Western Australia has released its vision for a thriving local battery sector which could “reshape the entire economy”.

The Future Battery Industry Strategy is light on details, but it has a vision to transform Western Australia into a world leading,  producer and exporter of battery materials, tech, and knowledge by 2025.

The news comes two days after a contentious — and delayed — Federal Senate committee report into EV strategy which even the authors said didn’t go far enough.

Currently, Western Australia is the world’s largest lithium miner and exporter.

It actually produces nine of the 10 mineral elements required to make most lithium-ion battery anodes and cathodes, and has  reserves of the remaining element, graphite.

But the strategy goes well beyond developing new mines to focus on downstream processing, manufacturing of battery components and cells, as well as battery assembly and recycling.

It also wants to pour resources into research and development.

WA's share of global battery metals production.
WA’s (pretty dominant) share of global battery metals production. Source

Minister for Mines and Petroleum and Energy Bill Johnston said the “the opportunity is now”, as global manufacturers scramble to consolidate their supply chains to meet projected demand for EVs and energy storage systems.

“In a very competitive environment, our ambition is to build on our recognised mining excellence to become a central player in the global battery value chain,” he says.

READ: 17 recommendations to fast charge Australia’s EV uptake

The state’s chief scientist Peter Klinken agreed this was not a time to be “timid or risk averse”.

“The world is moving ahead at a rapid rate, and other nations not blessed with our natural resources are pushing ahead strongly,” he says.

“Future generations could look back and rightfully ask “What were you doing when you had all the elements necessary for battery production, and you chose to ignore them?”

Current global Lithium-ion battery manufacturing hotspots. Source
Current global lithium-ion battery manufacturing hotspots. Source

An intergovernmental working group led by the Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation will be responsible for delivering the strategy.

What does this mean for  explorers and miners?

Part of the strategy focuses on improving the competitiveness of Western Australia’s battery minerals and materials industry but again, it’s light on the detail.

To do this the government says it will: “Support the reduction of project costs, streamline project approvals, differentiate Western Australian production from competitors, and facilitate technology transfer and innovation.”

And to boost the diversity of  battery minerals extracted and processed in the state, it says it will encourage exploration, help engagement with new mining investors and manufacturers, and encourage development of mining and processing innovations.

AMEC boss Warren Pearce told Stockhead this vision provides greater certainty to battery metals explorers that the government recognises the opportunity, and is willing to offer support.

“If  the strategy is successful it will likely mean that there are more downstream facilities created for which to domestically sell their product,” he says.

“Today’s strategy identifies all the right issues and it sets the right course, now we need to these actions implemented.”

No $$ down 

There’s a sense of urgency about the strategy but it doesn’t look as if a large amount of government cash is being committed.

Mr Pearce says the state government doesn’t need to take a co-investment role as there are other levers that can be pulled to support companies down the battery mineral value chain.

“Government is responsible for planning and co-ordination, facilitation of approvals and how quickly these can be achieved,” he says.

“Government can also help attract and facilitate private investment and  in a myriad of ways.

“If they perform these roles well, then government can make a big difference in ensuring investment and development in Western Australia is attractive.”

But then, government cash doesn’t work anyway

And industry feedback and research has shown that financial incentives aren’t that successful, a spokesperson from the Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation (JTSI) told Stockhead.

Factors such as resource availability and quality, technical expertise, production standards, innovation and market size are more important.

“An example is of the US where, in the wake of the global financial crisis, the federal government spent billions of dollars on developing a local battery manufacturing industry with little success [which] suggests that direct financial incentives are insufficient to develop the battery industry,” the spokesperson said.

“None of the battery companies that received the stimulus money at the time thrived and very few survived.

“Tesla, the US main battery manufacturer, did not receive any of that stimulus money and has its batteries made by Japan’s Panasonic.”

And look how that turned out.

…But there’s still cash on the table for battery hopefuls

The JTSI spokesperson says the government is providing financial assistance to explorers and small to medium sized business (SMEs), although the programs aren’t specific to the Future Battery Industry Strategy.

More focused funding comes in the form of $6 million towards the financing of the Future Battery Industries CRC bid, which will complement funding from industry and Commonwealth if  successful.