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Battery Q&A: Turning negatives to positives

Battery Q&A: Turning negatives to positives

Tessa R. Salazar

Since the May 28 announcement by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) that the country would be developing its own batteries for renewable energy and a growing electric vehicle (EV) industry via the Center for Advanced Batteries, a number of Inquirer Motoring readers have sent their questions and comments. Here are some of the most asked about questions and concerns:

1) How long will these batteries last? Wouldn’t they become junk afterwards and pollute the environment?

According to DOST Secretary Fortunato T. dela Pena, “The objective of the Niche Centers in the Regions (NICER) on advanced batteries is commercially viable chemistry—part of this is to make it long lasting. Discovery of new materials will also be taken on to make better batteries in the future. Our researchers always consider environmental impact in their projects.”

Dr. Drandreb Juanico, PhD, project leader of the Advanced Lead Acid Batteries with Embedded Ultrasonics, and program leader (DOST NICER) for the Center for Advanced Batteries, added, “We focus on sustainability issues such as the recyclability of materials. We focus on a circular economy—what is considered waste in one battery will be pushed back to the chain to make new material for new batteries. Batteries of Tesla are actually very complicated, and to compare it with EVs, it is more difficult to recycle/ recover. With novel battery designs, we will be able to increase the efficiency of batteries.”

2) Is the P142-million budget for three years enough to fund research and development for EV batteries?

DOST Undersecretary for R&D Rowena Cristina L. Guevara replied, “The budget of any R&D project proposal is reviewed by the monitoring council, in this case, the DOST- PCIEERD (Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development). The amount of P142 million for three years is based on the research activities, deliverables and potential impact of the program. Based on the Global Innovation Index 2020 that showed Filipinos to be efficient innovators who are able to produce so much with so little input, I can assure you that this NICER for Advanced Batteries will contribute to the sustainable development goal number 7 on affordable and clean energy.”

She added: “Our long-term goal is to support electrification in the Philippines, most especially through renewable energy. As we all know, one of the biggest causes of pollution is the transportation sector. By modernizing and enhancing batteries for EVs, we can lessen the use or patronage of the Philippine market to vehicles using gasoline or diesel. Our advanced batteries studies will also support solar and wind energy producers by improving their storage systems. We can efficiently power cities, industries, and our country at a lower cost using green technologies.”
Guevara said that the NICER for Advanced Batteries will address the important aspect of energy storage that is required for renewable energy, by studying battery chemistry and eventually developing commercial energy storage products in the future. “This kind of R&D is usually a risky investment for private companies. This is the reason for government intervention for these types of scientific projects—that it is better for the government to take on the investment on research infrastructure, and involve the academe and industry early on, with talent and market as their respective responsibility.”

3) According to reports, the global EV battery market is projected to grow at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 25.3 percent from $27.3 billion in 2021 to $67.2 billion by 2025. Is the Philippines targeting this market?
Dr. Joey Ocon, a project leader in the NICER for advanced batteries, said: “That’s way too ambitious. Battery tech takes time to mature. Development cycle is also around 10 years for new chemistries. Only big motor, EV, and battery companies can tap that 2025 market. Startups with new battery tech will typically target the market in five to 10 years.”

4) Who will manufacture the EV batteries once R&D is completed? Is there a possibility that foreigners will take over the manufacturing?

Juanico explained that the aim of Nicer on Advanced Batteries would be to partner with Filipino-owned companies and firms operating within the Philippines. One route to commercialization would be licensing. Filipino researchers and scientists, through NICER, will be capable of conducting the necessary research. Their discoveries can, in turn, be patented under their name. The IPs (intellectual properties) would then be licensed to interested companies.
“If there will be issues of technology or capacity to manufacture within the country, our research will be protected through patents.  Royalties will still be given to Filipinos even if it is licensed to foreign companies. Definitely, through the Nicer program, R&D will be able to give back to the country,” added Juanico.

5) Wouldn’t it be better if we just collaborate with battery makers to further enhance the technology?
Juanico replied, “The main focus of the NICER program is to capacitate HEIs (higher education institutions) in the regions to undertake quality research directed at promoting regional development with their existing capabilities and resources. We already have trained researchers, scientists, and engineers. Due to the capability of the members of our science community, we are not technically starting from scratch. Involvement and collaboration with foreign entities will only create issues in intellectual property.”

He added: “We are already implementing a two-year program in partnership with Philippine Batteries Incorporated—the company responsible for Motolite.  The battery we are focusing on is the one that they are working on; with anticipation for future demand of the product.”

6) There’s currently the problem of inadequate power supply in our country. Mineral-rich Philippines can’t even provide cheap electricity and water to consumers. How can we possibly excel in battery development when we can’t provide the basics properly?

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Guevara replied: “The cost of electricity in the Philippines is a result of energy forecasts, global economic conditions, politics and technologies. Fortunately, the Philippines is rich with renewable energy, and in this time when renewable energy technologies are maturing, we have the opportunity to lower the cost of electricity in the Philippines. We just need to take advantage of technology development, to make sure that we can translate our natural resources into sustainable development and better lives for Filipinos.”

7) Won’t we encounter a major problem in manufacturing since we can’t even consolidate our own steel industry?

Dela Peña said: “Through the NICER on advanced batteries, we can motivate value-added production such as batteries using raw materials found in the Philippines. In the long run, we hope that battery production will be favored instead of importing more expensive foreign-made products.

8) Widespread mining in the search for materials like nickel and iron will be the main activity for EV battery manufacturing. We’re concerned about the adverse environmental effects of such increased activities in mining.

Juanico explained: “The DOST-NICER Program pursues two objectives in its Center on Advanced Batteries. They are: 1) To optimize the use of our natural resources, such as nickel and iron, for the good of our economy, community, and country; and 2) To support the use of greener transport systems, reduce our greenhouse emissions and ensure cleaner air for the future. The Center focuses on minerals which are abundant in our country. Nickel and iron are more viable sources compared to other battery materials such as lithium and cobalt.

“Products made from minerals mined in our country are ironically shipped, processed and manufactured abroad. These products are resold back in our country at a higher rate. Beyond optimization, NICER on advanced batteries will also look into recycling battery materials. One of the projects under this program is REBCell which aims to produce nickel and iron-made rechargeable batteries.”