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Flex-Ion's research-only EV battery manufacturing assembly line begins to take shape

Fifteen projects across Canada are splitting more than $70 million to support the development of zero-emission vehicles, including two projects inside Windsor's Flex-Ion Battery Innovation Centre that will see EV batteries come off an assembly line.

But unlike the ones that will be coming out of the future Stellantis/LG plant in Windsor, Ont., not a single one of Flex-Ion's electric vehicle batteries will see the inside of a consumer vehicle.

Rather, they'll be used solely for research purposes.

"Our goal here is to research and develop new chemistries for the future," said Guido Benvenuto, Flex-N-Gate's vice president of engineering. "We're going to be bringing in more equipment in the coming days to further the process and ultimately produce batteries right here."

On Friday, Next Generation Manufacturing Canada (NGen) announced $76 million in funding for 15 zero-emission vehicle projects. Their focus is on areas such as critical mineral and metal extraction, traction and efficiency gains and further development of greener technologies.

Currently, development of an EV battery assembly line is taking place inside Flex-Ion. Officials say there are about a dozen people performing preliminary research work using small-scale technology, such as cell batteries that are commonly found in watches.

But the centre is hoping to bring in dozens of engineers and scientists — while also opening up a co-op program for post-secondary students — to fill out a three-shift operation, with a goal of taking its first research-only EV battery off the assembly line in July.

"The intent is to work with the local academic institutions to really develop this and have those minds stay local so they can become leaders in the battery sector," Benvenuto added.

In February, both the province and the city announced it would be investing a combined $2 million into the electric vehicle battery lab.

At the time, Ventra Group, part of the Flex-N-Gate group of companies, said it would also be investing $18.5 million so Flex-Ion could build a pilot line where advanced lithium-ion batteries would be produced for research and development purposes.

"All the equipment had been ordered just about a year ago," Benvenuto said Friday. "It's all starting to roll in as we speak. But with chip and labour shortages globally, everything is coming right to the end of the wire."

Among the focal points of Flex-Ion's yet-to-be-built assembly line is its dry room, free of moisture and akin to a surgical lab.

"We're going to study and understand all the attributes that go into a battery and better understand what it takes to make the next-generation battery and to fill customer specifications more accurately,” he said.

According to NGen, the current state of electric batteries comes with challenges. They can struggle to last in cold weather and the extraction of EV battery minerals can harm the environment.

But for NGen CEO Jayson Myers, the Windsor projects are geared toward finding solutions to those problems.

"We're excited about all of our EV projects but I can tell you this is just the tip of the iceberg to solve many of the innovation challenges that will shape the future of the EV industry around the world," he said.

In a video webinar on Friday, Myers added that investments may continue to come down the pipeline for future projects.

"For NGen, this is money that we're going to continue to invest in the net-zero economy, in electric vehicles and in industrial de-carbonization,” Myers said.

Meanwhile, AIS Technologies in Tecumseh, Ont. is part of another NGen project which looks into the development of hydrogen fuel cells.

Construction of the $5-billion Stellantis/LG battery manufacturing plant is expected to begin later this year. Business leaders in Windsor-Essex have said the plant may be operational by August 2024. Top Stories

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