Interview with Marco Righi on the future of the battery industry: what are the truly critical issues? And how is the sector handling them?
Among the real-world changes that have taken place post-pandemic, we cannot ignore the widespread uptick in awareness of environmental issues. Ever since business activities resumed after the lockdown, a growing focus on sustainability has been apparent – coming not only from private citizens, but also (finally) from institutions.
This technically translates into greater incentives for alternative energy sources over fossil fuels. That, in turn, inspires a race towards the electrification of industry and mobility, with batteries at the heart of the ongoing revolution. But like all changes, this all brings uncertainty as well, and fears about the near future. These can be summed up in two questions:
Does the current shortage of raw materials threaten the distribution of the batteries upon which the current electric revolution is being built?In the case of fossil fuels, this critical moment arrived due to their large-scale and careless use. Do we now risk finding ourselves, several decades in the future, facing new environmental problems caused by the large-scale use of batteries?
We asked Marco Righi to help us answer these questions. Along with being the CEO of Flash Battery, Marco is an entrepreneur with a broad vision of the market and a deep knowledge of the world of batteries.
Here, we appealed to the Righi who is an entrepreneur and specialist. This is what he explained to us.
The raw materials crisis: consequences for the battery industry
Righi begins on this topic with a crucial clarification: “The main problems with the supply of raw materials don’t affect battery cells directly, but rather electronics, semiconductors, and microchips.” That means that the current scarcity of raw materials isn’t a problem directly affecting battery production, but an issue for the world of machinery and electronics more generally.
“That means,” continues Righi, “the biggest problems are impacting the automotive industry, for example, where there are orders coming in but no way to fulfil them. We at Flash Battery are able to guarantee continuity in our supply because as a rule, we plan for the long term. That has allowed us to avoid the effects of this situation.”
Long-term planning and “trying to bring microchip production back in-house could be solutions for dealing with this problem. But,” he continues, “I think right now, this is a non-issue for the battery industry. The real problems will hit us if this situation continues throughout all of 2022.
At the moment, the most worrying matter for the battery industry is the difficulty in shipping goods. Containers are hard to come by, and those that are available are exorbitantly expensive.”
In fact, even if very recently (the second half of October) there have been some slight downward adjustments in container freight rates, the indicator that summarises the average trend of maritime freight costs on various intercontinental trades remains 238% higher than twelve months ago.
Large-scale battery use and environmental problems
The ecological transition to electric power has placed the battery at the centre of the energy revolution. But if there is one lesson to be learned from the current environmental crisis, perhaps it is precisely the danger of over-reliance on a single type of energy source – just as was done with fossil fuels.
Batteries are, in fact, not immune to problems of sustainability. Just consider, for example, the social and environmental issues linked to the extraction of materials for battery cells, or their disposal at the end of their functional lives.
Are we properly assessing these problems, or do we risk paying the price for them in several decades?
“This situation is very different from the one in the 1950s,” remarks Righi. “The battery industry is aware of the problems that arise due to impulsive development and the uncontrolled spread of technology. There is a careful and most of all shared effort being made to prepare: every country in the European Union is investing in recycling and has a shared set of regulations to follow.”
So, operators are not only dealing with possible critical issues, but they are doing so in a coordinated manner with institutional support. “There is a very strict European regulation, built according to the concept of the circular economy.It requires:
- detailed labelling of the battery with all product information
- declaration of the carbon footprint (that is, the amount of carbon dioxide emitted) and the traceability of the supply chain
- a “battery passport” will be instituted
- beginning in 2030, new cells must contain a certain amount (the regulation defines the necessary minimum) of recycled battery material.
We have achieved 98% battery cell recyclability.”
Looking in detail at the problems just mentioned (the social and environmental issues linked to the extraction of materials for battery cells and the end of the battery’s life), Flash Battery has already decided not to use cobalt in its batteries – a material whose extraction is one of the most problematic in many ways.
“The recycling issue is under control as well. As we just mentioned, there is a regulation in force that governs the life cycle of batteries. It’s true that we don’t yet have large collection centres for used batteries, but that’s because, at the moment, we don’t need them! We don’t have large quantities of batteries to be recycled yet, so right now, the need is not there. But the sector is well aware of the critical issues it may face, and is planning its development in a coordinated, conscious, and reasoned manner.”
Next event: The Battery Show
Flash Battery will be at the Battery Show (Stuttgart, Germany) from 30 November to 2 December 2021, Hall 4 stand 460. This expo is one of the main European events dedicated to electric and hybrid vehicle technology.
Flash Battery’s electrification experts will present their tech solutions for the electrification of industrial vehicles and machinery.
Since 2012, Flash Battery has designed and manufactured over 15,000 lithium battery packs, researched and customized over 500 different battery models, and delivered over 200 MWh in various applications including industrial machinery and electric vehicles. Flash Battery products are currently installed in over 54 countries and are automatically monitored on a daily basis by a proprietary remote-control system, the Flash Data Center.