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Publisher's Blog

Gerry Woolf

Kristallnacht for lead-acid?


I’m fondly remembering the days when BCI’s convention was there for my amusement, or so it seemed— the ‘early bird’ attendee prize draw for $100 handed out by the amazing Ann Noll.

She did virtually all the organisation back stage, but now Smith Bucklin send seven helpers. The jog-a-thon (which I never attended) has slipped into history.  Dick Amistadi’s 5-year forecast on SLI (no change there then)… must have been a mild winter… The paper hand-outs (there’s now an App for that). And the far-flung locations for what was a conference based around a golf tournament. It was a ‘hoot’ and a peaceful world for lead… or so you thought… Battery Council International seemed almost an anachronistic event in an industry spoiled for choice in terms of events and trade shows.

Now it’s looking a little bit more serious. For the lead industry, it’s beginning to look like Kristallnacht—November 9, 1938, where, in Germany, almost 200 synagogues were destroyed, over 8,000 Jewish shops were looted, and tens of thousands of Jews were removed to concentration camps. Now some of you will say I’ve gone too far here. To them I say wake up and smell the coffee.

The point I’m making is that the writing was on the wall for Germany’s Jews for several years before Kristallnacht and the smart ones left, probably without their assets, but they got to keep their lives.

There’s a parallel here with the lead industry, the legislative and technology threats are existential now— and they’ve been there for a while— they’ve also been ignored.

Lithium is advancing on price and function, so much so it could replace lead. Legal bans will tip things over the edge, to— let’s be frank— destruction of the industry. And BCI’s speakers, like Ray Kubis were showing where that process is happening.

This year, we saw how America’s lead community are going to fight back— through social media, Facebook and the like (or should I say “likes”?) Making videos that rally the troops in your plants and telling the great unwashed that lead batteries are doing sterling service, (essential energy everyday?) backing up the internet and powering forklifts— is probably a wasted effort.

The great unwashed have no clue about how their smartphone works or what chemistry powers it. To the many, it’s almost magic— they’re nothing like the 11-year-old science prodigy who ‘wowed’ BCI attendees and whose grounding in chemistry could wipe the floor with some of your greatest and best trained.

To stop what Ray Kubis virtually called “the insanity of trying to outlaw lead”, you almost need “regime change”— certainly in Europe, where the misinformed are making catastrophic decisions that might echo around the globe.

You just have to hit and take out the few so-called decision makers with the best lobbying a $60 billion dollar industry can afford and can muster.

I fear the industry is running, like so many Bison, into REACH, the end of life vehicle directive and California’s own special measures. Don’t let Ray’s forecast come true. The world needs this industry more than some of you need the work and the jobs it creates.

Mars is a great market for pure EVs

All power to Elon Musk and SpaceX. What an incredible achievement to build the world’s most powerful rocket, make much of it reusable and have a sufficient sense of humour to put one of your other company’s product— a tesla electric car, atop of it all and send it toward Mars! Tesla is losing a fortune, so what the hell?

A flaming embarrassment

Looking for ways to make lithium-ion batteries safer? Well, don’t go to a battery safety conference, because you won’t learn much! At least I didn’t when I went to Cambridge EnerTech’s battery safety event last week in Arlington.

Don’t die… just get bought!

Now is a great time to sell your battery manufacturing business— to an oil company.
The age of oil isn’t over yet but those in fossil fuels know it’s coming, so now is the time to diversify.

Futile rear guard action?

The defending army is on the run. In a desperate attempt to help the troops escape, a rear guard is assembled, hoping beyond hope to delay the rapidly advancing attacking troops. They will run out of ammunition of course, or be overwhelmed.

Auto electric confusion?

It was a confusing week in Mainz. The only thing you could be sure about was that electrification of vehicles was not going away, but perhaps we’ve known that for some time. The thing we’re not sure about is;

No-fly lithium looks very possible

There are few inside the battery industry who haven’t seen a video of a lithium-ion cell going into thermal runaway, shooting out flames and gas like some kind of giant firework.
There are enough battery specialists who can appreciate and calculate the release of energy from such devices and have the imagination to visualise the domino effect that could take place when one defective cell goes wrong in pallet containing maybe several thousand cells.

Poor emissions lead to sales revisions

It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good, but the ill wind that’s been blowing through Volkswagen these past few weeks may deliver a positive benefit to the battery industry if its industry Guru, Menachem Anderman, is to be believed.

Storage doomsayers unite

This writer tries to avoid TV news these days; From the refugee torrent out of Africa into Europe, the tit-for-tat terrorist bombings in the Middle east, it’s just too awful to contemplate. Batteries, (when not arming bombs and missiles) are relatively innocuous things and when involved in the firming of renewables, they do good. But last week, at the Electricity Storage Association’s technical meeting, the industry was told it is not doing anywhere near enough.

What matters: FIFA or ESA….the ball is in your court.

So ESA’s annual event is over for another year. It’s no longer an event for battery scientists or even battery vendors but it looks like an excellent networking event for everyone else. As a conference with formal presentations, forget it.

Musk has set the pot boiling

It’s funny how us lesser beings can pursue a technical topic till we’re blue in the face and no one seems to take any notice. Electrical Energy Storage is just one such topic.