Following the lead of Tesla Motors, LG Chem, Foxconn and others are racing to build megafactories to build batteries for electric cars. Yet even now the world supply of graphite, lithium and cobalt needed to supply these factories is insufficient. In this interview with The Mining Report,Simon Moores, managing director of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, explains that we can soon expect healthy prices for all three metals, but the juniors that will succeed in the market must first and foremost learn to meet the needs of the end users.
The Mining Report: You have said, "Electrification of transport will not succeed unless the world has cheap, abundant, longer-lasting batteries." What are the obstacles to obtaining such batteries?
Simon Moores: There are a number. The first is the scaling of battery supply. The megafactories will be needed to drive down costs significantly.Tesla Motors Inc. (TSLA) , LG Chem Ltd. (LGCLF) , Boston-Power Inc., Foxconn Technology Group and, most recently, Chinese electric vehicle producer BYD (1211:HKSE) have all announced plans to build them. Meanwhile majors like Samsung SDI have announced significant expansions of existing operations. The battery industry is preparing for a surge in demand and its next phase of growth.
But these megafactories will need assured quality raw materials, which is the second obstacle. The third is the security of supply for raw materials. This last obstacle is overlooked at the moment, as the battery industry is taking it as a given they will have supply as needed. But when megafactories come on line, demand will soar. Therefore, supply visibility all the way upstream to the mine is crucial to their success. This is what Benchmark specializes in.
TMR: How does the oil price collapse affect current and future demand for battery power?
SM: This is the question everyone's asking. Without a doubt, a halved oil price has a negative impact on those consumers who want electric vehicles (EVs) in order to save money on gasoline. To be honest, though, the success of Tesla raises the question of how many people are buying EVs for economic reasons today.
Regardless of the short-term effect, I don't think the oil price collapse will have a long-term impact. I see internal combustion engines and EVs as fundamentally different technologies. Once EVs mature, they will be far more efficient and software-driven than cars powered by internal combustion engines. I actually believe that you will get to a stage where a remote software upgrade will improve the cars' performance. You are already seeing this with Tesla. Once you reach this stage, the vehicles will actually improve over time—in essence, cars will no longer be a depreciating asset.
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