Collaborating with the world's largest battery manufacturers

Published: 08 November 2023

Text: Newslab

Photo: Cenate

Cenate develops and produces world-leading technology that aims to replace graphite in today's batteries.

Cenate is working on developing and producing silicon-based anode materials for lithium batteries, which will be used in future electric cars and PCs.

"The main objective is to shrink the battery to increase its range. We create the nano version of a pomegranate, which means extremely small silicon nanoparticles wrapped in a conductive structure," says CEO Erik Sauar of Cenate.

To achieve this, Cenate collaborates with the world's leading battery manufacturers such as LG, Panasonic, Samsung, and SK Innovation.

"We need to collaborate with those who have the most expertise to succeed, and that often means the largest and most established players. This means there will be a few but very large agreements."

Extensive expertise: CEO Erik Sauar of Cenate has a long history as a research-based entrepreneur. Now he and Cenate are striving to become world leaders by replacing graphite in future batteries.

Competing with the entire world

Currently, graphite is used in electric vehicle batteries, which amounts to 60-70 kilograms per car.

"Our product could potentially reduce the weight to 10-12 kilograms. This would result in the battery taking up less space, allowing for more battery or additional luggage space."

The race to make car batteries smaller is happening all over the world. However, according to Sauar, the technology that Cenate possesses is world-leading.

"As far as we know, we are at the forefront," he says.

In the long run, if contracts with the major manufacturers materialize, it may be necessary to build two industrial facilities—one in the United States and one in Europe. The exact location in Europe is undecided, but Norway and Germany are two clear candidates.

"It depends on suppliers and customers," Sauar explains. Currently, he and the rest of Cenate are working on making the material stable enough to last longer than the lifetime of a car. Cenate must be able to demonstrate that the battery will have a long lifespan, and to do that, the material must undergo a series of tests determined by various car and battery manufacturers. However, among the leading manufacturers, this requirement is on the verge of being surpassed.

Testing in Oslo Science Park: Much of the testing takes place in the park, while large-scale testing is conducted in Cenate's full-scale pilot plant in the Holtskogen industrial area outside Oslo.

A 100 million pilot plant

The first products are already undergoing formal qualification, which involves larger volumes and further refinement.

A significant portion of the testing is conducted in Oslo Science Park, but for larger deliveries and larger gas-based processes, the testing is performed in Cenate's full-scale 100 million NOK pilot plant located in the Holtskogen industrial area, four miles outside Oslo.

"We had to build it to demonstrate that we can achieve full-scale production. Therefore, it was necessary for us to incur some costs early on," says Sauar.

However, according to Sauar, obtaining financing has never been an insurmountable problem, whether it was in his work with REC, where he was the former CTO and co-founder, or with Cenate.

"Today, there is an increasing number of ex-founders with capital, a financial environment with insight, and a network of expertise. Ex-founders can often take a significant portion of the initial risk themselves."

"For every successful company, the ecosystem grows, and the outcome can slowly approach the situation in Silicon Valley, which is the prime example of finance and innovation going hand in hand. Sweden has also achieved a lot. We are doing a lot ourselves; significant changes have occurred in the past 20 years."

Significant weight savings: Current graphite in electric vehicle batteries weighs between 60 and 70 kilograms. With Cenate's new technology, the weight could be reduced to 10-12 kilograms.

Moving the world forward

Being on track to become a world leader in components for next-generation lithium batteries is challenging. It means busy days at work, and sometimes it even requires working through the night to achieve the goals.

"We have 12 employees and eight full-time contractors. Additionally, we have 15-20 people who work for us extensively. In a relatively small company, the days are extremely diverse, ranging from detailed experimental work to planning, financing, sales, and contract work," explains Sauar.

Originally a chemist with a master's degree in anthropology and a Ph.D. in thermodynamics, Sauar has been predominantly a research-based entrepreneur during his professional career. He loves the feeling of excitement and intensity that comes with working on something significant.

"It's incredibly exciting to be part of moving the world forward, alongside very talented and pleasant people," he says.

From solar cells to batteries

His experience as the CTO of REC and in the solar cell industry comes in handy. Silicon is also used in solar cells, and that's where Cenate's journey began. Sauar met Cenate's COO and major shareholder, Werner Filtvedt, in connection with Dynatec and the development of a new technology that Sauar was a customer of.

However, China took over the solar cell market completely with 200 billion in state funding, crushing all European and American solar cell industries. This led to the closure of the REC facility.

"As a result, Dynatec was left with production facilities without customers, and they started considering whether the reactor could be used for something else."

Blood, sweat and tears

When the idea of using silicon nano in batteries emerged, Sauar decided to start Cenate together with Werner and Josef Filtvedt from Dynatec, based on Dynatec's previous reactor work and Martin Kirkengen's battery expertise.

"When it comes to starting a new company based on a long R&D journey, you have to make a thorough evaluation and take time to determine if it's worth investing blood, sweat, and tears. It was a process that took almost six months," he summarizes, but adds that he was well aware of the business potential after already being involved in financing a similar company in Silicon Valley.

However, the relationship with China is a process that will take time. Sauar fears that Europe's relationship with China could be problematic for a long time. For patent reasons, Cenate is currently focusing on customers outside the Asian superpower.

"The product is not fully developed yet, and we need to have control over IP, technology, and have everything patented and secured before we can open up to Chinese customers," emphasizes Erik Sauar.