for the project—building on competition between makers, and scaling.”

Daimler buys the cells on the market, while its own facilities will usually turns them to modules themselves, and then turns the modules into packs.

Scaling up with the same cells as building blocks

How far can the commodity-cell approach go? Daimler is essentially hoping that it can use the same cells—or slight variations of them—on everything from its smallest EQ and Smart models to its Mercedes-Benz SUVs and sedans and all the way to its Daimler truck brands like Freightliner. 

That strategy echoes what Tesla is hoping to do—in potentially using the same cells for Model 3 and Model Y on up to the Semi. But Hermann underscores that it’s not quite there for the range of Daimler’s plug-in vehicles. 

“At the moment there’s a difference between plug-in (hybrid) cells and battery electric,” he said explaining that under current cells there’s otherwise a compromise in performance. “But yes, one of the goals would be in the future making those cells as similar as possible.”

2020 Mercedes-Benz EQC 400 - first drive - Norway, May 2019

2020 Mercedes-Benz EQC 400 - first drive - Norway, May 2019

Likewise, Hermann, who underscored the importance of safety and longevity for Mercedes-Benz electric vehicles, agrees that you can’t change cells often, because you lose the economy of scale. So Daimler is moving to a completely modular system for packs so as to use the same cell for as many applications and variations (and priorities, perhaps) as possible. 

“Maybe you can use the same cells and wire it differently,” hinted Hermann, nodding as we asked about 800-volt systems. ”With the same cells, slightly different modules, you can have different packs.”

The automaker’s EQ sub-brand is scheduled to introduce 10 new fully electric models by 2022, with other electric and electrified models expected from Mercedes-Benz and AMG. There are most definitely going to be some variations in that group—as hinted by the Vision EQS concept from the Frankfurt show, some of them potentially quite exciting.