Minister Nzimande calls for roadmap to support battery electric vehicle expansion

South Africa needs a roadmap to facilitate the large-scale uptake of battery electric vehicles (BEVs). There are currently very few BEVs on the country's roads compared to the global market. In 2018 about 1,6 million BEVs were sold in the United States, Europe and China, and the uptake is set to increase.

The Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) believes a roadmap will identify the necessary initiatives, as well as the critical stakeholders in the public and private sectors, to enable South Africa to leverage its minerals resources to create a local BEV industry.

On Friday, the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Dr Blade Nzimande, accompanied by the Director-General of Science and Innovation, Dr Phil Mjwara, visited the uYilo Electric Mobility Programme at Nelson Mandela University (NMU) in Port Elizabeth.

The uYilo programme was established in 2013 as an initiative of the Technology Innovation Agency, an entity of the DSI. The programme is hosted within eNtsa, an internationally recognised engineering innovation hub based at NMU, and comprises a battery testing laboratory, an electric vehicle systems laboratory, and a smart grid simulator.

UYilo is a participant in the DSI's Energy Storage Research, Development and Innovation (RDI) Consortium, which aims to develop value-added battery components based on the beneficiation of local mineral resources, in order to position South Africa to become part of the global value chain for energy storage and electric vehicle applications.

The Minister and the Director-General met with a number of stakeholders in the programme, including uYilo's Director, Hiten Parmar, and Mintek's head of catalysis, Dr Gary Pattrick, as well as potential partners involved in RDI in the energy storage sector.

Nzimande said a roadmap would address a number of issues around enabling the upscaling of BEVs in the country, such as skills, funding and the development of legislative frameworks.

The Minister said government has been supporting the Lithium lon Battery programme for almost a decade. The programme seeks to develop electrode materials and manufacturing capabilities for lithium ion batteries (LIBs), with a focus on beneficiating South Africa's manganese resources.

"The DSI has been supporting the development of LIBs, and there is now a need to upscale the initiative to establish local manufacturing capacity of BEVs in collaboration with local and international partners," said Nzimande.

With the recent approval by Cabinet of the White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation, issues of the circular economy in existing RDI flagship programmes of the DSI are now receiving more emphasis.

With the electric vehicle market expected to grow significantly in the near future, and the stockpile of used batteries expected to increase, Mintek and uYilo are building a consortium to develop and commercialise a process for LIB recycling in South Africa.

Nzimande also called on universities to position themselves to teach the skills required to support a local BEV industry. "It is not prudent for universities to continue to teach engineering skills focused on internal combustion engine technology while neglecting emerging technologies such as BEVs and hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles," the Minister said.

Parmar backed the Minister's call, noting that uYilo and its partners were currently working on a curriculum to address this skills gap.

Source: Department: Science and Technology