The battery value chain: an opportunity we need to seize

There is no battery value chain in Portugal yet, however the country has the conditions and advantages to develop one and the capacity to achieve a leading position in both Europe and worldwide. The support of the government and partnerships forged between the business sector and academic institutions will be essential

This is a developing market with room for new entrants and opportunities to be seized. “The creation of a battery value chain in Portugal would be highly beneficial to both the growth of the economy and to the transformation and modernisation thereof as well”, declared José Maria Veiga de Macedo, Battery Value Chain Project Lead at Galp, during the debate entitled 'Battery value chain: an opportunity for the country’, which was part of the agenda on day 2 of the Electric Summit conference organised by Jornal de Negócios with the support of Galp. It should be pointed out that the European Union estimates that the battery value chain in Europe will account for business of 250 billion euros per annum by 2025.

The Galp manager also underlined the importance of this value chain for electrification and decarbonisation in the country pursuant to the goals set. “Portugal has extremely clear advantages that need to be appreciated”. In this regard, the project lead highlights the country´s reserves of mineral resources for lithium production - one of the largest in Europe -; the existence of renewable energies capable of contributing to the production of batteries with a low carbon footprint and at a competitive price; excellent port infrastructure and facilities; and highly competitive human capital in terms of expertise and cost.

Right now, one of the main problems is access to the raw materials arriving from other parts of the globe, such as Asia, for example. “These materials need to be mined in Portugal”, explained Sérgio Rodrigues, the CEO of MeterBoost, a national manufacturer of batteries for the absorption of solar and wind power production, who was also on the debate panel, while highlighting the importance of the final approval for the exploitation of the Barroso mine project in Boticas. The project, under the responsibility of the multi-national company Savannah, plans to begin mining activity in 2023, thereby helping to create this upstream value chain. “The mine is part of the first phase of the lithium battery value chain and will serve as an anchor for it”, said Joana Prazeres, Head of Communication and Community Affairs.

Indeed, Galp recently entered into an agreement with Savannah to gain access to the raw materials of the Barroso mine, as part of a lithium conversion project that is still under analysis. “We have already done a lot of work and we are well positioned, still studying the feasibility of the project, but we want to amplify the opportunity”, revealed José Maria Macedo.

Despite the will of the business sector, and in the opinion of Sérgio Rodrigues, “the support of the government is essential for the country to make progress in this regard”. The CEO believes that Portugal is capable of competing with giants such as China and of creating “a comprehensive chain representing a stance of innovation and leadership in both Europe and the world”.

The opinion of research and academic institutions is similar. Helena Braga, a professor at the University of Porto School of Engineering, and the person in charge of an innovative battery project, argues that “in order to think about the future, we need to back university start-ups and tech companies, as this is where technological knowledge lies. “Portugal can contribute with knowledge and creativity”, she adds. Paulo Ferreira, a researcher and professor at INL - International Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory, also emphasises the importance of partnerships between universities and companies, “essential to the unification of this value chain”.

In the area he deals with, the researcher reveals that nanotechnology will contribute to the development of advanced sensors and materials, capable of enhancing performance at the different points in the battery value chain. By way of example, he says, “sensors can reduce the environmental impact of the extraction of raw materials - monitoring gases in mines, water and soil”.

The battery value chain includes a series of sectors ranging from mining to refining, in addition to the manufacture of cells, batteries and electric vehicles, and recycling. “None of these sectors has been developed to any extent in Portugal, and this is what we all need to work towards”, concludes José Maria Macedo.