CPF Hosts inaugural Australia Battery Day

11 October 2022
The Centre for Policy Futures and the Advanced Materials and Battery Council (AMBC) hosted the inaugural Australia Battery Day at The University of Queensland on 30 September 2022. The agenda for the day started with an address from the Honourable Glenn Butcher, Minister for Regional Development and Manufacturing and Minister for Water on the importance of advanced materials and batteries for the Queensland economy.

From left to right: Dr Lee Finniear (Li-S Energy CEO, AMBC Director), Dr Lynette Molyneaux (Centre for Policy Futures, AMBC Director), The Hon Glenn Butcher (Minister for Regional Development and Manufacturing and Minister for Water), and Craig Nicol (Graphene Manufacturing Group CEO, AMBC Chair) Image supplied by H. Swinson, Li-S Energy.

The Minister’s address was followed by two hours of short presentations from 24 academics and scientists conducting research into extraction, processing, electro-chemistry and nanotechnology required to develop advanced materials for the global energy transition. After lunch the attendees heard from 5 industry leaders on the opportunities and challenges for the sector and 6 senior government representatives on Queensland Government support to grow the sector.

From left to right: The Hon Glenn Butcher (Minister for Regional Development and Manufacturing and Minister for Water),  Craig Nicol (Graphene Manufacturing Group CEO, AMBC Chair), and  Dr Lee Finniear (Li-S Energy CEO, AMBC Director) Image supplied by H. Swinson, Li-S Energy

While Australia Battery Day provided an excellent opportunity for scientists and technologists working in industry to network with the relevant researchers in academia and CSIRO, and with Government representatives, the reason for Australia Battery Day and the AMBC is grounded in research which highlights the important role for collaboration between industry, research and government for successful development of critical industry sectors, whether in minerals, advanced manufacturing, health sciences and biotechnologies, informatics and so on. This article summarises the opportunity for Australia from supplying advanced materials and batteries to our trade partners for the global energy transition and findings from research into successful sector development around the world.

From left to right: Dr Lynette Molyneaux (Centre for Policy Futures, Director AMBC), Tony Knight (Queensland Chief Geologist), Michele Bauer (Deputy Director-General, Department of State Development, Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning), Bernadette Zerba (Deputy Director-General, Department of Regional Development, Manufacturing and Water), Dr Liam Byrnes (Executive Director, Department of Energy and Public Works), Kylie Hughes (Director, Department of Environment and Science), Chris Le Serve (Head of Investment, Queensland Treasury). Image supplied by H. Swinson, Li-S Energy

Advanced materials and batteries underpin the global energy transition

Global investment in electrification of transport, and energy storage to stabilise electricity supply from variable energy sources, is projected by the International Energy Agency (IEA) to average US$450 billion PER ANNUM over the next decade if the world is to keep carbon dioxide emissions to levels that avoid destructive levels of climate change. The IEA warns that supply of metals and battery precursor materials will have to increase by around 30% per annum to meet these targets. Consequently, countries from Europe to the Americas and the Asia Pacific have recognised the economic opportunities associated with advanced materials and batteries and are actively investing to benefit from the economic development that will follow.
Australia currently hosts significant deposits of the required metals and a fledgling but impressive, multi-chemistry battery industry value chain. The technology that the metal processing and battery-tech start-ups seek to commercialise is world class and attractive to other nations seeking to re-industrialise through the global energy transition. Our metal processing and battery-tech start-ups face a stark decision – accept offers from our global competitors to relocate to accelerate commercialisation, or remain in Australia, with piecemeal support from governments and investors, leading to a slow failure because they run out of money.  If, however, these metal processing and battery-tech start-ups are supported to stay in Australia, they could become the cornerstone of a manufacturing resurgence because batteries require a comprehensive supply chain of locally manufactured goods like metal foils, solvents, electrolytes, battery casing and battery management systems.

Key success factors for sector development

Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Germany and China have successfully developed new industries through well-articulated strategies; access to cheap finance; facilitation of international competition; integration between suppliers, producers and customers including regional clusters; promotion for innovation through public funds and tax breaks for R&D.  The key driver of success is proactive government intervention and the key mechanism for success is collaboration.
Collaboration targeted at forging a local eco-system strengthens connections between global firms, local entrepreneurs, investors, the research community and domestic labour force to learn about constraints faced by firms, leverage local academic/scientific and research base, make education part of the initiative, monitor and adapt policy for desired outcomes, as described here, here and in Chapter 13 of this World Bank tome.  In turn, this helps:
  • small producers to grow and be globally competitive through innovation, technology transfers from other sectors & countries, local supply, and workforce training;
  • manage risk and uncertainty through assisting with commitments to irreversible investment decisions, linking macroeconomic management and industry, and managing conflict between competing interests;
  • encourage business elites to pursue national objectives  because a well-narrated and supported strategic vision influences investment and industry to Make Winners rather than Pick Winners (or Losers) ;
  • develop policy frameworks linked to regional capacities and opportunities, with actions and instruments consistent across all levels of government interlinked through innovation policy (R&D subsidies, technology transfers), social and skills policy (labour force participation, training, education) and energy policy (access to affordable energy).

Potential to grow battery related circular economy

Currently, more than 90% of spent li-ion batteries (LiB) in Australia will end up in landfill. Of LiBs that are recycled, only small sized batteries can be recycled. Envirostream, based in Victoria, recycles small sized LiBs but anything oversized is shipped overseas. With the accelerated uptake of electric vehicles comes bigger LiBs that will need to be recycled. As LiBs are currently imported with no requirements for re-use or recycling, collaboration across the local value chain will be necessary to build a circular economy to extract valuable metals from spent batteries, to feed back into battery value chains, and reduce landfill.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

Aristotle’s words ring as true today in all societal organisation as they ever have. Collaboration to achieve success for economic development is not a whimsical thought-bubble but based on research findings of other nations’ success in developing manufacturing sectors. The AMBC will seek to advance that collaboration and events like Australia Battery Day will help establish robust stakeholder networks to grow visibility and advocacy for this important new industry sector.