Interview with Shmuel De-Leon & Arnbjörn Eggerz - extended transcript
The video contains an interview with the battery expert Shmuel De-Leon with Arnbjörn Eggerz. The transcript of the video here has been edited for readability, the content is the same apart from minor additions for clarity.
We talk about the global and German battery and electrochemical energy storage market in 2015. It discusses recent trends in battery technology, trends and companies to watch out and the key issues like battery production for the German market. Of course, Grid Storage and EV batteries are also a topic as well as German battery research and other important battery industry issues.
Arnbjörn Eggerz: It’s a pleasure to have you here, Shmuel. It’s always very difficult to catch you so we are more than lucky, that you had another hour at the airport.
Thus, let us directly start to talk about the global and German battery market. Shmuel, we are already in Quarter I/2015. So, what are the latest developments in the global battery market?
Shmuel De-Leon: Shmuel De Leon: We see some progress in several directions. Some new technologies seem to have, in my opinion, the potential for breakthrough.
I am talking about Solid Electrolyte batteries. Most of the market thought 3 or 4 years ago that this technology is a dead end. Nevertheless, there is a renaissance with that technology, led by Toyota, Samsung, Apple and some other players. The big advantage of Solid Electrolyte batteries is that it means no organic liquid, no risk for leaks and no risks for fires while energy density is better. This is one direction.
The second direction is silicon: silicon stores 10 times more energy than graphite as an anode. Mixing it together with graphite and coming to the market with the first solutions, can increase the energy density. This is something all of us are really looking for. This year we start to see the first cells on mass production with some sort of silicon inside.
Another candidate is Lithium Sulfur. It is a technology that was developed many years ago with many problems, not easy to handle. But we observe first companies - as e.g. Oxis Energy from the U.K. coming with cells to the market. It is the first generation with 200 Wh/Kg. Still it is not the density we expected. But we hope that in several years they will come with better cells having an energy density that “beats” the current solution. So this is a start.
Arnbjörn Eggerz: Well, you already named many developments going on. Besides this technology trends, do you see any other kind of unexpected issue or new fact emerging that is changing the industry?
For example, here in Germany, we often discuss about the fall in the oil price and its impact on renewables and in consequence on energy storage as it is a part of that value chain.
Shmuel De-Leon: Well, I will say that the need for batteries always exists. It is a bread, it is not a cake. We need it. The amount of applications, we are using batteries for, grows. I do not see a change from that perspective. Production worldwide will grow.
But - we still have some problems, problems with technologies, problems with costs. Then, the world is not balanced: production is mainly in Far East/R&D - albeit all over the world - is mainly in western countries. And I hope that R&D will bring the fruits that we are looking for in the coming 5 years.
Arnbjörn Eggerz: Thus, this means we still observe a kind of overproduction as we saw during the last years especially driven by the EV expectations, but resulting in a disappointment?
Shmuel De-Leon: You can see several trends.
First one: Laptops and consumer electronics move to power cells and prismatic [cells]. Cylindrical cells lose their place there.
Secondly, we see that the E-mobility is suffering because of the low oil cost. Expected sales for the coming years grow, but not with the expected rate.
Grid storage is also only in the childhood period. There is some production and sales for this application, it grows, but not with the numbers that we have been hoping for.
Therefore, in general, that could lead to some excess production. I would say that sales kept about the same value or are going down. That is the situation.
Arnbjörn Eggerz: You already named so many new technologies. What is then the number one? The number one newcomer or number one start up technology of all the many you named. Where should be the focus?
Shmuel De-Leon: I think that the number one are Lithium Rechargeable Cells with silicon nanostructure anodes. I was just last week in a conference in Aschaffenburg/Germany and we saw the road map of Panasonic and LG Chem. Both come first with some solution with silicon and in mass production.
Arnbjörn Eggerz: Thank you. Now we focus on Germany. What are you general comments on the German market, which is the most important in Europe, I think?
Shmuel De-Leon: Germany is the best market for batteries in Europe, definitely, but unfortunately in the last 2-3 years we are facing some problems with production. Several battery cell makers close or closed business. I am talking about Repenning in Hamburg, I am talking about Li-tecthat closed the cell production and we have difficulties with Lechlanche although they recover slowly – We see one positive company EAS (Used to be Gaia) that start cell production again.
Arnbjörn Eggerz: Daimler also sold some activities …
Shmuel De-Leon: Daimler actually decided to buy cells from Far East and not to manufacture cells in Germany.
Arnbjörn Eggerz: You directly point to the problem we have been discussing during the last month with many market participants. So I am just picking up this observation.
