Chain Reaction Podcast Battery Technology And Volatile Energy Markets

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In this episode of Chain Reaction Tony Hines takes a look at emergent battery technology for the electrical vehicle revolution. The announcement by the UK Government this week of a new factory in Northumberland will increase capacity and yet the British Volt investment along with the existing plant in Sunderland previously owned by Nissan before it was sold to a Chinese based business will still fall significantly short of supply needed by 2040 to meet demand. So there is more to do. The race is on all over the world to ramp up investment in battery production to service the growth of electrical vehicle demand. The technology is still developing to produce more efficient batteries.

Battery production itself is not as green or clean as you might think. It relies on mining activities to get hold of raw materials sucha as lithium and cobalt used in the production of batteries.  Novak Djokovic is a Serbian professional tennis player who as we know was refused entry into Australia because he had not been vaccinated against Covid 19 but this week Serbia withdrew permission for Australian Companies to mine for lithium in what is thought to be some form of retaliation. This is significant because Rio Tinto Zinc was expecting to harvest significant lithium for battery production. The RTZ share price fell by 123 pence on the London Stock Exchange as a consequence of this decision. As for cobalt that is an expensive metal with 60 per cent of supply coming form just one country the Democratic Republic of Congo. Cobalt mining is a very dirty business as you will discover if you listen to the episode. There is also the big question about what happens to all of these materials when the useful life of the batteries comes to an end. How will the electric vehicle manufacturers deal with waste.

Volatile energy markets have been around for some time and they are not getting any better. If we look at the demand for Gas cold weather in different parts of the world will drive prices up but the capacity to meet demand is limited which means prices per unit increase. Gas wholesale markets have risen consistently in the past year. This has a greater impact on large users and those without capacity to store gas supplies.  Cold weather depletes reserves held in storage facilities. Many suppliers needed to carry out maintenance work postponed during lockdowns and as a consequence supplies were not replenished as normal meaning shortages.  This is significant risk for the UK which has woefully low storage facilities compared to other European countries and it will suffer more as a consequence.  Gas is still the main source of domestic supply in the UK and while all this was happening it wasn't as windy as usual meaning all the wind turbines were generating less energy too. 

Article referred to in the podcast:
Brink S. van den, Kleijn E.G.M., Sprecher B. & Tukker A. (2020), Identifying supply risks by mapping the cobalt supply chain, Resources, Conservation and Recycling 156: 104743.