UP: Taking on the challenge of sourcing raw materials for batteries in Q1 2020

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Recent growth figures for the global storage market beggar belief. One Wood Mackenzie forecast anticipates market expansion from 12 GWh in 2018 to 158 GWh in 2024. While that will mean that many markets will be better equipped for the energy transition and more electric vehicles can hit the roads, concerns are being raised about raw material sourcing and recyclability in the storage segment. As a result, pv magazine is tackling the controversial topic under the auspices of our UP campaign in the first quarter of 2020.

JanuaryFebruaryMarch
Is sustainable cobalt mining possible?New geopolitical fault lines emerge with new power paradigmsEV myth-busting
Lithium mining practices in ChileSo long lithium – what are the alternatives?Blockchain on the battery supply chain
Chile’s mining sector under fire from nationwide protestChina’s mega vanadium projectEurope’s battery material sourcing potential
Recycling: Where are we and where do we go?

The sourcing of cobalt for battery production is not without conflict – quite literally. Cobalt supply will be one focal point of our inquiries in January. While there are mining companies that claim to uphold the OECD’s Guiding Principles to provide some level of protection to workers and the environment, the cobalt supply chain features significant numbers of small-scale, unlicensed miners with practices that fall far short. Similarly, lithium mining practices in Chile have poured oil onto the ongoing fire of anti-government protests, as water supplies in the desert dwindle in the face of the global thirst for EVs and batteries.

IRENA has investigated the nexus of the energy transition and geopolitics. Energy is political power, and its shifting doesn’t go unnoticed. In light of the conflict around rare earth metals and conflict minerals, a new strand of battery research is looking for new chemistry compositions that aim to contain as little conflict-laden materials as possible.

Recycling, of course, will also be a hot topic. Winning back the precious minerals after the batteries are worn out and have cycled through their second life is no easy task. About a dozen companies are pioneering a whole range of procedural approaches. Each of these brings benefits and downsides. While a fully closed loop is not yet possible for batteries, an update and overview of the current recycling technologies show that a solution may not be too far away.

The blockchain can also help to green batteries. Tracing battery raw materials is a huge challenge, but the new technology promises supply chain accountability. And as Europe prepares to become a large-scale battery producer on par with the Far East, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Europe also has its own raw minerals. Already, 97% of battery-related cobalt demand for European production comes from Finland and Russia, and there is much more to be dug up.