Let me explain: There was this enthusiasm in Germany about battery production accompanied by lot of investment in R&D. Now there is “disappointment” about the economics shared by many at least when talking.
As I think, it does not make sense to talk about price development of batteries and necessary price tags for electric vehicles since it is commonly known, let us follow another path.
We just go through the global value chain of batteries and see where German technology might fit in here. I am just naming shortly the word and you just comment on it. The first word of the value chain: research. What are your comments on German research with respect to a global value chain from an international perspective? Do we have a situation where we do the research here and then we just have to sell it [the R&D not profiting in another way]?
Shmuel De-Leon: I would say there is a lot of R&D on batteries in Germany. Germany is a leading country in R&D. You have excellent universities, institutes like Fraunhofer and a lot of R&D is done here also by companies. From this perspective, I think its o.k.
Then, material production: We can see some German material production for the world supply chain.
The problem comes when we talk about cells. The issue is that the government should understand that Lithium batteries, batteries in general, are the energy of the future.
As such, production should be key point for each country. Thus, the right model for Germany should be developed in order to continue production of cells here and not to just import them from overseas.
Arnbjörn Eggerz: I have to come back to the research question and challenge your answer.
For example, recently there was a study by TU Munich, showing that - albeit Germany picked up research - it is still lacking far behind, especially in Lithium Ion compare to Asia measured in patents. In consequence, one open questions is: What if we say, “O.k. let leave this part of researcher aside. If you -the carmakers- do want to have this technology, just simply buy it from outside.” While we focus [public] R&D in other technologies, where there could be some more foothold for a German participation in this particular technology value chain. How would you see that?
Shmuel De-Leon: Well, R&D is a key point here. If you want to keep Germany leading in this area R&D should be kept here.
Arnbjörn Egger: But in all technologies?
Shmuel De-Leon: All the leading technologies and the technologies for the future. But again, the key point is production. There is the need to think: What can and should be done that production in Germany is cost effective and cell manufacturing will have such performance and associated costs to be attractive in the world competition. I think it can be done with the right plan.
Arnbjörn Eggerz: Besides production – and I will pick it up immediately again - is there anything else on the list with respect to the value chain check. I mean we have chemistry on the list, software, battery management systems, and production tools – meaning “how to set up the factory” or testing. Are these points less important? Or is with respect to them everything ok here in Germany and the only issue is production?
Shmuel De-Leon: Of course, when we are dealing with rechargeable batteries we are dealing with the system. We are dealing with the charger; we are dealing with the battery. The battery includes electronics, the battery management system and packaging and many other features are inside and necessary. When we talk about a healthy industry, it should provide everything and we expect production of all kinds of equipment and parts needed for establishing a good and healthy battery industry here in Germany.
Arnbjörn Eggerz: Since you already answer the question that battery production in Germany is the key strategic point, what should we do? Where do you see the tipping point or action items to establish/maintain it here?
Shmuel De-Leon: I would say that material cost is the same worldwide; not including materials made in China, which cost less, but on the other hand, quality is not the same. But materials have the same cost.
The key point here is the automation, because if you have the right automation you can reduce costs dramatically and this is one important aspect.
Secondly, government support for establishing your business: batteries are the basic for many technologies. So having an In-House [meaning In Country] battery industry is something that can support in the other business areas. Therefore, it makes sense to subsidize and support companies and to have a solution in-house.
Arnbjörn Eggerz: Maybe we should join and make a study about battery production in Germany and how to keep it here?
Shmuel De Leon: I think that at least having one day of discussion together with all the battery experts in Germany, also adding the decision makers from the political side, analyzing the topic and what should be done, could be a good idea.
Arnbjörn Eggerz: Before I come back to subsidies - what is your advice for German car producers and suppliers? To illustrate the situation, let us recall the discussion about the Tesla giga factory. After the announcement the sentiment and statements were like “woow this is big news” followed by “oh we have to move”. Since then we just went on and nobody is talking about it any longer. How do you see that and what is your advice to BMW, Audi, VW or Porsche?
Shmuel De Leon: I say, first of all [they should start] thinking out of the box. Thinking out of the box means to check also different opportunities e.g. of cylindrical cells for EV batteries like 18650 type batteries. It means to not just concentrate on prismatic cells and having one source.
If you want to encourage competition and production, we should have at least several option and not one option in our hands. So that something that I would like to see. Beside that of course we talk about the battery costs, the battery is the most expensive part in the electric vehicle and there is no other way overall: we have to increase performance, reduce cost, become more efficient; and this is a challenge. It is not easy, but this is the key to establish e-mobility.
