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      Generation & Storage, Policy & Regulation — 4 mins read

      Can Australia build a thriving domestic battery industry?

      Australia produces approximately 50% of the minerals that go into global battery production, but when it comes to battery manufacture, we’re only a small player.

      With global demand for commercial batteries rapidly rising, the question is whether Australia can shift from mining key ingredients to emerging as a competitive rival to major producers China, Japan and South Korea.

      What does the local battery landscape look like now?

      Australia’s emerging manufacturing industry includes lithium, lead acid, zinc-bromine gel and iron-flow batteries. Companies are makingmaterials and specialty products, and working on advanced chemistries and architectures.

      For example, Redflow is manufacturing zinc bromine flow batteries which can withstand high operating temperatures making them ideal for remote applications.

      Gelion is upgrading lithium batteries for electric cars, trucks and planes with nano-structured designer additives. Feline is working on lithium ion battery cell format architecture for niche applications to overcome power and safety issues.

      According to Shannon O’Rourke, Chief Executive Officer of the Future Battery Industries Cooperative Research Centre (FBICRC), we need to dispel the myth that manufacturing is not happening in Australia.

      "What we don’t have is global scale, and we need global scale to be cost competitive," he says.

      "So our task is to transform the local sector and help it grow. We also need to attract global leaders who see Australia as an excellent investment destination with secure supply chains, competitive costs and a capable workforce."

      What about electric vehicle battery production?

      Some industry commentators say Australia is too far behind to develop lithium-ion EV batteries in any competitive sense, especially without a substantial domestic EV-manufacturing industry.

      Others consider Australia well-positioned for developing a robust EV and battery-making industry. The Australia Institute believes Australia has what it takes to build a strong EV manufacturing sector, which includes vehicles, components and batteries. But it won’t happen without major government support.

      The opportunities of a competitive battery industry

      The benefits of a battery industry extend to higher investment, economic growth, jobs creation, and Australia being recognised as an advanced and important global player in this space.

      The FBICRC’s Future Charge report states that building a battery industry could add $7.4 billion and 34,700 jobs to our economy by 2030. Shannon considers that to be a conservative estimate, as Australia is on track to earn $13.8b in 2023 from lithium exports alone.

      “I want everyone to know the opportunity is much bigger than even we anticipated,” he says.

      The key obstacles

      Many nations have already invested heavily in battery production, and have advanced manufacturing hubs, government policy measures and tax incentives in place. So a major challenge for Australia is creating a strategic, coordinated approach and policy frameworks to accelerate the development of local hubs.

      Australia will also need to overcome international competition, Shannon says, especially with international governments vying to capture as much of the value chain as possible within their own borders.

      Domestic supply chains are another obstacle.

      "For many miners, it will be lower risk to sell their offtake to established offshore processing than to build domestic supply chains - and we need to change that."

      The future of the battery industry

      According to the Australian Battery Institute (ABI), global battery demand is expected to grow nine to 10 fold over the next decade. The ABI considers that with commitment and the right policy settings, Australia could still secure a healthy share of the industry.

      The federal government has committed to working with states, experts and industry to develop a National Battery Strategy, stating it will help guide the sector towards a shared vision of onshore battery manufacturing.

      Shannon believes Australia has a natural advantage in terms of mining and refining battery ingredients. But we need to avoid a future where Australia simply exports low-value rocks, then imports highly advanced finished goods.

      "Australia should support [battery] cell manufacturing to capture ‘economies of scope’. If we have a low-cost supply of cells, then we can manufacture packs and storage systems for domestic use. There is a lot of value to capture in the downstream, including pack assembly, power equipment, and more," he says.

      "We can compete in cell manufacturing. It requires a lot of energy, and Australia has a cost advantage. We are on-par with labour costs. We need to look at ways to reduce our construction costs, and many giga-factories are designed as rapid tilt-up constructions to reduce these cost elements."

       

      Tess Oliver, Article Writers Australia

      Energy Monthly

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      March 25, 2024 | Sheraton Grand Sydney Hyde Park

      Australian Domestic Gas Outlook 2024

      June 11, 2024 | Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre

      Australian Energy Week 2024

      New call-to-action