Christophe Mille is CTO at Verkor, the French company with a mission to accelerate the production capacity of low-carbon batteries in Southern Europe through the creation of a first 16GWh Gigafactory. Before taking up this latest position, he held roles at Tesla, BMW and Apple, where he worked on a ‘very secret Special Project Program’…
On this week’s Mobility Moments, we talk to Mille about the need for a Gigafactory in France and Verkor’s newly announced project partner, Capgemini.
What is your background and how did you get involved in Verkor?
I am a mechanical/industrial engineer and spent the first 10 years of my career in the semiconductor industry, working in Process and Equipment engineering. I switched to the Lithium-ion industry 12 years ago and started to work at the National Lab CEA in France.
Following this, I spent six years at Tesla as a Battery Manufacturing Leader working on cell design, material benchmarking, process development, and innovation. I also lead the first GigaFactory layout design in Reno, Nevada in collaboration with Panasonic.
After Tesla, I spent a couple of years at Apple in California on the Cell Technology part of their very secret Special Project Program. After deciding to move back to Europe, I landed in Munich to help BMW with Cell Engineering and Module Engineering for their next Gen product.
Around a year before creating Verkor, I discussed with my ex-colleagues from the CEA and partners the idea of designing and building a battery GigaFactory in South West Europe. It took time for the idea to mature, but it was natural for me to bring home the experience and skillset developed internationally for a project that creates value for Europe and France.
Why is it so important to develop a battery supply chain in Europe?
From a job perspective – Europe has a strong historical position in the automotive industry for internal combustion engine cars. This value chain will be strongly impacted and millions of jobs affected. It is necessary to operate both the energy and social transitions. The battery represents 30 to 40% of the cost of the electric car, that value needs to be captured in Europe, thus creating European jobs. This is even truer in a post COVID era.
From an environmental perspective – we’re moving towards electrification and away from fossil fuels – we can’t afford to make the same environmental mistakes as with fossil fuels. From raw material extraction to recycling, the transformation of raw materials and cell production needs to be best in class in terms of efficiency and footprint. Manufacturing in Europe is the only way to control the whole value chain.
From a strategic perspective – do we want our mobility to remain dependent upon imports or to rely on technologies developed outside our borders?
Can France catch-up with China, or is China too far ahead?
With the creation of the European Battery Alliance, the strong focus placed by institutions combined with a remarkable number of new initiatives from European companies who progress all along the value chain, it is clear that Europe and France have the assets to develop a competitive battery value chain.
In France, you have raw materials suppliers, chemical companies for active materials, strong know-how in electro-chemistry, and a long-lasting experience in recycling. We have what it takes.
At Verkor we are setting up a strong team of battery champions, who come from all over the world to help us build the necessary expertise in manufacturing. We are also acting in a partnership approach with other companies in the value chain, with yet other partners from outside this who can boost efficiency, like Schneider Electric and CapGemini for digital manufacturing, and Groupe IDEC for construction.
What is the timeline for your gigafactory?
Production ramp-up will start in 2024.
What does Capgemini bring to the venture?
Capgemini is bringing its capabilities in engineering and digital skills to optimise our manufacturing process and reduce waste, thereby improving the environmental and economic performance of our business model.
Combined with the expertise of Schneider Electric, it will enable Verkor to have the most efficient plant in the World.
What will mobility look like by 2030?
By 2030, more than 50% of vehicles will be 100% electric and an even higher percentage in cities. Most buses and delivery vehicles will also be electric. Battery electric cars will be cheaper than their ICE equivalent thanks to a decrease in the cost of batteries, and few models of the latter will remain.
More importantly, these vehicles, including their batteries, will fully be built in Europe and a big share of them in France.