Arnbjörn Eggerz: So you recommend out of the box thinking for the car industry. This is a difficult, difficult topic.
Now I want to leave e-mobility aside for a moment, because we talk so often about it.
I want to focus on grid storage, which is as supported by many facts the “hot iron” of today. In addition, I would like to pick up the word of subsidies here, because based on the observation “we see sold systems and we see many systems coming from China” the question in the end is the following. The question is how Germany should think about this problem in order not to end up exactly with the solar panels, meaning Germany is the installment base and China is the production base. I see the connection of the two questions wondering what government subsidies can really do,
Shmuel De Leon: First, grid storage is a newcomer. I would say that the progress in that industry much slower than we expected before. It is needed, definitely.
Of course, instead of building new power plants, a better solution is to use the current energy production more efficient.
The issue here is that you are right. There were subsidies in Germany for the solar panels. Whenever there is such a situation, the industry grows and that in consequence supported the storage solutions for the grid, because it is needed for the solar industry, but when subsidies where reused a crisis broke out.
Regarding production, it is a matter of facts that production of batteries is much cheaper in Far East. It is the exactly the same problem as with cells. So if you want to have production, you need automation and you need to keep the quality gap and to compete.
I mean there is no other way … to compete.
Arnbjörn Eggerz: Competition won with solutions that are more intelligent. Your point brings me to the nearly last question. Batteries and chemistry is considered hart science moving slowly. At the same time, we see digitalization, making everything faster, everything quicker. Today it seems you can accelerate almost everything.
Do you see an impact of this kind of digitalization into this hard science, into the field of batteries, battery production? Could it improve or affect the business models here?
Shmuel De Leon: I would not say so. Of course testing equipment and ability to test more and to speed up R&D could bring some fruits. But you are right; development on electric chemistry is a slow development. It is not something that is running fast and I do not think that there is a direct relation between electronic progress and electric chemistry progress. It has an effect, but it is not the main issue.
Arnbjörn Eggerz: But it would be worth to think about it at least, being intelligent also in this area?
Shmuel De Leon: If you have good computing power, you can analyze maybe a little bit better, but you still need to do the basic chemistry.
Arnbjörn Eggerz: Ok, but computing power and the application of new big data models could improve the progress here?
Shmuel De-Leon: That could help.
Arnbjörn Eggerz: Excellent. Thanks for your answer. You are going to have a seminar in July. Happy to have you back in Germany. So, what can people expect after this many insights and explanations? Did you already tell everything?
Shmuel De-Leon: No. Actually our seminar is covering toppings from the basics, definitions primary systems, rechargeable systems, chargers, military’s, safety, fuel cells, super cups, battery design and also of course the e-mobility, EV-batteries and grid storage solution. What I can say is that this year the seminar is going to be updated as always with the most current information worldwide. It is a very, very efficient training, and at the same time also brainstorming with the attendants. Together we have the opportunity and I plan to bring it to a very high level, technical level, to discuss the current situation, the market and to support the current local efforts of the battery and auto chemistry and EV Industry.
Arnbjörn Eggerz: Shmuel, thank you very much. It was a pleasure talking to you and having this interview and the insides you gave us. Much appreciated so, thanks and have a save line back.
Shmuel De-Leon: Thank you very much and I always like to be in Germany and enjoy the time.
about Shmuel De-Leon:
Shmuel De-Leon is the Founder and CEO of Shmuel De-Leon Energy, Ltd. Shmuel is a leading international expert in the field of Power Sources.
Prior to founding the company, Shmuel held various positions as a power sources, engineering and quality control team manager for over 20 years. Shmuel holds a B.Sc. in mechanical engineering from Tel-Aviv University and an M.Sc. in quality control and reliability engineering from the Technion Institute in Haifa as well as an Electronic Technician's diploma.
Shmuel De-Leon Energy Ltd. provides unique tools for the energy sources industry, such as the Energy Sources Database, Battery & Fuel Cells Seminar, Energy Sources Solutions, Industry News weekly newsletter, and consultations.
about Arnbjörn Eggerz/Interviewer:
Arnbjörn Eggerz has several years of startup/SME and institutional project consulting in Germany, Italy and Iceland (7+). He is owner of IceVenture in Munich, Germany. He started his career in banking holding the title "Bankkaufmann". Arnbjörn has a B.A. in Economics from the Free University of Bolzano. His focus today is on innovation, business development and technology transfer in e.g breakthrough technology in energy storage or SaaS form the commercial side. Competencies include SaaS, financial services and national/local innovation systems and innovation processes.