Call for a National Battery Strategy across Australia

By Shannon O’Rourke, CEO, FBICRC, Future Battery Industries Cooperative Research Centre
Monday, 11 April, 2022

Call for a National Battery Strategy across Australia

The world is racing to decarbonise. Renewable energy generation has doubled since Kyoto, primarily due to intermittent solar and wind generation, which now accounts for one-third of all renewable energy. Battery storage is essential, because it ensures intermittent renewables can provide the affordable, reliable, clean energy we all need.

Batteries are now significantly cheaper. In fact, unit prices have decreased by 88% over the last decade, just like solar, which has seen 82% cost reductions. Advances in battery technology will lower costs even further.

Lower costs, high efficiency and energy density make batteries the preferred technology for electric vehicles, massively outpacing hydrogen fuel cells and becoming increasingly competitive with internal combustion vehicles. Batteries now account for almost half of all new stationary energy storage projects. Batteries are efficient and can store energy anywhere with a low environmental footprint.

As an emerging industry, the battery industry’s development has been considered holistically from day one. Advances in re-use and recycling are creating the potential for a circular economy, which is significant for the mining industry, the impacts of which can be reduced by extending the life of, repurposing and recycling battery systems.

Nurturing a local battery industry

By 2050, in a net-zero scenario, the IEA expects batteries to account for 70% of all renewable energy expenditure. Over $830 billion in today’s dollars will be spent each year. At present, Australia has a 50% market share in the raw materials, but only receives 0.5% of the total value across the battery value chain. Australia can capture its fair share of the battery market value by investing in manufacturing.

We must reshape global value chains to be more sustainable at world scale. Australia commonly exports spodumene concentrate (6% lithium) for overseas refining, consisting of 94% shipping waste.

Human rights and the ethical and sustainable sourcing of battery materials must ensure that the battery industry does not flourish on the back of modern slavery in vulnerable communities.

Finally, there’s recycling. With less than 1% of lithium batteries being recycled, we mine more than we need and miss an opportunity to recycle. We need cheap, clean energy but it can’t come at any cost.

Customers are increasingly demanding better transparency and traceability from supply chains. Suppliers are shifting to different battery chemistries to reduce the use of conflict minerals and key industry players are reviewing their supply chain to remove or minimise sustainability risks. We believe international regulation is required to ensure minimum standards are maintained.

Australia has earned an advantage in sustainable mining and manufacturing practices in comparison to other parts of the world and we should leverage that advantage in the global battery marketplace. Consumers can be assured Australian materials and manufactured goods are sourced ethically and sustainably; and have competitive costs, high quality and are produced safely. Australia needs to promote its brand and insist that others are transparently disclosing the provenance of their goods.

The Future Battery Industries Cooperative Research Centre and its participants are researching a blockchain material tracking system that integrates physical isotope and trace element assays to provide supply chain transparency. We are also working with groups like the Australian Battery Stewardship Council and our other participants to develop battery recycling systems that increase awareness and encourage all battery systems to be repurposed or recycled.

Laying the foundations for battery re-use and recycling initiatives

Re-use and recycling will be critical to a sustainable battery industry in the long-term, but will take time to develop because the stock of batteries needs to increase. Grid storage, EV and mining vehicle batteries are expected to crystallise a recycling industry, supported later with consumer batteries and e-waste.

Battery recycling involves de-energising, then dismantling or shredding the battery to recover its constituent materials. Metals are recovered through filtration, gravity separation, pyrometallurgy and hydrometallurgy, while other processes are used to recover electrolytes and graphite.

Lithium-ion batteries have already shown the potential for 90% recovery in recycling processes. As batteries fail or degrade over time, an increasing stream of end-of-life products will become available. If the products are disposed of instead of recycled, this is a lost opportunity to retain critical minerals and to avoid a persistent environmental impact.

In the meantime, steps to support a future industry including reviewing regulatory requirements regarding handling of battery waste, growing the battery stewardship scheme and increasing the use of battery recycling among end users will set Australia up for a future battery re-use and recycling industry.

Why must this start with the development of an ambitious National Battery Strategy and a bi-coastal Australian Battery Institute?

The Australian Government is building a sustainable battery industry in Australia; one with efficient mining, lower carbon, good working conditions, higher environmental standards and a circular economy.

This is a significant, cross-portfolio task, and we believe a National Battery Strategy is required to maximise the impact of government’s policy levers. A national strategy would send a strong message, a signal that we recognise the importance of the battery industry and the more sustainable energy options it unlocks.

A national strategy would identify and target the areas requiring the greatest investment. We believe an industry attraction fund is necessary to build value-added manufacturing and avoid Australia’s resource curse. We need a sustainable economy too. Critical minerals are a manufacturing opportunity.

Establishing an Australian Battery Institute (ABI) will also provide specialised training and technology development, as well as commercialisation infrastructure, to ensure these new, even more sustainable technologies are realised. The ABI will also play a key role in training new parts of the workforce, and upskilling others to become part of these too.

Australia needs look no further than batteries for a sustainable, nation-building opportunity that leans into the clean energy transition. We truly can be a clean energy superpower, blessed with the mineral resources, and the renewable resources to succeed.

Australia has everything right here and with the right vision and ambition can build an industry that will truly make the world a more sustainable place.

Shannon O'Rourke was appointed as CEO of the Future Battery Industries Cooperative Research Centre (FBICRC) in November 2021. He is a seasoned executive with 25 years’ experience in the energy sector including senior management roles with Woodside, Chevron and industrial research with Rio Tinto.

Image credit: © studio

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