June 21, 2019: Turbulent times ahead. But positive ones too. That was the general theme of many of the presentations in the Pb2019 conference sessions held in Madrid on June 20 and June 21.
The International Lead Association’s meeting — held once every two years but not to be confused with its ELBC event — kicked off on Thursday with an analysis of the present lead battery market and its future direction. A wide variety of speakers covered an equally wide set of topics under the overall generic banner of “Supporting a sustainable future for lead”.
Geoffrey May, principal of Focus Consulting, predicted that lead battery sales would continue to grow at around 6% a year and in the automotive sector the general trend would be for the greater deployment of AGM and EFB batteries.
That said, lithium sales would rocket too. May reckoned that the entire battery market would be worth around $220 billion. Of this, lead would account for some $56 billion of sales while lithium ion would then account for $160 billion.
Part of May’s message — and reiterated in a variety of different ways by other speakers —was that energy storage offered an extraordinary opportunity for the lead industry.
One of the more exciting storage projects was detailed by Angie Rolufs, who gave a presentation looking at a CBI project for fast charging of EVs in the US state of Missouri. Although this is still a feasibility study, the potential implications for a wider application are huge. Northstar and EnerSys were battery partners on the project.
Perhaps the most interesting point of Roluf’s presentation was that based on a set of basic assumptions, there would be a reasonable return on investment.
But the road ahead is not necessarily a smooth one and Steve Binks, regulatory affairs director at the ILA, warned that the regulatory environment was still uncertain. He pinpointed the challenges that the industry faced in Europe, in particular from the EU Reach Authorization, EU Reach Restriction, the EU ELV Directive, the Battery Directive, Vehicle Emissions Targets and the EU Circular Economy Strategy.
“Europe’s politicians and bureaucrats have an uncanny desire to want regulate whole industries out of existence,” one participant told BESB afterwards.
The afternoon sessions were dominated by talk of the advances being made in lead battery technology. Matthew Raiford, representing the Consortium for Battery Innovation, highlighted the work the CBI was doing.
“It’s more than a talk of a set of initiatives but it’s our active participation within the R&D community in the US and our continued engagement with European Union institutions,” he said.
Lithium ion batteries have been developed up to 90% of capacity. There are some big gains we can still make with lead,” he said.
Exide’s Francisco Trinidad painted a different picture, talking first about the recent progress the industry has made in terms of new technologies. He reckoned that five new areas of research were going to open up new possibilities. These were: nano-structured active materials to improve energy efficiency, lead grid coatings to protect against sulfation, new lead alloys to improve life in high temperature, alternative current collectors such as aluminium, copper and titanium to reduce weight and thin bipolar electrodes to increase power and charge acceptance.
Two presentations looked at opportunities with a regional perspective. Huw Roberts from CHR Metals outlined the fact that despite all the talk of an EV revolution, e-bikes were going to be an important source of business and most particularly in China.
L Pugazhenthy — better known to the world as Pug — represented the India Lead Zinc Development Association and painted another wide opportunity for the battery industry. The country’s focus on renewable energy has been the extraordinary explosion in the deployment of PV. To give an indication of the appetite for all things solar, some 60 ‘solar cities’ will be created in the future. 300GWh of storage will exist in 2025 he said — and the majority of this will come from lead batteries.