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Could The Transition To Electric Mobility On The African Continent Support Development Of Local Battery Manufacturing?

The transition to electric mobility presents a major opportunity for the African continent to leapfrog into the age of electric mobility, allowing most of the continent’s population to bypass the ICE age. Africa’s low motorization rates compared to other parts of the world makes this highly probable. Already in several African countries, there are some exciting developments in the electric 2-wheeler, 3-wheeler, electric car, and electric bus sectors. After several years of pilots, many companies operating in this space are now working to scale up their operations. Most of them incorporate battery packs imported from overseas, and mostly from China.

There have been calls from several local stakeholders for African nations to take advantage of the global transition to electric mobility and finally get more out of their natural resources. The battery storage sector has been at the center of many discussions in several forums. Reference is always made to the abundance of resources on the continent that go into battery production. Here are some of them, looking at just the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, as listed in the South African Automotive business Council’s South Africa’s New Energy Vehicle Roadmap Thought Leadership Discussion document:

  • Nickel: South Africa is the 9th largest global producer, and Zimbabwe also has significant nickel reserves.
  • Manganese: South Africa has 70% of the world’s manganese reserves, with some in DRC and Gabon.
  • Cobalt: DRC has over 60% of world supply, 85% is exported to China, and some is from Zambia.
  • Lithium: Zimbabwe is the 5th largest producing country, some in South Africa, and in Namibia.
  • Graphite: Mozambique (20 – 40% of global reserves), some in Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and Madagascar.
  • Copper: South Africa, the DRC, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

So, with all these resources, when can Africa get into the battery manufacturing game? Well, a recent discussion with one of the largest vehicle manufacturing OEMs that has an ICE vehicle production footprint on the African continent reveals that a local battery factory may require a production capacity of at least 300,000 electric cars per year. Sales of brand new vehicles are quite low in most African markets as used vehicle imports dominate the landscape in many of them. Therefore, a lot of work is still needed to grow the local new vehicle market in a lot of countries. For example, there would be a need to grow the market to these levels of offer 300,000 new vehicle sales for a particular model or range of models that use the battery packs to make a battery factory viable. Having at least 10 markets that could off-take 30,000 or so vehicles per annum in Africa could be a pathway towards this.

Assuming this 300,000 is based on vehicles that have a 60 kWh battery, another way to justify a local battery factory of this size would be to supply battery cells for the burgeoning 2-wheeler market as well. A lot of these electric motorcycles are designed with battery packs close to 3 kWh capacity. Looking at it simplistically, this could imply the factory could require an annual demand of battery packs from about 6 million motorcycles across several markets on the continent. Some markets such as Kenya already sell over 300,000 motorcycles per year, so about 20 markets of similar size would be needed to meet the 6 million mark. Of course, the demand for battery cells will not be only from 2-wheelers, but also from electric cars, buses, and trucks, as well as for stationary storage applications for the residential, C&I, and utility-scale sectors. I am looking forward to seeing how the clean energy sector develops and how demand for battery storage will grow and when it will justify the establishment of battery factories.

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Remeredzai Joseph Kuhudzai has been fascinated with batteries since he was in primary school. As part of his High School Physics class he had to choose an elective course. He picked the renewable energy course and he has been hooked ever since. At university he continued to explore materials with applications in the energy space and ending up doing a PhD involving the study of radiation damage in High Temperature Gas Cooled Nuclear Reactors. He has since transitioned to work in the Solar and Storage industry and his love for batteries has driven him to obsess about electric vehicles.


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