South Africa and its neighbours have the materials needed for electric car batteries. But can we put it all together?

For years the only encounter you’d have with graphite was in a pencil or squash or tennis racquet.

A naturally occurring carbon, graphite was never really considered that important for car enthusiasts. But in 2020, it is the becoming increasingly valuable.

Tesla is now the world’s most valuable car company, having surged passed Volkswagen in market capitalisation. It has disrupted legacy car companies into launching their own battery research production projects.

Graphite is the most underrated of automotive battery materials

As the demand for energy-dense batteries surges, more exotic materials are required. It is worth noting that little under a decade ago, Porsche delivered its first hybridised Panamera, with nickel-hydride batteries. In 2020, that technology is ancient.

Lithium-ion is the battery composition of choice for Tesla and one of the most important elements in any modern automotive powertrain battery, is graphite.

In a traditional petrol or diesel engine, fuel reacts with air, to create the energy conversion which powers your vehicle. Batteries use materials which are reactive to each other, without radically altering their state.

Think of the reactive materials in a battery as you would of the mechanical components in a traditional engine with fuel-air dynamics. The reactive battery materials are like a camshaft, valves, cylinder structure and crankshaft.

In each lithium-ion battery, there is an anode and cathode classification of materials, which interreact. The dominant anode for lithium-ion batteries, is graphite. And this is hugely important for the car industry, going forward, and especially South Africa.

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Securing South Africa’s automotive jobs

With North America being the innovation hub for electric vehicles (thanks to Tesla and Rivian), junior mining companies are trying to sign supply contracts for graphite delivery.

In a broader sense the opportunity for South Africa is even greater – and vital to the country’s established automotive industry.

The abundance of high-quality graphite in Southern Africa is enormous. Mozambique has 30% of the world’s proven premium-grade graphite.

Demand for quality graphite is predicted to reach 125m tonnes by 2030, which is a 2400% increase. That creates a huge opportunity for South African mining companies here and across the border, into Mozambique.

For the local automotive industry, which is the only manufacturing sector growing in South Africa, the electric car revolution is a potential threat and opportunity. And Mozambican graphite could make South Africa an even more attractive destination for global vehicle manufacturing.

With all the graphite source material in proximity and abundance, South Africa could possibly make a successful transition from its traditional petrol/diesel vehicle manufacturing, to a future of electric vehicle production.

Some of the largest automotive production resources in South Africa belong to BMW, Mercedes-Benz and VW. All three these German brands have committed to radically accelerating their electric vehicle product integration and transitioning away from internal combustion engines.

If South Africa wishes to keep its BMW, Mercedes-Benz and VW vehicle production status, having battery production will be crucial. With the richness of quality graphite in Mozambique and the Limpopo province, that is a possible.

Local export contracts for X3, C-Class and Polo are massive — and don’t include any electric vehicle requirements. But the next generation of vehicles that BMW (Tshwane), Mercedes-Benz (East London) and VW (Uitenhage) build for export, probably will — and that means Mozambican graphite could be the game changer.

Onlineautos
Author: Onlineautos