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Not The End Of The World — Africa Moving Towards Decarbonisation

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Dr Hannah Ritchie of Our World in Data asserts that the rapidity of change will enable us to avoid the worst of the climate catastrophe that is currently building. In a recent Fully Charged podcast, she reiterated what others have said: eating a plant-based diet, using renewable energy, having no car (or, if necessary, an electric one), and reducing flying will make the most impact as part of a wide combination of solutions.

No other continent showcases the rapidity of change like Africa. Here we see the possibility of leapfrogging the centralised, fossil-fuel-driven economic growth model of developed countries with a move into renewable energy and electric mobility. Africa must be prepared for this. We see solar mini grids, electric buses, mopeds, and quadricycles promulgating. What’s next?

Afrik 21 tells us that the second-hand vehicle market is exploding in Africa, and interest in the electrification of transport is increasing. The first is due to the continent’s low purchasing power, and the second due to the high number of deaths attributed to air pollution.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the number one destination for second-hand vehicles, with Nigeria, Libya, Tanzania, Guinea, and Ghana topping the list. The most popular used car brands on African roads include Toyota (Japan) and Hyundai (South Korea). Africa’s car fleet is becoming increasingly out of date. The dual issues of importing used cars and then also importing the fuel to run then exacerbates the economic situation of most countries.

The answer for the African continent is to be self-sufficient. East Africa appears to be leading the way, with startups in electric tricycle, motorbike, taxi, and bus assembly; as well as innovative financing and software development. Standouts include BasiGo in Kenya and Ampersand in Rwanda.

Governments are doing their part with reductions in import duties and the support of transport infrastructure. Senegal in West Africa is launching a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. It is estimated that traffic jams in Dakar cause economic losses of €150 million per year. Neighbouring Côte d’Ivoire is planning Abidjan’s first metro line with electric traction, which should be operational by 2024, serving 540,000 people.

Venture capitalists and development partners are providing finance for projects to decarbonize the transport sector. Often these are quite large groups of organisations cooperating to move African citizens sustainably.

“A package of 136 million dollars was pledged jointly by Germany (114 million dollars), Denmark (14 million dollars) and the United Kingdom (5 million dollars) at the 26th United Nations Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP26) held in November 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland, to support green mobility in Africa,” Afrik 21 writes.

“Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has granted 319 million dollars to finance work on the fourth line of the Cairo metro. Targeting 2 million passengers, the work aims to link Greater Cairo to the south-west of the Egyptian capital through the construction of 16 train stations.

“The African Development Bank (AfDB), through the Sustainable Energy Fund for Africa (SEFA), has granted $1 million to support electric mobility in seven countries, including Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa and Sierra Leone. In West Africa, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) directly finances private initiatives on inclusive and sustainable mobility.”

Local oil companies are exercising their corporate social responsibilities (CSR) by stepping up to the challenge of providing charging facilities. “This is the case in Algeria, where the public energy company Sonelgaz and Naftal, the subsidiary of the national company for the research, production, transport, processing and marketing of hydrocarbons (Sonatrach), are currently working together to install 1,000 charging stations for electric vehicles.”

In Kenya, TotalEnergies has already commissioned three charging stations at its Hurlingham, Dagoretti, and Mountain View stations to power the batteries of electric motorbike drivers in Nairobi. Tesla has extended its network of Superchargers for electric vehicles, notably in Agadir, Marrakech, Tangiers, Casablanca, and Rabat in Morocco.

Perhaps Tesla can consider a manufacturing presence in Africa. What say you, Elon Musk?

Morroco, Mozambique, Zambia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo all have plans for battery factories. “However, the slowness with which such projects are being implemented is showing up day by day the scepticism of certain analysts who are convinced that Africa’s energy transition, including in the transport sector, depends exclusively on Asia and Europe.”

Togo and more recently Rwanda have decided to exempt imports of electric vehicles from customs duties. Tunisia has reduced by 17% the tax on imports of “recharging equipment” for low-polluting vehicles.

What’s next? Could it be battery recycling?

Global Automotive Aftermarket company Nexus is preparing for end-of-life battery recycling.

Nexus describes itself as a growth accelerator for progressive companies in the automotive industry and organised the recent “One Africa Business Summit” in Cairo.

“Thanks to an entrepreneurial, innovative and agile mindset, N! disrupts the industry bringing innovative solutions for a more sustainable, digital and connected mobility. At the same time, it supports its community of more than 163 members in 139 countries, allied with 100 global suppliers, by providing services to accelerate their growth.

“N! is offering new approaches and new ideas for a connected, global and consolidated world of tomorrow to accelerate the success of car and heavy-duty spare parts and services distributors and manufacturers, through 16 regional structures that connect them.

“NEXUS’ consolidated turnover was more than 40 billion euros in 2023.”

The Swiss-based company has a strong presence in emerging markets in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia Pacific. As such, it is poised to make a significant impact.

Africa constitutes 4% of the Nexus global turnover and 15% of the Nexus member base. Although Africa has the lowest motorization rates in the world (42 cars per 1,000 people in some cases), this is expected to grow. With a large number of used vehicles being imported to Africa, there is likely to be a need for battery recycling as those imports turn from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles. This issue was addressed at “The One Africa Business Summit” organized by NEXUS in Cairo, June 14–15, 2023, by Gael Escribe, the founder and CEO of Nexus Automotive International.

Australia and New Zealand are currently in an analogous situation where used Nissan LEAFs are imported from Japan. The time will come when these imports might shift to the African continent.

Mr Escribe spoke of “kick-starting an automotive battery recycling project for members in the Indian ocean islands where used batteries are currently ‘thrown away.’ I would assume that these are currently lead-acid batteries. But the time will come when they are lithium ion.”

It is important to note that there are already lithium-ion battery recycling plants operating in South Africa. Suny is one of these — mainly concentrating on the “recovery of high-value anode precious metals cobalt and lithium. Copper in the negative electrode of waste lithium battery (content up to 35%) is an important production raw material widely used.”

The lithium battery recycling plant is used for dismantling and recycling the soft-package battery, cell phone batteries, shell batteries, and cylindrical batteries.

African countries will also need to establish regulations around recycling similar to those in the EU and the USA to prevent developed countries exporting the EV battery recycling task to other countries that might be ill prepared for it.

All of these actions are part of the wide combination of solutions being explored as technology changes rapidly to meet the needs of those living under the threat of climate crisis. This applies to countries in Africa and the rest of the world. It’s not the end of the world.

Featured image courtesy of BasiGo

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David Waterworth is a retired teacher who divides his time between looking after his grandchildren and trying to make sure they have a planet to live on. He is long on Tesla [NASDAQ:TSLA].


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