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Publisher's Blog

Gerry Woolf

Don’t die… just get bought!

10/05/2016

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. Some have been doing it for years— BP for example— an early entrant into solar energy.

So it’s hardly any surprise to see that SAFT, the French battery specialist,  just got snapped up by Total, the multinational but French rooted oil and gas corporation.

It only seems like yesterday that SAFT was trying to wriggle free from Alcatel, the French telecom player, back in the late 90s. The SAFT management were frustrated, merely being just a division in a business which was expanding in all directions— internet, cellular and the term ‘energy storage’ wasn’t really in executive vernacular. It is now.

SAFTs specialist lithium products have proven too costly for the hybrid and EV market but acceptable for the military and aerospace markets.

And while the company had at least one interesting liason with Johnson Controls, it seems to have been a little lack lustre of late— and maybe a little rudderless following the unexpected death of John Searle, its former chairman and highly energetic commercial manager, in 2014.

Maybe there’s a lesson here— that if battery companies are really going to reap the rewards of the energy storage market, they are going to have be part of bigger energy businesses with access to capital and management resources they sorely lack.

If you look east, the big players in batteries, LG Samsung and Panasonic are all part of much larger concerns in the electrical and electronics field.

Small is beautiful up to a point. But if energy storage is really going to change the world it needs to be part of something bigger. That might be one way that lead acid industry gets itself away from the abyss it could be heading for.

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.

Savannah 2015— the verdict

Well, BCI sure has gone digital— the only analogue service was Ann Noll and her ‘ring out your dead’ bell. I remember Michael Mayer of ELBC fame in a similar role but that’s another story.

Apple Electric Car? B*ll*cks !

Short of a definitive announcement from the company, you can take all the stories about Apple coming up with electric car any time soon as total bollocks and a figment of a flaccid and useless mainstream press adding up one and one and making it 27.

The editor’s take

AABC: Lead is far from dead again and nobody else is making money!
There’s a plethora of hybrid, pure electrics and plug in electrics now available from German manufacturers— more than 60 variants but nobody is buying— well not in any serious numbers…

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