Looking for battery expertise

Critics of electric vehicles are rubbing their hands: ah ha! We told you so. Technology costs too much. Consumers don’t want it. Manufacturers are losing millions. Despite the pitfalls, the electric market is at a historic peak and is even flirting with the point of no return. Government decarbonization targets only require a little steering wheel… Second text in a series on the occasion of the Montreal Electric Vehicle Show, which opens Friday: the lack of battery specialists is delaying the implementation in the market for more efficient and more affordable vehicles.

Lack of knowledge takes many forms. On social networks, it is the sharing of falsehoods about the content and production of the batteries that power electric vehicles. In the factories, there is a significant lack of labor capable of assembling these famous batteries.

If there were more people who knew what the batteries of Tesla, Polestar and other Chevrolet Bolts were made of, there would undoubtedly be fewer Internet users who were outraged, rightly or wrongly, about their rare metal content. . In fact, some of these metals are used to refine oil and eliminate its GHG emissions, much more than they help extend the range of zero-emission vehicles.

Another expertise issue is North America’s lack of battery specialists. This places the continent behind other regions, such as China, in bringing more efficient and affordable electric vehicles to market.

Because electric vehicle batteries are rather sophisticated and their manufacturing requires rare expertise here: chemical engineers, electrical technicians, etc. The factories where they are manufactured also require a certain specialization. Safety standards are not the same in a factory that packages gigawatt hours of electricity as in a factory that packages meat.

And when these factories are brand new, thousands of workers are added to a locality that must serve them. In the Bécancour region, the Quebec hub for the manufacturing of battery components, as well as around McMasterville, where the Northvolt factory will ultimately employ 3,000 people, hundreds of workers will have to be found somewhere. go.

And it won’t be easy. “It’s certainly an issue,” says the president and general director of the sectoral organization Propulsion Québec, Michelle LLambías Meunier, about the lack of manpower to ensure the growth of both the battery and that of innovative vehicles. Propulsion Québec says that 70% of its approximately 250 member companies — a good sample of the entire industry — are already seeing their medium-term growth threatened by the lack of workers.

“There is competition in the sector, on the one hand. For example, General Motors, in Bécancour, will compete with other companies in its sector also present in the region, explains Mme LLambías Meunier. There will also be competition from companies in other sectors that also need qualified people, such as engineers. »

Propulsion Québec says it is in discussions with the government to set up training and requalification programs at all levels, from the certificate of college studies to more advanced university diplomas. The sectoral organization is also proposing a pilot project that would accelerate the arrival of qualified workers in the country. “We did it in the agri-food industry and artificial intelligence, two other sectors considered strategic for the economy,” says Michelle LLambías Meunier.

If nothing is done, the lack of workers “could threaten the creation of the Quebec battery sector,” fears Michelle LLambías Meunier. But everything indicates that things will change, so the risk is less great.

400 new factories

Quebec can always take inspiration from Washington. The United States is also concerned about the lack of training for its battery manufacturing professionals. The US Departments of Energy and Labor are working to increase their numbers tenfold as quickly as possible.

According to the US government, between 300 and 400 new battery factories are expected to emerge in Uncle Sam’s country before the end of the decade, most between 2025 and 2028. The US government calculates that some 179,000 workers will be needed to do the job. The industry currently has just under 30,000…

Professionals in the assembly of electric batteries, as we will have understood, are not common in the streets. In the United States, it is seen as a geopolitical handicap, particularly against China. China is already looking at the next generations of more efficient, more durable, cheaper batteries…

“American leadership in the global battery supply chain depends not only on our capacity for innovation, but also on the existence of a qualified workforce,” summarizes American Secretary of Energy Jennifer Mr. Granholm.

At the end of March, Mme Granholm and his Labor counterpart, Julie A. Su, therefore affirmed their desire to accelerate the training of workers ready to operate these hundreds of new American battery factories.

A federal program called Battery Workforce Initiative was revealed to avoid this shortage. It aims to create a harmonized curriculum to help schools, specialized training centers, businesses and everything related to human resources in factories to speak the same language.

The availability of materials is no longer to be feared, say the authorities. A possible shortage of qualified labor, yes.

“I have spent 48 years in battery factories, including the largest lithium battery assembly plant, and I can tell you that training is the key to a successful battery industry,” said the chief technology officer of NAATBatt, the organization that represents the American battery industry, Bob Galyen, in reaction to the announcement of the Battery Workforce Initiative.

To watch on video

source site-40