Modular system: Plug & Play Large-Scale Storage for Industry

Expert Interviews – Monday, July 12, 2021

Leclanché's LeBlock large-scale storage system consists of five-foot-wide blocks that can be assembled in a plug & play process. Daniel Föhr, Head of System Engineering at Leclanché, explains how optimisations in logistics and installation save up to 40 per cent of the total cost of ownership, and what the Swiss company is up to in e-transport.

Your LeBlock battery storage concept is reminiscent of a children's building block system, except yours is much bigger. A LeBlock storage brick is five feet wide and can be plugged together to create a 20-foot container. Is the association with the construction kit intentional?

The association is certainly intentional, because it illustrates very well the simplicity and capabilities of the LeBlock concept. Not only can we easily scale up a battery storage system, but we can also later expand, rebuild, relocate, and ultimately recycle it directly.

Generally industrial storage solutions were often complex, and our customers could not understand how the system would look like. Logistics and installations were long and expensive. We wanted to break with that and make it simple and easy to understand for everyone.

LeBlock was chosen as one of the finalists partly because it can reduce the total cost of ownership. You write that the time and cost savings can be up to 40 per cent. How do you achieve this? Where is the savings potential?

The saving potential comes with the direct shipment as a turnkey solution. LeBlock comes as an intermodal system and arrives without repacking directly to the final installation site. Four Blocks together create a 20-foot container, battery module inside. That means we do not produce any waste on site and no empty transport cases need to be shipped back.

The Blocks contain the entire necessary equipment and infrastructure. Everything is pre-wired and pre-tested for a direct plug & play installation.

Leclanché has an own battery cell factory in Willstätt in Baden-Württemberg. Are you using your own cells for LeBlock?

We have our own battery production in Willstätt, Germany and an assembly facility in Yverdon-les-bains, Switzerland. However, both are primarily used for our transportation business, namely railway and marine applications. Both require specific certifications and high-performance cells that are not requested for stationary applications. That’s why for stationary applications we mainly concentrate on the optimal integration of third party components like batteries and conversion system using innovative concepts like LeBlock and controlled by our in-house energy management system (EMS). For the first version of LeBlock, we integrate LFP batteries.

Where will the LeBlock containers be used? Is there a current example?

The first installations of LeBlock will be commissioned in Q1 next year in central Europe. Further systems are planned for the US market in the course of the next year.

You also mention environmental and recycling benefits, for example a lower carbon footprint and easier disposal. Are these powerful selling points?

As you know, we are all committed to reach net zero emission by 2050 in concurrence with the Paris Agreement. To reach this ambitious target our customers need to reduce their direct CO2 emissions linked to their operations and indirect emission linked to the equipment they source.
Thanks to the unique design and transport concept of LeBlock we are able to minimize the emissions linked to the project logistics, installation and recycling at the end of life. The reduction of our carbon footprint is becoming more and more important since major energy companies are setting carbon budget for all their purchased equipment.

Leclanché not only has stationary applications in industry in mind, but also mobile use. You call this business area E-Transport. Your storage systems are also to be used on ships, in trains, buses and trucks. Where do you see more potential in the future, in the stationary or mobile sector?

Leclanché today has a fully vertical integration on the entire value chain to offer innovative high quality energy storage systems. We target two main markets: transportation and stationary. We are working on our entry into the automotive/road transport sector through licensing or through partnerships of our technology protected by 200+ patents, and the know-how of producing lithium cells at-scale since 2012. This will allow the company to more than double its addressable market in transportation and will be beneficial for stationary as well, with an expectation to increase in parallel.

Hydrogen currently seems to be the great hope for the energy transition. You supplied the battery technology for a hydrogen-powered locomotive for the railway company Canadian Pacific. Is hydrogen also the future in your eyes, at least for mobility?

Hydrogen is definitively a good solution to decarbonize heavy transportation such as marine or railways. Leclanché is not considering hydrogen as a direct competitor to our product portfolio. This is very complementary to the batteries.

With Leclanché batteries, we are covering ranges of about 100 kilometers overhead power line free operation with full battery trains.
For long or extended range, hydrogen fuel cells are well suited as energy generation and used with batteries for power management and kinetic energy recovery. This is the case in projects we are working on, in several segments covering marine, railway and road transportation.

Especially for e-transport applications, you produce G/NMC (graphite/nickel manganese cobalt oxide) pouch cells with 60 and 65 ampere hours (Ah) and up to 8,000 cycles. For the large-scale production of battery modules (M3) with these cells, you inaugurated a new production line in Switzerland this year. That sounds like growth. What next steps are you planning? What do you want to have achieved in the next years?

We are growing with our customers and implementing larger manufacturing lines in both the cell plant as well as the systems assembly plant. The market is growing, and we are partnering with many of the leading players in our segments. In railway we have partnered with Alstom which is the second largest train manufacturer in the world. In marine we are working with Kongsberg Maritime, one of the largest ship integrators worldwide. Our customers are growing, and we need to be able to grow with them. The implementation of production capacity takes time, and therefore we need to anticipate the demand and implement additional capacity in time.

After the implementation of the new module assembly line we have announced that we are now working on tripling the cell production capacity at our plant in Germany and are working with several partners to further expand that capacity. We will continue to manufacture internally the complete systems from cell to pack for the transport applications and will expand into the stationary applications once our internal capacity will permit.
Expansions outside of our current markets will be done through partnerships using the strong internal competencies and technology base that have been developed over the past ten years.

You have already announced in a press release that you have made it to the finalists of the ees Award 2021 with LeBlock. Were there any reactions to this, such as more customer interest? What do you gain from applying for the ees Award?

We’ve made a press release and launched the new concept on our social media platforms. The EES award helps us to gain attraction, as the award is internationally known and valued.

This is of course helpful advertising for us in this COVID driven time, where physical meetings and events were not possible.

ees AWARD Finalists 2021

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