The future, as it became clear, belongs to electric motors. Who will win the battle for world leadership?
In December 2019, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen presented to the public the "Green Deal." It envisages that by 2050, through a joint effort, carbon dioxide emissions will be equal to its absorption by nature, i.e. the old continent will become "climate-neutral."
But since cars alone produce a fifth of all CO2, they will be the first to be affected. France, for example, has pledged to finally get rid of internal combustion engines by 2035 and completely switch to electric cars. In this sector, "emission-neutral" indicators should be reached exactly in 12 years.
Eight billion euros were allocated for everything. In a brotherly manner. It was only a matter of time before the European Court of Auditors found out the other day that everyone was rejoicing in vain. The production of batteries of the future is a battleground reaching the horizon, and Europe simply does not have time to take its position and gain a foothold, given that the phase-out of hydrocarbon fuels is already underway.
To understand the scale: there are a million electric cars in Europe right now. By 2030 there should be 30 million of them! With such prospects, it's no longer a matter of "neutral emissions." We are talking about the economic independence of Europe in one of the most profitable sectors. The EU car industry provides 12 million jobs. A report by the European Court of Auditors revealed the following.
"Our calculations turned out to be based on outdated data," says Annemie Turtelboom, author of the report. – "They were based on projects that already existed at that time, so they did not take into account new perspectives. In addition, many enterprises were transferred to countries where production is cheaper. This documentation is several years old, and we could not get a clear vision of the future and optimize these huge investments."
The cost of the battery is 40 percent of the electric car's cost. Therefore, expensive battery production will make the price of the car unaffordable for the buyer. Hence the escape of manufacturers from expensive Europe.
The Europeans are now trying their best to turn the situation around. Generally, the Volkswagen plants in Germany and the Battery Valley in northern France, which is under rapid construction, can seriously compete.
President Macron is approaching the problem responsibly. The other day, he met with Elon Musk and discussed the possibility of building a Tesla battery plant in France. Interestingly, Musk visited Paris twice during the month. First, he came to an investment forum in May, where he had already talked to Macron about batteries, and now. It is not for nothing that he is visiting the Elysee Palace for the second time. So, things are going well.
Ideas and developments abound. A new educational college was created at the Valley. It trains a completely new and narrow specialty – battery engineer. This is no longer a technician in a blue lab coat.
80 percent of production is in absolutely dry halls. Humidity of 20 percent is controlled by a highly sophisticated system. The scariest word here is dust.
At the Air Show in Bourget, now near Paris, the latest development in lithium, iron, and phosphate-based batteries for airplanes is on display. This battery starts the turbines and provides power for the entire aircraft. Most importantly, it weighs 6.5 kilograms instead of the current 16.5 kilograms of lead. Aviation is fighting for every kilogram. The average helicopter saves 25 kilograms this way, and the Airbus A320 saves 125 kilograms.
"All indications are that Europe will face a shortage of raw materials for batteries by as early as 2025," says the report by Annemie Turtelboom. – "The competition is already fierce, and with the explosion of demand for raw materials, we might not be able to resist."
Most of the lithium, cobalt, graphite, nickel, and manganese needed to make batteries have to be imported into Europe. Last year, the International Energy Agency warned that Europe would run out of its own lithium in 2025.
Cobalt is mined in the Congo and Chile. But these countries are not members of the EU and Brussels will not tell them what to do. China and the U.S., the main market players, are now fighting for the development of these deposits. Congo, for example, will get its tiny share, but will desperately bargain.
Just to understand the situation: a few impressions from a recent trip to Senegal. Africans are either unwilling or unable – or more likely both – to do anything. The mentality is as follows: a white man must come from somewhere, build a highway or a factory, preferably donate and leave. We, on the other hand, will continue to build our houses out of organics and sticks, swinging in hammocks and sitting on stools around the house. In northern Senegal, on the shelf, an oil field has been discovered. The French and Americans will pump, so who else? Senegal will get a pittance for its trouble and a tiny share in the concession.
On the shelf between Namibia and South Africa they discovered fields comparable to the UAE. There are U.S. and Chinese flags on oil platforms. The locals have neither the means, nor the skills, nor the will, and everyone is desperately taking advantage of this.
"Negotiations have now begun with these countries," the report says, "but at this stage the EU has failed to conclude free trade agreements with them. On top of that, these states are not numerous, and almost everywhere we find that their regimes are not stable."
There is also the idea of opening one's own mines in Europe. Portugal, for example, has the same lithium. But it takes an average of 12 to 16 years from the start of development to production, and European battery production simply can't wait that long.
Battery production requires a lot of energy – electricity and gas – and battery prices jumped 60 percent in the first quarter of last year alone. It turns out that the whole chain of battery production in Europe is disrupted in several places. Under these conditions, they have to fight China, which controls 76 percent of the battery market, the United States, which has imposed protectionist laws, and Australia, also a serious player.
The nongovernmental European organization Transport and Environment has calculated that it is possible to produce a battery that is 100 percent Made in EU by 2027. And 50 percent of the lithium needed could also be produced by that date, with France alone able to supply 12 percent. All that is needed is for all the projects that were announced at the time to be completed and brought to fruition.