Australian barriers to electric vehicles and batteries

There are two significant barriers to Australian electric vehicle (EV) take up in Australia – publicly accessible charging infrastructure suitable for a large country and Scott Morrison.

Back in 2019 when the Labor Opposition pledged to a target of 50% EVs by 2030 Scott Morrison scoffed, reprising one of his parliamentary over-the-top rants (remember his “this is coal” moment) saying Labor wanted to abolish the weekend and tradies and families wouldn’t be able to get to work or go on holidays.

In 2019 Labor was right in saying we were among the world’s worst in EV take-up as the OECD then ranked 33rd ahead of Mexico, Chile and Turkey.

We are now similarly ranked in charging infrastructure and battery research – areas to which pandemic stimulus funding should have gone.

Now other countries are racing further ahead to meet ambitious EV targets and manufacturers won’t export EVs to Australia because government policy is hostile.

For instance, Ford’s forthcoming tradie’s delight electric F150 Lightning won’t come to Australia due to Federal Government policies.

The ABC reports (30 May 2021) that while Nissan Australia is one of the biggest players in Australia’s EV industry, selling several variants of its compact LEAF mode “the company’s national manager for electrification, Ben Warren, admits Nissan’s best models are not coming to Australia.”

“When you can only make so many cars, you have to prioritise where you send them,” Mr Warren said.

“Naturally the markets that have the more progressive policies and objectives and targets, are the markets that get prioritised over markets like ours.”

In contrast to the Australian situation the International Energy Agency (IEA) says: “After entering commercial markets in the first half of the decade, electric car sales have soared. Only about 17 000 electric cars were on the world’s roads in 2010. By 2019, that number had swelled to 7.2 million, 47% of which were in The People’s Republic of China. Nine countries had more than 100 000 electric cars on the road. At least 20 countries reached market shares above 1%.”

The IEA EV30@30 campaign set the goal of 30% market EV market share by 2030. Eleven countries have endorsed the campaign: Canada; China; Finland; France; India; Japan; Mexico; Netherlands; Norway; Sweden and United Kingdom.

There is also an IEA Global Pilot Cities Program which has recruited 41 cities from Canada, Chile, China, Columbia, Finland, Germany, India, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Thailand, the UK and the US including Christchurch, Dundee, Kyoto, London, Medellin, Pune, New York, Calgary and Beijing.

The IEA also says all new cars should be EVs by 2035 if we are to keep average global warming below 2 degrees.

If Morrison has a problem with EVs he also has a problem with batteries as witnessed by his parliamentary derision about the Elon Musk big battery in South Australia comparing, it to the Big Banana and other similar Australian tourist attractions. But if he lifted his thinking beyond tactics, three word slogans and prayers he would see a huge opportunity for Australia.

During the pandemic car sales have generally plunged around the world but according to IHT Markit (The Economist 15 May 2021) almost 2.5 million battery-electric and plug-in-hybrid cares were sold during 2020 predicting there would be a further 70% growth in 2021.

BloombergNEF predicts that by 2030 some 8% of the 1.4 billion cars in the world will be electric increasing to more than 30% in 2030.

All this represents two potential benefits for Australia – if a government recognises them. The first is the range of lithium – a key ingredient in electric vehicle batteries – deposits in Australia with lithium prices, according to Norway’s Rystad Energy research company, possibly tripling by the end of this decade.

But, as The Economist points out, the growth of electric vehicles will also bring a significant e-waste problem much greater than the existing one.

Unfortunately some elements of lithium batteries are difficulty to recycle and one lithium related chemical (PF6) gets destroyed during processing. Fortunately for Australia the CSIRO has a team led by Anand Bhatt and Thomas Reuther working on a project which they believe will enable PF6 recovery.

According to the CSIRO Bhatt “leads the Electrochemical Energy Storage Technologies (EEST) research team.”

“The EEST team is developing next generation batteries, Australian Standards for commercial systems and on-shore battery recycling technology…..(including)…technologies to extract valuable resources from all chemistries to decrease landfill disposal rates to (as close as practicable) zero. This work focusses developing technologies for…..high value materials recovery (for example LiPF6).”

Just imagine what might be achieved if some of the money the Morrison Government wastes on fossil fuel subsidies and boondoggles like the proposed new $600 million white elephant gas plant in NSW was directed to this sort of research?

In more bad news for the Morrison world-view the IEA describes its new report, Net Zero by 2050: a Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector, as “the world’s first comprehensive study of how to transition to a net zero energy system by 2050 while ensuring stable and affordable energy supplies, providing universal energy access, and enabling robust economic growth. It sets out a cost-effective and economically productive pathway, resulting in a clean, dynamic and resilient energy economy dominated by renewables like solar and wind instead of fossil fuels.”

The Roadmap sets out milestones to the 2050 net zero goal. “These include, from today, no investment in new fossil fuel supply projects, and no further final investment decisions for new unabated coal plants. By 2035, there are no sales of new internal combustion engine passenger cars, and by 2040, the global electricity sector has already reached net-zero emissions.”.

Declaration of interest: The author owns shares in companies  involved in lithium mining and search.