With Australia’s prime minister highlighting the growing use of electric vehicles (EVs) as a key component of the nation’s push to reach zero carbon emissions by 2050, there has recently been a serious focus on where the country is placed with regard to critical minerals and the infrastructure needed to support those ambitions.
On the back of the COP26 meeting in Glasgow, the Australian government newly released its first national “Future Fuels and Vehicles Strategy” backed by an expanded A$250M Future Fuels Fund investment.
In a recent media release, Prime Minister Scott Morrison declared the Future Fuels and Vehicles Strategy delivers on the government’s “Long-Term Emissions Reduction Plan”, which provides an Australian way to achieving net zero emissions by 2050.
The technology-led strategy will see the government work with industry to enhance consumer choice, create jobs, and reduce emissions in Australia’s transport sector.
According to the government, its technology-led approach is already helping to enhance consumer and industry confidence in new EVs.
“In the last eight months there has been a 20% increase in the number of low emissions vehicle models available in Australia.
“Voluntary adoption of electric vehicles is the right pathway for reducing transport emissions over the long term. Stringent standards, bans, or regressive taxes will limit choice and increase the upfront costs of cars for Australians,” Mr Morrison said.
However, a new report by leading Australian scientific body, the CSIRO, has suggested that trajectories for metals used in EVs may be more complicated than what is currently accepted.
That is according to a new report “Known unknowns: the devil in the details of energy metal demand” and a scenario modelled using the Physical Stocks and Flows Framework (PSFF) tool.
The report used the bespoke tool to look at three EV battery metals (cobalt, lithium, and nickel) under three different EV uptake scenarios.
The CSIRO’s Critical Energy Metals Mission-in-development lead, Dr Jerad Ford, said the PSFF tool uses factors not currently accounted for in traditional forecasts to test the demand and supply assumptions.
“We know that demand for many metals will increase substantially as the world transitions to a low-carbon economy,” Dr Ford said.
“But unsophisticated models based on current supply levels and basic recycling rates lead to many mischaracterizations of the real opportunities in both metal mining and recycling.
“They ignore the dynamics of materials flows on a global scale and the expected changes in underlying technologies.”
Dr Ford said it is commonly assumed that demand for newly mined metals like cobalt and nickel will continue to increase for the foreseeable future, as they are essential for high performance lithium-ion batteries used in EVs.
However, by accounting for additional factors such as changes in battery chemistry, quicker EV uptake, and higher levels of recycling, the PSFF tool suggests that, even within the same scenario, new cobalt demand may have an extremely short demand window before an extended glut. The report also states nickel will peak early then fall back sharply, and lithium will remain stronger for longer before also trailing off in the out years.
“This challenges conventional wisdom that the demand for these battery metals will mirror each other,” Dr Ford said.
RACE for 2030
Another new report says the timing, speed, and extent of the transition to EVs in Australia are still uncertain.
The government funded RACE for 2030 CRC (Cooperative Research Centre) with its partners, Monash University, RMIT University, Curtin University, CSIRO, the University of New South Wales, and the University of Technology Sydney/Institute for Sustainable Futures, recently released report “Electric Vehicles and the Grid”, considers the impact of EV uptake trends, the potential benefits and adverse impacts on the grid and electricity consumers.
It also recommends a research roadmap to maximize the benefits of EVs for end users and the grid to support the energy transition. The team led by Dr Roger Dargaville, from Monash University, developed a concrete research roadmap to ensure Australia is positioned at the forefront of EV-grid integration research and implementation.
“The potential for flexible, responsive charging systems for EVs to help decarbonize Australia faster and cheaper by supporting integration of renewables is vast. However, if that potential is unrealized, electricity costs will increase. RACE for 2030 CRC will ensure the benefits are realized,” said Professor Ariel Liebman, programme leader for RACE for Networks.
Many projections see EVs making up most light passenger vehicle sales in Australia by 2030. However, the range of current uptake scenarios (from 0.5M to 5M) would have vastly different futures for mobility and the grid.
The RACE for 2030 CRC’s report seeks to support a customer-centric EV transition by identifying barriers to vehicle-grid integration and removing them through a world-leading research programme to be funded by the CRC.
This programme will lower energy bills, lower network costs, support electricity system reliability, reduce emissions, and grow employment opportunities in the EV integration technology sector.
“A key focus for RACE for 2030 is integrating EVs (and their batteries) with the electricity supply system and with homes. We will make a significant investment in this strategic challenge over the next 2 to 3 years. This report provides useful guidance on the research priorities for this programme,” Mr Jon Jutsen, CEO of RACE, said.