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Industry leaders discuss Europe’s battery sector at III. Hungarian Battery Day

The III. Hungarian Battery Day, organised on 26 October in Hotel Marriott Budapest, by the Hungarian Battery Association and White Paper Consulting, brought together business leaders and policymakers to discuss the opportunities and challenges of the battery industry in Hungary and Europe.

The conference was opened by Gergely Fabián, State Secretary at the Ministry of Economic Development who said that “one of the greatest success stories” of the last 30 years in Hungary is the automotive industry. “One of the greatest challenges and at the same time – opportunity – is the electrification and the boom in the EV industry,” he added. “We have to create an ecosystem, it is not just about cars but there are also benefits for households and industry.”

Looking at the battery ecosystem further, Thore Sekkenes, the European Battery Alliance (EBA250) Programme Director, highlighted the most important event of the past year: the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) introduced by the US which puts pressure on the EU and affects EU competitiveness. However, the EU has already responded by enacting new legislation such as the Critical Raw Materials Act, Net Zero Industry Act and new Batteries Regulation. What we need is international cooperation is fundamental, the US has taken the lead, so let’s follow them!

“The battery industry community has been growing fast in this country since last year. The net revenue of the Hungarian battery industry is forecasted to increase by at least 50 per cent in 2023 based on its 2022 performance. Over the last five years the battery industry, following the automotive industry, has become the second largest manufacturing sector of the national economy in terms of its share in overall industrial production,” said Péter Kaderják, Managing Director of the Hungarian Battery Association.

“Hungary is a meeting hub of Eastern and Western companies, which will guarantee that the country will be a leading figure in the transformation of the automotive industry. Hungary is already the 4th largest battery producer and due to the new investments, it will rank soon second following China,” said István Joó, CEO of the Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency.

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Battery manufacturer CATL aims to build a comprehensive battery production value chain that meets sustainability criteria in all respects, announced Jason Chen, General Manager, Operations CATL Europe. “We are very proud that we have already achieved carbon neutrality in four of our battery plants and our goal is to replicate these global experiences in Debrecen too,” he said, underlining that the Hungarian plant will be equipped with state-of-the-art production technologies.

Joaquim Nunes de Almeida, Director of the European Commission’s DG GROW department, provided a more detailed overview of the EU’s progress in battery production growth. “In 2022, the number of lithium-ion gigafactories announced in the EU increased from 26 to 30, meaning 30 GW of new installed capacity,” he said.

The event’s first discussion panel focused on the European regulatory landscape, looking into legislative strengths, gaps and the EU’s global influence in this area. “The regulations will have a huge impact on the global scale – the entire supply chain needs to look at the new regulations and their obligations,” Ákos Nagy, Senior Counsel at Kinstellar emphasised. He highlighted the example of recycling, recovery and recollection, where key adjustments will have to be made. “By the end of 2025, around 70 per cent of lithium-based batteries will need to be recycled – this is a huge obligation,” he underlined.

Batteries will be essential in the green transition of Europe and Hungary, said Bernadett Papp, Head of Market Analyses at Pact Capital. “The recently adopted Battery Regulation sets the framework for a sustainable future where batteries’ carbon footprint can be reduced. Although the relevant delegated and implementing acts will be published later by the European Commission, market participants can use the Harmonised rules for the calculation of the Carbon Footprint of Electric Vehicle Batteries by the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission as a guideline to start preparing for strict reporting obligations.”

In a keynote speech, Bob L. Galyen, SAE International Fellow and Battery Standards Steering Committee Chairman and NAATBatt International Chairman Emeritus and CTO, presented an in-depth perspective on the US IRA. In the US, the IRA is set to significantly benefit the country’s automotive industry such as TESLA. At the same time, he does not expect the act to have a major negative impact on Europe. “The bottom line is that the IRA is not going to impact the European community that much, in fact, it might enhance it,” said Mr Galyen. The EU is a target for investors, as seen by CATL’s investments in Hungary, he added.

The event’s second panel discussion focused on grid-integrated and market-based energy storage investment support schemes in Hungary. “At the beginning, you need subsidies [for energy storage systems] to create a market,” said Róbert Szabó, Director of Smart PV Solutions at Huawei, referencing the case of Germany where subsidies introduced in the past have incentivised strong consumer interest.

Experts also participated in a roundtable discussion on perspectives for developing the battery recycling industry in Central and South-Eastern Europe. “We are very proud, that we could be a lead waste service provider for LIB manufacturers as a 100 per cent Hungarian owned company,” said Péter Vermes, General Manager at Éltex. “Based on our more than 30 years of experience in waste handling we believe that we could fulfil the future legal and technical requirements of this growing market segment, and could serve these producers on the highest level.”

Providing a further industry perspective, Bernáth Zoltán, Sales and Logistics Director of SungEel Hitech emphasised that technological improvements are another important element in the development of battery recycling, highlighting the complexity of the overall recycling process.

Keith Gough, CEO of SunSynk Limited said that “it is key to start on a small scale when it comes to developing batteries. “We now have 350,000 solar plants globally, with around 2 GW of battery storage. We lead the market in many countries,” he said.

Next, experts sat down for a roundtable discussion on opportunities for Hungarian and European suppliers in the Hungarian battery industry landscape and the scope for regional cooperation. Andrea d’Alessandro, Head of International and Multinational Corporate Customers at UniCredit Bank Hungary said that the bank sees a significant opportunity in the growing battery industry. “The financial needs of the players in the battery supply chain will be even more relevant in the next five years and beyond, hence we want to confirm our interest and capabilities as a reliable and long-term partner.”

Vertical integration in battery production would require substantial expertise in multiple domains, which would necessitate a large investment in R&D, said Tamás Bakos, Regional General Manager CT Central South Europe, at Atlas Copco. Companies may find it more feasible to continue working with specialised suppliers who can provide focused solutions, like Atlas Copco’s compressed air, vacuum and nitrogen systems.”

The last roundtable of the day delved into battery-related R&D in Europe and Hungary. On the topic of incentivising businesses to invest more in R&D, among other things, the speakers highlighted the need for cooperation between companies and research and educational institutions, alongside strong communication whilst building these relationships. Other speakers also noted the importance of promoting entrepreneurship in universities and accentuating the visibility of local projects to increase the success rate of projects coming from Hungary and CEE.

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