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Europe’s carmakers face raw material bottleneck for EV batteries

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  • Carmakers investing closely in battery cell manufacturing
  • Investment in raw material extraction has lagged
  • Firms vie for provides of lithium, nickel, cobalt

FRANKFURT, Oct 13 (Reuters) – Major carmakers like Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE), Daimler (DAIGn.DE) and Stellantis (STLA.MI) have been racing to safe battery cell provides in Europe, however might face an even bigger problem as they search to go electrical – discovering sufficient battery raw supplies.

Failure to acquire ample provides of lithium, nickel, manganese or cobalt may sluggish the shift to electrical automobiles (EVs), make these automobiles costlier and threaten carmakers’ revenue margins.

“There is a serious question as to whether supply can keep up with demand across the battery supply chain,” says Daniel Harrison, an auto analyst at Ultima Media.

Until lately, Europe was seen as having misplaced the battery race to the dominant Asian producers like CATL (300750.SZ) in China, South Korea’s LG Chem (051910.KS), and Japan’s Panasonic (6752.T), says Ilka von Dalwigk from EIT InnoEnergy, which has arrange an organization community funded by the European Union within the “European Battery Alliance”.

“Nobody saw that as a problem,” says von Dalwigk. “The thinking was that we can import battery cells.”

But forecasts from banks like UBS that EV gross sales would soar over the approaching decade shook the political institution and carmakers, and compelled a rethink of battery manufacturing.

PLENTY OF BATTERY PLANTS

This was adopted by EU funding programmes value billions and main battery plant bulletins by automotive producers and suppliers. Volkswagen alone plans six battery crops in Europe, whereas Daimler will construct 4 with companions.

Recently, battery cell manufacturing facility bulletins have come thick and quick, and EIT InnoEnergy now lists nearly 50 deliberate initiatives within the EU.

If all these plans turn out to be actuality, native manufacturing ought to meet demand round 2030. About 640 gigawatt hours (GWh) could be out there, sufficient for common annual manufacturing of 13 million automobiles.

By 2030, Ultima Media estimates international worldwide provide at 2,140 GWh, with demand at 2,212 GWh.

Ultima Media’s Harrison initiatives Volkswagen’s six deliberate crops would enable the Wolfsburg-based firm to cowl round two thirds of its personal battery wants.

SUPPLY CHAIN GAP

The downside lies with raw supplies like lithium, nickel, manganese and cobalt.

Market specialists from Benchmark Mineral Intelligence (BMI) converse of “the great raw material disconnect” – excessive investments in cell factories, however lacking investments in raw material extraction.

Within a yr, the value for lithium carbonate has greater than doubled, explains Caspar Rawles, head of worth and information evaluation at BMI.

In the case of cobalt, the place the most important deposits are positioned in Democratic Republic of the Congo and are typically extracted beneath depressing working circumstances, a rise in worth can be anticipated.

At the very starting of the provision chain, it takes round seven years for new mines to be developed.

“Europe is not the only region that is raising its e-car targets and reducing CO2 emissions,” stated Rawles.

A worldwide race is beneath means.

The automotive trade is at the moment experiencing painful manufacturing disruptions as a result of scarcity of semiconductors.

Some carmakers, together with Volkswagen, try to safe the provision of raw supplies with unique provide contracts.

So far, lithium has primarily come from Australia and Chile, cobalt from the Congo, and graphite from China. The largest processors of cathode and anode material are additionally positioned there, and in Japan.

But imports can turn out to be costlier because of tariff will increase in commerce disputes and interrupted by logistics issues, as a tanker accident that blocked the Suez Canal lately confirmed.

And lengthy journeys are unhealthy for these targeted on making batteries with as few CO2 emissions as attainable.

HOMEGROWN RESOURCES

One reply is investments in raw material extraction in Europe – lithium is especially out there.

Startup Vulcan Energy is engaged on acquiring lithium CO2-neutrally from thermal water in Germany’s Upper Rhine plain and has already signed up Renault (RENA.PA) as a buyer.

“We would need a lot of projects like Vulcan Energy – with one in every European country we would have a chance to build the supply chain in Europe,” says Harrison.

EIT InnoEnergy estimates by 2030 Europe may faucet 1 / 4 of the raw supplies it wants, so is engaged on elevating more cash that would set off additional investments.

Recycling is an alternative choice. But right here, too, Europe lags far behind China.

Currently, high quality points imply solely 10% to twenty% of demand might be met with recycled material, says von Dalwigk.

There is a danger the shift to e-mobility might be slowed down, says Harrison.

He provides, although, that he believes the European Commission and EU member states must take motion – similar to extra subsidies for exploring reserves and recycling – “because so much is at stake economically and ecologically.”

Additional reporting by Nick Carey
Editing by Mark Potter

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Employees of German carmaker Volkswagen work in a production line of VW' new battery plant in Salzgitter, Germany September 23, 2019. REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer

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