Electrical automobile battery manufacturing: Why SADC must act now


As we attempt to navigate the disruption that the Covid-19 pandemic has prompted to our lives and livelihoods, I take heed to folks speak about what they are going to do “when issues return to regular”. However issues won’t return to regular; not less than not the conventional that we have been accustomed to earlier than 2020. 

The pandemic has highlighted quite a few systemic issues within the Southern Africa Growth Neighborhood (SADC) area, the foremost one being the excessive price of unemployment and poverty. Even previous to the pandemic, the region’s unemployment rate was hovering around 11%, with a youth unemployment rate of about 25%. Unemployment immediately impacts the degrees of poverty within the area. As a substitute of lamenting how our lives have modified because the creation of Covid-19, we should always use the pandemic to take a look at new methods of doing issues, corresponding to fast-tracking initiatives to enhance the livelihoods of everybody in SADC. 

A chance staring us within the face is the electrification of transport; in different phrases the transition from petrol and diesel automobiles to electrical automobiles. A report titled Jobs in green and healthy transport states that the Electrical Car (EV) trade is about to create not less than 10-million jobs worldwide. What can SADC governments do to ensure that the area will get a share of these job alternatives? 

One of the standard kinds of electrical automobiles is the Battery Electrical Car (BEV). BEVs are powered by a chargeable lithium-ion battery. You recharge them in an identical technique to recharging your cell phone. The uncooked supplies required to supply lithium-ion batteries are present in a number of SADC international locations. These uncooked supplies embrace manganese, lithium, nickel, graphite and cobalt. Glencore and Gécamines SA within the Democratic Republic of Congo mine cobalt, South32 in South Africa mines manganese, Bikita Minerals in Zimbabwe mines lithium, Bindura Nickel Corporation mines nickel in Zimbabwe and the Syrah Assets Balama Graphite Mine operation in Mozambique mines graphite.

Some might even see this as encouraging, however SADC has been exporting uncooked supplies for hundreds of years and thousands and thousands of its residents are nonetheless dwelling under the poverty line, unable to profit from this. The income gained from exporting uncooked supplies is minimal in contrast with the income generated from exporting the value-added merchandise gained from these supplies.

For instance, if SADC processed the uncooked materials used to make lithium-ion batteries into battery-grade materials, it may cost increased costs, gaining further export income. If this battery-grade materials was used to supply the elements for lithium-ion cells, an excellent increased worth could possibly be commanded. 

Now think about if your entire battery manufacturing worth chain — from mining uncooked supplies, manufacturing battery cell elements, to cell and battery pack manufacture and meeting — passed off within the SADC? The potential export income from this worth chain would greater than double, and job alternatives could be created in any respect levels alongside the road.

An excessive amount of coaching and expertise improvement is required to capitalise on these job alternatives. Competency in Stem (science, know-how, engineering and arithmetic) topics is crucial. Mother and father, lecturers and guardians have to encourage their youngsters to take bodily science and pure arithmetic as much as grade 12. With out stronger Stem expertise, the SADC will be unable to ascertain a aggressive benefit in lithium-ion battery manufacturing.

SADC wants certified scientists and chemists; chemical, electrical, supplies and industrial engineers; in addition to technicians and software program builders to benefit from these alternatives. Retraining and upskilling folks in order that they’re conversant in new battery applied sciences may even be required. On the identical time, entrepreneurial expertise will must be developed to allow small and medium enterprises or start-ups to take part in lithium-ion battery manufacturing. 

So what must be performed to ensure that SADC receives a share of the job alternatives offered by the electrification of transport? There must be political will from all SADC governments to implement insurance policies that encourage the uptake of EVs within the area. Nations in different components of the world with a excessive uptake of EVs have been stimulated by coverage, which created incentives for EV adoption. Because of the low adoption of EVs in SADC, companies have had no incentive to put money into the talents, tools and infrastructure required to fabricate lithium-ion batteries for EVs. Different elements resulting in the gradual adoption of EVs within the area — lack of shopper consciousness, lack of infrastructure (corresponding to EV charging stations) and worth — will grow to be much less disabling as soon as authorities incentives are put in place. 

Already petrol and diesel automobiles are actively being phased out in EU international locations, with some hoping to section out all petrol and diesel automobiles by 2025, whereas Asia is a distinguished participant in lithium-ion battery manufacturing. SADC governments ought to give their residents a chance to entry a share of these 10-million jobs that could possibly be created. Allow us to not be left behind as a result of we took too lengthy to implement insurance policies to allow a transition from petrol- and diesel-powered automobiles to electrical ones. 

This op-ed relies on an extended report, SADC e-Mobility Outlook: Accelerating the Battery Manufacturing Value Chain

The views expressed are these of the writer and don’t mirror the official coverage or place of the Mail & Guardian.