Africa is seeing the green shoots of what could become a battery production revolution. Morocco and South Africa lead the charge, hinting at a future where the continent not only dominates the production of green minerals but also taps renewable energy to power green battery production.
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Africa is leading a homegrown revolution in battery manufacturing, leveraging its abundant green mineral resources and clean energy to feed surging global demand for clean, green, renewable energy storage.
Strategic partnerships between countries and investment partners are gaining momentum, aiming to transform the continent, currently a net importer of batteries, into a self-sufficient region capable of meeting the growing battery storage demand and supplying European markets – similar to what has been witnessed in the vehicle industries of South Africa and Morocco.
Afrivolt, a South African energy company, is the latest entity to unveil plans for a massive lithium-ion cell factory in Africa, choosing the Atlantis Special Economic Zone in Cape Town for its first plant.
According to Creamer Media’s Engineering News, Afrivolt’s gigafactory will “produce anodes, cathodes, and lithium-ion batteries for stationary storage applications and, in the medium term, for electric vehicles.”
Atlantis Special Economic Zone for Green Technologies, in South Africa’s Western Cape, has been building out a platform for green tech, providing land and clean energy for new entrants to the sector.
“Afrivolt is well on its way to establishing a lithium-ion gigavolt factory in Atlantis,” wrote Matthew Cullinan, CEO of Atlantis Special Economic Zone for Green Technologies, on LinkedIn.
Battery energy storage lies at the heart of the energy transition. As global energy dynamics shift towards intermittent renewables, especially solar and wind, batteries play a crucial role in bridging the gap between demand and supply, according to UNECA.
This has resulted in a significant increase in global demand for batteries. A 2023 report by Li-Bridge indicates that the trend will continue, with the global demand for lithium batteries expected to surge more than five times by 2030.
The rising demand curve is evident on the continent. In the first six months of 2023, South Africa alone imported US$1 billion worth of lithium-ion cells and batteries, a substantial rise from the US $0.7 billion imported in the entire year of 2022.
“It is a fivefold increase compared to the $0.2 billion imported in 2021,” noted Gaylor Montmasson-Clair, Senior Economist at Trade, Industrial Policy Strategies (TIPS), in an analysis published by CleanTechnica.
The growing demand for batteries in the Rainbow Nation reflects the broader trend across the continent, where energy transition, electrification of the transport sector, and other dynamics are driving the uptake of clean energy.
The current efforts to manufacture batteries on a large scale within the continent are motivated by the abundant mineral reserves required for battery production. Whether cobalt or lithium, manganese or nickel, graphite, and more, all the minerals necessary for battery manufacturing are available in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Zambia, South Africa, Madagascar, Mozambique, Tanzania, or Gabon, among others. The DRC alone is estimated to have several million tonnes of lithium reserves.
More and more African governments are calling for an increase in mineral processing prior to export, with batteries one option.
According to ESI Africa, Afrivolt recently announced ReElement, a product of American Resources Corporation, as an offtake partner for the comprehensive lithium battery and electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing ecosystem it envisions across Africa.
“If Li-ion batteries could be manufactured in Africa, on the appropriate scale, they would become more affordable, enabling power users to rely more on renewable energy than they do now,” said Bernard Jan Bladergroen, the head of the Energy Storage Innovation Lab at the University of the Western Cape.
Morocco has seen significant activity in the space already, with three gigafactory plans announced in the past year alone. In May, the North African country secured a US$6.4 billion deal with Gotion High-Tech Company, a Chinese battery manufacturer, for the construction of a battery gigafactory in the Rabat-Sale-Kenitra region, north-western Morocco. According to Gotion’s press statement, the facility will have an annual capacity of 100 gigawatts worth of batteries.
Additionally, South Korean company LG Chem Ltd has partnered with China’s Huayou, with both companies agreeing to build an EV battery material plant in Morocco. A September 2023 Reuters report indicates that the duo aims to operationalize the facility by 2026 and could produce up to 50,000 tonnes of lithium-phosphate-iron cathode materials per year, enough for half a million entry-class electric vehicles.
Another partnership deal is in progress between Al Mada, one of the country’s private wealth funds, and a Chinese battery component manufacturing company, CNGD Advanced Material Company. According to Bloomberg, construction at the Jorf Lasfar site started in 2023, with battery materials expected to be produced for the first time in 2025. The two entities have invested US$2 billion in the project, which will play a crucial role in supplying battery materials for battery and EV manufacturers in the kingdom and beyond.
Most of the current gigafactory manufacturing interest is focused on Morocco and South Africa, two of the leading automotive manufacturing markets in Africa, further highlighting the potential gigafactories could have in driving local EV manufacturing.
In addition to the gigafactory and battery component projects in the pipeline, some initiatives are already making notable progress in manufacturing batteries on a modest large-scale capacity. Solar MD, a South African battery storage company, launched construction works on a 12,500 sq. meter site in August last year at Richmond Park.
According to Invest Cape Town, Solar MD, which currently produces about 120 batteries a day, will increase its manufacturing capacity to 300 batteries a day by May 2024 when the new facility is completed.
With these initiatives, Africa is poised to become a key player in the global battery energy storage system market, projected to reach US$27 billion by 2030 from US$5 billion in 2023, according to the 2024 BESS Market Research report.