Battery industry leaders in Germany say there is currently “no business case” for “politically-inspired” plans by the European Union to build at least 10 Gigafactories across the bloc for lithium-based batteries.
EU energy chief Maroš Šefčovič said last week the Gigafactories would be needed to produce “green European batteries” for new electric vehicles produced in Europe— and to combat Asia’s increasing dominance in the EV batteries sector.
However, the plans are the clearest signal yet that the EU is turning its back on the investment potential of advanced lead-acid batteries.
And a top Germany battery industry boss has told BBB EU leaders must not favour one technology over another.
Otmar Frey (pictured), managing director of the Batteries Division of the German Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers' Association (ZVEI) said: “It’s fine to look into possibilities for lithium but don’t forget the rest, which includes lead. We should be very careful.”
Frey warned that with a single Gigafactory requiring investments of at least EUR1.5 billion ($1.8bn), “manufacturers have to have a solid business case know what the return will be”.
“There is absolutely no indication that there can be a substitute for the existing lead-acid market” in the near future, Frey added.
Frey said concerns about the EU’s dash for lithium over lead were raised at a recent industry event ZVEI held in Berlin.
“We would of course be glad to have future cells production in Germany,” Frey said. “We have nothing against it— but everyone should remember we already have a strong battery industry in Germany and Europe. The political perception that everything is now coming from Asia is absolutely wrong.”
According to EU energy commissioner Šefčovič, Brussels’ goal is to have “more than 100GWh of battery production capacity by 2025, because this is the time we expect a ramp up of electric car production in Europe”.
Šefčovič is due to unveil a finalised investment roadmap for creating a European “batteries alliance” on 23 February.
The commissioner said future EV batteries produced in the EU would have “very distinct characteristics”. He said the EU would “be very clear that we would support sustainable mining, so that from the moment a project starts we are already thinking about the collection, recycling and reuse of batteries”.
Meanwhile, the EU-owned European Investment Bank (EIB) has already agreed to finance construction of a lithium-ion battery manufacturing plant in Sweden with a loan of up to EUR52.5 million.
The bank said it had approved a loan bid by Swedish Li-battery maker Northvolt— which announced plans to build the plant at Västerås in central Sweden last year.
But it’s clear that the die has been cast for the EU to throw in its lot with establishing a European EV batteries hub directed from Brussels— which the International Lead Association (ILA) has pledged to keep challenging.
ILA director of products Dr Alistair Davidson told BBB: “It’s important that all battery technologies are being considered in support of future energy requirements, be it in automotive or renewable energy storage or any other application.”
Davidson said the ILA continued to work closely with the EU through EUROBAT “and our own connections to ensure that the innovation we’re spearheading in advanced lead batteries is both fully understood and supported as part of the wider EU strategy for batteries”.
EUROBAT executive director René Schroeder told BBB last November: “We should continue developing all the battery technologies we have in Europe today. Lead, lithium, nickel and sodium-based batteries will all deliver CO2 savings in vehicles with different powertrains, which will coexist for the foreseeable future”.
Renowned battery and EV market analyst Menahem Anderman told the Advanced Automotive Battery Conference (AABC) Europe last month that lithium-ion battery costs remained the key barrier to market— and EV penetration at 20% of the global car fleet would not be reached by 2025.