Collaboration key for battery manufacturing success

A workshop to assess the opportunities and challenges for battery manufacturing has highlighted the need for a collaborative approach between industry, government and research providers to create a globally competitive industry.

The Victorian Battery Manufacturing Industry roundtable, hosted by storEnergy and the Victorian government attracted more than 150 people, more than half attending in person and the rest joining online.

In her opening address, storEnergy director, Professor Maria Forsyth stressed the need to consider new, alternative technologies, and also ensuring that end-of-life is included as part of battery research, design and manufacturing.

The Hon Lily d’Ambrosio, Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change outlined batteries in the Victorian transition. Victoria has more than 30% of its power generated from renewable energy with a target of 50% by 2030.

Arun Murali from Accenture presented findings of the FBICRC Future Charge report. As a result of improvements in technology; significant demand for new forms of energy storage; and governments supporting battery technologies; demand for batteries is forecast to accelerate over the next decade with electric vehicles likely to be the largest application.

While slower to adopt EVs than other countries, Australians are embracing stationary batteries for energy storage at a much faster rate. This rapid uptake both in homes and grids could help Australian battery manufacturers develop distinctive and innovative products, such as high heat applications, that are export ready.

Other opportunities include defence and transport applications.

In the medium term, specialised cell and battery pack manufacturing for energy storage systems (ESS) are a market segment with potential to capitalize on domestic demand.

In the longer term, the report identified opportunities including integration and servicing of batteries and recycling and re-use, with clear economic benefits. By following a path to develop diversified battery industries, the contribution to Australia’s economy could increase from a current figure of $1.3B and 6000 jobs, to $7.4B and 34,700 jobs.

The major challenges identified by the report, as well as by other speakers, are: lack of sufficient access to capital, skills base, developing relationships with new customers, other competing countries; and lack of a battery industries development policy.

Tom Gregson from Sodium Ion Batteries Pty Ltd highlighted challenges with Australian standards for batteries with non-lithium ion chemistry. “Although they are safer,” he said, “they are required to meet higher standards.” Another challenge is that the cost/volume equation is not synchronised and companies need support or de-risking to be able to compete over time.

CEO of Li-S Energy, Lee Finnear also said that while there is market demand, governments needed to help ‘prime the pump’ by investing in opportunities to help position Australia as a country with leading edge manufacturing.

Other local manufacturers presenting at the roundtable included Dr Matt Boot-Hannford from Calix, Dickson Leo from the IM Group and Bill McPhee from BASF.

In a discussion on future directions for the industry, Libby Chaplin from the Australian Battery Stewardship Council noted that with battery metal demand forecast to increase 500% by 2050, there is an issue around supply as well as waste management. Currently Australia only recovers about 10% of battery materials which is much lower than international best practice. The new national battery collection network, B-Cycle, which starts in February 2022, will accredit companies in the value chain and track recycling.

Chris Eves from the Victorian Department of Transport said public transport vehicles must contain a minimum percent of locally made content and the department is actively seeking battery technology applications for trams, trains and buses. The government has significant market power and is willing to work with supply chain participants.

Cameron Rist, General Manager Merchandise for Bunnings reported a significant shift in consumer purchasing behaviours over the past five years, with two thirds of Bunnings sales of power tools now powered by cordless technology, up from less than one-quarter five years ago. Bunnings has recently implemented a battery recycling program in collaboration with battery recycler Envirostream.

The roundtable demonstrated that a solid foundation is building for battery manufacturing in Victoria with regards to engagement in research, start-ups and SMEs.

There are opportunities across the whole value chain, especially in medium and long term areas of new technology design and development as well as a major opportunity for recycling and sustainability initiatives.

Summarising the day, Dr Leonie Walsh, Chair of the Centre for New Energy Technologies (C4NET) said moving forward would require an ecosystem approach that recognised the importance of partnering and collaboration to achieve scale and engagement upstream and downstream, as well as incentives to de-risk establishment costs and a multi-disciplinary approach to achieve the research and design needs for a circular economy.