There were over 10 million electric cars on the world’s roads in 2020, noted the IEA’s Global EV Outlook report for 2021. Battery electric models drove the expansion, and despite the pandemic, registrations of electric cars increased across all major markets. It is clear that we are experiencing a global emobility revolution, with growing consumer demand mirroring the development of new government net-zero policies and emissions targets.
Here we look at the rise of electric vehicles over the past year, as well as some of the challenges posed by the boom – namely, the waste batteries produced – and the need for innovative solutions, with comment from our Talent Director John Martin.
The Shift to E-Vehicles
Over the past few years, it is safe to say there has been a revolutionary shift away from traditional combustion engines to electric vehicles. In the UK alone, there were nearly 260,000 pure-electric cars on the roads at the end of May this year, as well as over 535,000 plug-in models (if we are to include plug-in hybrids (PHEVs)).
Major automakers are answering growing consumer demand for ‘greener’ transportation – which is as efficient as it is affordable – with products that can easily compete with, if not surpass, traditional combustion-driven cars.
Most of the major automakers have already start the transition. As IEA’s report notes, 18 of the 20 major OEMs announced they were set to increase the number of available EVs in the years ahead. Already, a variety of OEMs have pledged to stop production of combustion engine vehicles completely by 2030-2035, including Volvo, Ford, and General Motors.
Speaking to Xcede’s Talent Director John Martin about the transition, he notes:
“Over the next five years, we are going to see a total migration towards emobility, with many traditional manufacturing plants being turned into battery manufacturing and recycling facilities.”
The Dead Battery Dilemma
One of the critical challenges for automakers manufacturing e-vehicles right now, is battery recycling. Challenges arise at many angles: from the costly and complex recycling process of the battery itself, to the expensive and sometimes harmful mining of component materials to build the battery, to the hazardous toxins that can be released if batteries are not disposed of correctly.
Battery manufacturing – and material mining – is increasing at an unprecedented rate, and with a recycling process so costly and intricate: it is a challenge often overlooked by consumers when they switch to the ‘greener’ alternative.
Using a similar scenario to explain, John Martin notes:
“A parallel example is Bitcoin mining. It was never really thought about until the boom, but more recently, a focus on the amount of greenhouse gases it takes to ‘mine’ is coming to light.
Just like with the Bitcoin boom, automakers must recognize that the rise of e-vehicles – although there are many, unparalleled benefits for the environment when compared to the production of combustion engines – that there are also many challenges that must be immediately addressed such as the mining of raw materials as well as battery recycling, in line with responding to consumer demand for the final, greener product.”
As IEA’s report notes, the rise in production of EVs has transformed the battery industry globally, with the scope of lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery material sourcing and manufacturing set to rise almost exponentially.
However, in line with this, regulations around the recycling and reuse of batteries are also on the rise, from the EU to USA and beyond. IEA notes, that “much of the existing legislation regulating batteries and their waste was not designed for automotive Li-ion batteries”, and globally, we are new to the many policy frameworks that are needed to regulate the industry.
Although such challenges exist and are evolving in line with increasing production of EVs globally, it cannot be said that the problems outweigh the benefits. There is huge scope for innovation in the field of EV battery technology, and other zero-emission automotive solutions.
John Martin comments:
“Innovation is not just needed around EV battery production and recycling, but also around energy storage, solar energy and the interdisciplinary links between sectors.”
As IEA’s report notes, innovations in the field of fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) – zero-emission vehicles “that convert hydrogen stored on-board using a fuel cell to power an electric motor” – are on the rise.
The report reveals that “Korea took the lead in FCEVs, surpassing the United States and China, to reach more than 10 000 vehicles” alongside a global FCEV stock increase of 40%.
Effect on Hiring in Emobility Sector
Speaking to John Martin about the effect on hiring in the sector alongside the rise in production of e-vehicles – as well as the need for innovation to overcome current challenges – he notes:
“There has been a significant increase in hiring activity, especially around battery technology professionals. Automakers are rapidly transitioning in line with the paradigm shift that the industry is taking right now away from combustion engines to EV.
We are seeing a lot of hiring activity around the UK, with the likes of Nissan and JLR expanding their EV initiatives. There are also many Chinese manufacturers moving operations into, and probably the biggest target market right now for the industry is Sweden.”
In terms of hiring, candidates with a scientific academic background in chemistry, physics or material science are in high demand. Another trend to note is the shift in focus from AV to EV investment.
Joh Martin notes:
“There has been an equal shift in focus away from autonomous driving to electric vehicles. Although they are two totally different concepts – and should not be interlinked – it is interesting to see the automotive industry’s shift in focus in general to fall around EVs in line with regulation changes, safety issues of AVs, emission targets, and consumer demand for EVs.
Where in previous years we saw significant investment in autonomous driving technologies, now, investors are choosing to focus on electric vehicle initiatives and building out electric vehicle fleets.”
Click the link to learn more about the range of emobility and battery technology jobs we are recruiting for at Xcede.