Speaker Interview: Anil Srivastava, Chief Executive Officer at Leclanché

In this speaker interview we meet Anil Srivastava, chief executive officer at Leclanché, who Anil Srivastavawill be delivering one of the keynote addresses at The Battery Show Conference 2019. We speak with him about the current trends and challenges in the industry such as European competition with the Asian battery market and the role governments can play in achieving this goal.

What are the biggest challenges/opportunities you face as a business and as a sector?

Leclanché’s energy storage solutions accelerate the integration of renewable energy into our grids and power the electrification of transport. This comes at a time when the transport industry is under pressure to use green technology to reduce harmful NOx emissions and when electricity grids need to reduce dependence on non-sustainable sources of energy. Our fast charging solutions for EV charging stations for instance will accelerate EV adoption by addressing concerns related to high capex and range anxiety.  The opportunity for Leclanché is right now. 

One of the key issues facing our business is finding the right people…

Of course, there are some challenges and one of the key issues facing our business is finding the right people. We need engineers who understand the intersection between electrochemistry and software that is needed to control storage devices. There are too few engineers with this know-how in Europe today.

Equally there are some issues discussed in the media about scarcity of raw materials - cobalt in particular – becoming a barrier to growth in the industry.  I do not see these issues as insurmountable. I believe scarcity can be overcome with technological progress. Huge progress has already been achieved and the quantity of cobalt used in batteries has reduced significantly. Recycling of old batteries will also kick in, thereby mitigating the issue.

Competitiveness on price vis à vis the Asian market is a challenge, but it is also worth asking the question “is cost competitiveness the most important thing?”

What is necessary to make European-based cell manufacturing cost competitive with the Asian market?

Competitiveness on price vis à vis the Asian market is a challenge, but it is also worth asking the question “is cost competitiveness the most important thing?”. It is not the only criteria. Delivering tailor-made solutions that meet the exact specifications of clients is just as important. Clients come to Leclanché because we can manufacture and test at any scale, including small scale, and deliver solutions.

Leclanché’s in-house cells for medium to high power applications are already cost competitive and industry leading in terms of energy density. We are investing in R&D to ensure our lithium cell energy density is on par with, if not superior, to Asian manufacturers, and the combination of increased volumes and increases in cell density reduces the cost per MWh. 

That being said, the issue of cost competitiveness with the Asian market should be addressed and strategies need to be developed at both company and government levels.  At Leclanché, we are investing 25 million EUROS in our cell production capacity led by strong market demand for e-transport solutions and robotics.  We have a highly automated facility in Willstat in Germany where we plan to increase our cell volumes to more than 2GWh/year by 2022 or over 3 million cells.

In parallel, Initiatives such as our partnership with Warwick University in the UK to help commercialise innovations will also contribute to making the industry more competitive. 

European Governments should also look at what was done in China, which in my view is one of the best government-led initiatives.

What role should/ can governments play in creating a European supply chain?

The EU wants to see European players dominate the battery market alongside the Asian players and this is very welcome.

Governments can do more to support companies manufacture at industrial scale. On a positive note, the German Government recently announced an investment of 500 million EUROS towards a research and production centre for lithium ion cell manufacturing. We are the largest partner within a Consortium of companies who will participate in this initiative. Our objective is to accelerate progress towards the creation of a competitive, European battery industry.

The European Battery Alliance has also a role to play but more progress is needed there.

European Governments should also look at what was done in China, which in my view is one of the best government-led initiatives. The Chinese very smartly provided incentives - not subsidies - which focused on fleet transportation such as commercial vehicles, e-buses and taxis.

So far, the focus in Europe has been on passenger EVs. I believe much more can be achieved in terms of reducing NOx pollution by focusing on fleets which would have a much bigger impact on improving air quality.

Where do you see the greatest need for new innovations and how do you see your role in helping get them to market?

The marine industry is a very big focus area. Within the transport industry, marine vessels are the most polluting. Innovations are required and our storage solutions are helping the industry to shift towards electric and dual mode electric and IC engines. Leclanché made an early investment in developing a DNV GL certified battery system for marine applications, and is the first battery supplier to fully comply with the stringent 2015 regulations that are currently in force.

We are currently working on a project in Denmark to create the world’s largest e-Ferry and we recently announced a partnership with KONGSBERG, the leading global maritime technology company, to deliver hybrid power solutions. These solutions are set to deliver game-changing efficiencies and reduce the environmental impact of transportation with cutting-edge autonomous and crewed vessel newbuilds.

There is also a pressing need for innovative solutions to fast charge EVs while stabilising the grid.  Leclanché’s energy management systems provide solutions for fast charging stations.  Another area is small capacity on-board battery packs for light transportation and battery swapping stations.

And finally, another big area of focus is microgrids, which need storage solutions to increase the proportion of renewables in the grid and reduce dependence on fossil fuels. The Island of Graciosa in the Azores is an example of a very successful microgrid project.  It is now the first island in the world to be supplied with over 70% of renewable energies.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up and why?

Ambitions and aspirations are shaped by an individual’s own ability, desire and determination, coupled with the environment one grows in. As a child, I wanted to be an engineer who could open and fix those huge machines in the mines my father was working in. I also wanted to be able to review the large account books, which my father used to bring home to work on, particularly at the time of book closing. I do both now: I am thankful to my family, teachers and friends that I am doing exactly that. I am an Engineer who is working to make those machines more environmentally friendly; and I review and sign off Leclanché’s accounts!  All this is made possible thanks to the values of determination and hard work I learned from my mother, and thanks to the love of my wife and two sons!

Anil Srivastava will be speaking on the Leadership Panel: Realising a European Based Battery Value Chain at The Battery Show Conference Europe on Tuesday 07 May at 09:20.