Marcelo Lu is president of BASF Canada and Sean Drygas is president of Bullfrog Power, a Spark Power company.
Our planet’s health is receiving more attention than ever before – and with good reason. In last October’s federal election, climate change topped the list of issues that determined how the country voted.
Canadians are becoming more climate conscious, and the proof is in the choices they make politically and as consumers. Recent events such as the fires ravaging the Amazon and Australia have emphasized the need to shift toward a clean-growth economy and, importantly, our collective consciousness has turned to the economic opportunities this shift will create. The road to a clean-growth economy is before us and innovation will drive us there.
Among the many industries that have a major stake in this, the automotive sector may present the most interesting opportunities in the Canadian market specifically. The steady movement toward low-emission mobility is gaining more traction among manufacturers and consumers alike. Confronted with rising fuel costs and escalating environmental crises, drivers are looking for options that produce fewer greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and other air pollutants.
A survey last year by Toyota found 52 per cent of Canadians said they were likely to buy an electrified vehicle in the next five years. But today, EVs account for only 0.5 per cent of the 23 million passenger vehicles on Canadian roads.
Well aware of the room for growth, automakers are embracing electrification and racing toward innovation-driven electric vehicle (EV) models that they hope will lower costs and increase interest. Take General Motors: The leading American car maker has announced it is “on track” to meet its target of having 20 EVs in production by 2023. The Volkswagen Group plans to build 22 million EVs by 2028 and wants 40 per cent of its vehicle sales to be EVs by the end of the decade. And Ford intends to boost its investments in EVs to US$11-billion by 2022. It is also hoping to have 40 hybrid and fully electric vehicles in its model lineup, according to chairman Bill Ford.
The auto sector is poised to transform into one with immense demand for clean technology – and for renewable energy to power it. So, where does Canada fit into this equation?
In this rapidly evolving industry, advanced battery materials will emerge at the forefront of economic opportunity. Electric vehicles are powered by rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, and the need for metal components essential to EV battery production will grow alongside consumer appetite. This is where Canada could and should enter the picture.
Canada is rich in the ingredients needed for advanced battery manufacturing and storage technology: lithium, graphite, nickel, cobalt, aluminum and manganese. From our natural resources to our highly skilled workforce, Canada is poised to create a sustainable value chain for battery materials and become a world leader in EV battery manufacturing – but has it done enough to plant an early stake in this burgeoning market?
It is not sufficient to have the raw materials. Without an ecosystem that allows for the creation of a market and industry for batteries, Canada cannot participate. This market’s potential needs to be recognized and nurtured by regulators and mining companies. With increased investment in sustainable materials production, Canada can position itself as a top competitor in the global EV battery supply chain. And, by producing the main component of EVs, Canada will secure more opportunities to assemble those vehicles and breathe new life into our car-making industry.
In order to meet the growing global demand for EVs and the batteries they depend on, the private and public sectors must partner to support the advancement of the industry, attract major players in the global battery value chain and develop an infrastructure to protect the sector from risk.
By 2025, there will be approximately 1.5 billion cars on the roads worldwide. As automakers shift toward a low-emissions product line to attract a rising number of climate-conscious consumers, the battery market is poised to be a key part of the expanding clean-growth economy. Canada should be a leader in the emerging global battery market – or risk being left behind.
Correction: A previous version of this story said a survey found 52 per cent of Canadians said they were likely to buy an electric vehicle in the next five years. In fact the survey showed they intended to buy an electrified vehicle, which includes hybrids and other types of electric vehicles.