Andreas Genest from ifu Hamburg, Member of iPoint Group, attended the BatterieForum Deutschland 2019 (German Battery Forum) conference, which took place in Berlin from January, 23 to 25. The 3-day event brought together around 350 members from the political, scientific, and economic sectors.
Presentations touched upon a wide spectrum of issues related to lithium-ion batteries (LIB), ranging from battery production and raw materials sourcing, to the latest scientific discoveries, to the use of LIB in logistics and e-mobility. See the full program here: https://www.batterieforum-deutschland.de/kongress/programm/ (sorry, in German only).
Strategic questions in the global LIB industry
The first day focused mainly on strategic questions regarding the global distribution of lithium-ion batteries. While the industry is projected to experience exponential growth rates over the next few years, there is also a certain insecurity concerning whether the projected demand can be met at current worldwide production capacity.
On the political side, some anxiety was expressed that Germany and Europe may not be able to keep up with global LIB production. While central Europe excels in both basic research and materials research connected with lithium-ion batteries, it does not have the capacity for actual, large-scale battery production at this time.
The US and China, on the other hand, are investing billions of dollars in large-scale production facilities. European industry is not yet ready for such investments, given the current production structures as well as their share holders‘ expectations on returns.
According to industry insiders, there is no proof yet that investments in major battery production facilities will ever be financially sound – a sentiment that fuels the political hesitation to back large-scale LIB production in Europe.
Considering the environmental aspects of battery production
Day two of the conference highlighted research and development issues, such as the science of battery engineering, LIB recycling and carbon footprints, and development of high-voltage batteries for use in the automotive industry.
Andreas Genest from ifu Hamburg gave a presentation on Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) for lithium-ion batteries, touching on both the possibilities and limitations of the method, data, and software. The presentation inspired an active discussion regarding the use of LCAs in general, since different studies seem to offer noticeably different results, as well as prompting questions on specific battery materials and their ecological impacts.
Future outlook on production-relevant resources
On the third day, participants honed in on the availability of resources needed for lithium-ion battery production. Among the issues discussed were global resource availability under various market scenarios, and supply and demand forecasts for raw materials such as the rare metal cobalt, a crucial element in battery production.
Summarizing these presentations, it appears that the market may not be able to satisfy the short-term demand for all raw materials needed for battery production. Such temporary shortages can lead to significant price variations in the market, resulting in substantial challenges to long-term financial planning. At the moment, it does not appear there is any geological shortage of resources which could limit global LIB production.
However, taking a life cycle perspective, the access to the resource lithium is linked to environmental risks and severe threats for ecosystems in the respective regions on the globe. The greatest amount of lithium resources is estimated in Chile and Bolivia. In Chile, the water demand for the exploitation has already caused a lowering of ground water level which destroys the basis of existing of the local farming communities in the region of the Atacama desert. Therefore responsible sourcing of Lithium on a global scale will remain a challenge in the future.