Saturday, November 3, 2018

The Debate: The growth in the battery industry hits raw material shortage

(by Pekka Nurmi, Head of Scientific Research, Geological Survey of Finland)

The orginal version of this article (in Finnish) was published at:

Translation in English by Stephen Fraser, University of Queensland)

Pekka Nurmi is member of the IAPG Task Group on Responsible Mining:

IAPG - International Association for Promoting Geoethics:

"The importance of energy shortage is widely understood, but not its dependence on raw materials and the necessity of mining activity as a catalyst for change."

Batteries can not be produced quickly enough in Finland or elsewhere in Europe to meet industry needs, writes Pekka Nurmi.

Transport accounts for more than 20% of global carbon emissions, so reducing its emissions is one of the most effective ways to curb climate change. The tightening of regulation and, on the other hand, the opportunities created by electrification have already fueled the automotive industry, which has announced massive investment in the development and production of electric cars. The development is accelerating the rapidly improving efficiency of batteries and the falling price.

In addition to passenger cars and consumer electronics, battery technology is rapidly expanding in heavy traffic, non-road vehicles and personal mobility. Batteries are needed for energy storage and power consumption management for power grids.

Electrification requires huge investments in the battery industry. The number of large-scale factories is projected to increase tenfold over the next 15 years, and production capacity growth will continue to be strong at least until mid-century. Battery production is strongly focussed on China, the rest of the Far East and the United States.

Maintaining Europe's technological leadership and competitiveness would, however, require significant battery manufacturing here as well. A dozen battery stations are already planned, and the first are starting their production in Poland and Hungary.

Batteries in battery technology can not be realized without increasing the production of required metals and minerals. Competition in raw materials is tightening up, and it is uncertain whether future raw materials can be freely purchased from the world market.

On the contrary, there is a risk that the production and further processing of important metals will focus on a few countries and a few actors, as has been the case for rare earth metals. China manages the raw material market and component production utilizing these metals. The battery industry must ensure the availability of raw materials through strategic investments and supply contracts.

An effective battery can not be manufactured without cobalt and lithium. The aim has been to reduce the use of cobalt, but still every 5 to 10 kilograms of electric cars. 60 percent of the production comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and over half of the further processing is made in China. The battery industry will need cobalt many times compared to the current one. The reserves of lithium are divided into several countries, but production needs to be intensified.

The need for nickel and copper will also increase. Each electric car has 80 kilograms of copper and is also needed to build a charging infrastructure.

Europe has a strong manufacturing industry, technological know-how, and also raw materials for batteries, but their reserves and potential are poorly known. The European Commission has recently stated that the supply of raw materials for the battery industry is a risk that needs to be addressed quickly.

European companies do not work fast enough to secure access to raw materials from third countries, and Member States are not investing enough in research into their raw material resources. There is not enough processing and processing capacity in Europe as well.

Finland has a good opportunity to play a significant role in the European battery industry and to create billion businesses in the industry. Finland is the only EU country with production or significant potential in raw materials for all batteries. We have processing capacities, further processing and technological know-how from mining to recycling.

However, increasing the production of battery metals would require considerable investment in exploring their potential and reserves, as well as more streamlined licensing processes, mining investments and local people's approval. Now many search projects and mining projects are moving too slowly or even blocking.

The importance of energy turbidity is widely understood, but not its dependence on raw materials and the necessity of mining operations to enabling change. Batteries can not be produced quickly enough in Finland or elsewhere in Europe to meet industry needs.


IAPG - International Association for Promoting Geoethics: