When an electric vehicle meets the end of its life, there is a precious component inside it that is growing a new industry. Global Director Karen Kinsella and Regional Manager of Europe Jamie Lansdell from our Automotive and Mobility vertical discuss the automotive and battery recycling industries, their impact on renewable energy, and the quest to reduce carbon emissions.
Chris Parker: Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Expeditors Podcast, where we look at the logistics and freight-forwarding industry through the lens of a global logistics provider. I'm your host, Chris Parker, and today's topic, battery logistics. Demand for electric vehicles and advancements in their technology is soaring around the world. So what are manufacturers and the supply chains changing to meet this demand? We'll set the stage for that before going into the main discussion today around battery recycling and moving them safely and compliantly to support the rise of a new industry, all to meet expectations of an increasingly environmentally-conscious consumer. So returning to talk about this are my two favorite Auto Mobility nerds, Global Director of our Automotive and Mobility vertical, Karen Kinsella, and Regional Manager of Europe of Automotive and Mobility, Jamie Lansdell. Karen, Jamie, welcome back to the podcast.
Karen Kinsella: Hey, Chris, great to see you and hear you.
Jamie Lansdell: It's great to be back. Thank you for having us.
Chris Parker: It is a pleasure to have you both back. How have you been? It's been almost a year, I'd say, or so since I've had you guys on the podcast. What's changed in your lives?
Karen Kinsella: Well, there's a few world events that have taken place since then, Chris, I have to say.
Chris Parker: Give or take, yeah.
Karen Kinsella: Give or take. And our ongoing debacle with the semiconductor chip shortage continues. So there's no real change there, but we're seeing the end is in sight. So let's celebrate when we come through that. And of course, there's the impact of the crisis in certain parts of the world, and that's had a knock-on effect and an impact on a lot of the automotive and mobility sector that are... Quite honestly, unless you've lived in a dark cupboard, the pursuit of electrification is upon us, so it's great to talk about that.
Chris Parker: Yeah, yeah. We've got a lot to cover today. Jamie, how have you been?
Jamie Lansdell: It's been a busy time, hasn't it, Karen? We have been helping shepherd our customers through all of this volatility. And since we last spoke, as well, is I've taken on a new role in Europe. So we've had some great challenges amongst our team and lots of great interactions. So just good to be back and good to be talking about batteries today.
Chris Parker: All right. So before we talk about today's topic, Karen, Jamie, could you give me a recap or just an overview of what our Automotive and Mobility vertical is, what it does? What kind of service do we provide to customers?
Karen Kinsella: Sure, and if I start and lead into tag-teaming with Jamie. So we have a team of vertical experts within our organization, Chris, and we provide the knowledge, working in the industry for many, many years, more years than I care to admit. And we really act as a pivot between our business and translating the needs of the customers. So in all areas of logistics and supply chain, there's a different acronym, and there's a different language. So we break down the barriers and then support the teams across Expeditors' business, translate the needs of our customers. And we're shifting towards mobility, so it's an exciting time. There's a bit of a mini-revolution going on. So it's a great opportunity for our teams to support across all of the sectors of Expeditors' network.
Jamie Lansdell: As Karen says, we're the glue between industry experience and understanding what happens behind the doors and what happens within the factories and scaling up, and this huge change between internal combustion and the migration towards mobility and the likes of batteries, and then bringing all that experience through with everything that's going on in world events. So we really are sort of a shepherd for industry through all of these events and helping our customers build that trajectory for the future. So it's a really interesting time, both in the industry and obviously with everything else that's going on in the freight-forwarding and global world. So it's a really interesting role over here in Europe.
Chris Parker: Let's go ahead and dive into the topics today. So we talk about battery recycling. Manufacturers are moving away from internal combustion engines. They're transitioning over into electric vehicles. What is the importance right now of electrification and the focus of battery development in the automotive world?
Karen Kinsella: Well, the electrification process ultimately is to reduce the reliance on fossil fuel consumption, Chris, and there's a real transition from decarbonization across the whole world's economy, and it's not just within the automotive sector. There's lots and lots of different industries that really are in pursuit for looking at alternative fuels. And there are many different alternatives, and batteries and the electrification is only one source of that. But it also takes us into a really, really exciting area of renewable energies, and I know we're going to talk about that in a little bit more detail. But we do see the pursuit of electrification now is allowing manufacturers to produce their cars ready for the next generation. So that's really exciting.
Jamie Lansdell: I think also as well, Karen, is the legislation we're seeing across the world as well. The UK, for example, by 2030 has planned to eradicate the use of internal combustion, the sale of internal combustion cars, and that's really helping to drive industry. And I think not only is it the UK. There's 11 other countries out there that have done the same ambitious target by 2030. So this is really just a catalyst within industry to migrate towards this carbon-neutral future, and of which batteries and battery logistics is a part of that. So it's a really interesting time to watch this technology take hold and, for us, help navigate this world and some of the challenges that it's throwing up both to industry and to recycling.
Chris Parker: Is this creating a lot of pressure on automotive manufacturers to accelerate their battery transition from the countries, from consumers, or were manufacturers already leading the charge in this space?
Karen Kinsella: Well, a lot of manufacturers were already producing electric vehicles and have done so for quite some time, Chris. I think we've got to remember there's a long life cycle when you're producing a new vehicle, so for the investment and making sure that you've got all of the research and development in place and all the right level of quality measures in a new vehicle. It's not a quick process.
Chris Parker: Yeah.
Karen Kinsella: I think a lot of manufacturers have now seen consumers shifting in the future, and what we've seen is, as batteries get more scaled, the cost reduces. And everybody's on the pursuit of the longest range. Everybody wants to produce the vehicle with the longest range before you need to charge. So there is a bit of a race in that amongst manufacturers really to see who can produce a vehicle that lasts for hundreds and hundreds of miles or kilometers.
Chris Parker: Yeah. When I think of rechargeable batteries or lithium-ion batteries, I think of the fact that I can't check them in my luggage. I have to carry them on my person in order to move safely with them. Otherwise, they can cause all kinds of problems, right, mid-flight. So batteries are a dangerous good. What are the automotive and logistics industries doing together to tackle battery logistics and its complexity?
Jamie Lansdell: There are some big challenges around this. And it's not only moving it safely and compliantly. It is the scale as to what Karen was saying. Just two years ago, there was a demand for about a quarter of a million metric tons of lithium. And by the time we get to 2030, that will be 2.2 million tons of lithium that will have to be moved. So not only do we want to make sure that there are compliant processes within shipping, but then also within air freight and the potential risks of carrying DG and lithium via air freight. And then also some of the global challenges, as well, in the same way of some of the rail freight routes have had some disruption recently into how to move this.
Jamie Lansdell: So we're all having to build more agile solutions into how we can scale and how we can grow and build viable solutions to this moving forward. And Karen, I'm sure, will talk about this later. A lot of, certainly, the mobility industry is looking into near sourcing, building more infrastructure closer to where the cars and the consumers are made to try to take out some of this risk within the supply chain heading towards 2030.
Karen Kinsella: There are components of batteries, Chris, that make them very complex but also highly combustible. So you've got to have very, very strong standardized processes in place to mitigate the risk, not only for the transportation but also for the people that are handling these. These are very volatile in nature. Whilst producing high energy sources, you've got to have a very, very strong dangerous-goods procedure in place. And I think there is a recognition that batteries, whilst they're being put into place, that knowledge and expertise may not necessarily exist to the same level in all corners of the world. So from protecting customers and protecting ourselves, it's very, very important that customers are aware that this is not a normal part or component for a vehicle. It is a very complex product.
Chris Parker: In the open, I mentioned that consumers are getting much more environmentally conscious. They want to know the emissions that go behind the movement of the things that they're purchasing. Could you help me understand how their understanding is changing and how is that affecting things upstream?
Karen Kinsella: Well, there's more social awareness about emissions, Chris, which I think is really evident. I think one of the things that we all can take stock of, with COVID, when everybody was forced to work from home, and there were no means of transportation either in the air or on the road, everybody saw the impact to the environment. Everybody saw what happened to the quality of the air. And I think now customers are much more informed. So I think it's now allowing people to have a choice between vehicles. And as the cost of different transportation, and I'm not just talking about cars here. We've got e-bikes. We've got trucks. We've got all modes of transportation which uses electrification and batteries.
Karen Kinsella: So consumers do actually have a viable choice. Do they want to invest in this type of technology? They want to be seen to making a positive impact on the world. And particularly, there's a certain generation that really maybe won't choose to own a vehicle. They will choose to share a vehicle or select a transportation that they use on an app, and they will be able to make a choice, whether that's an electric vehicle or a vehicle with an engine.
Jamie Lansdell: I think it's also worth mentioning, as well is not only automotive mobility. We talked about scooters there, and obviously, there's solutions around the car. But also just slightly outside of our vertical, in the same way of electrification of buses and trains. And even in aviation, there's a magic number that says if the power of a battery can achieve over 500-watt hours per kilo, certainly, then electrification during flight could be an option. So it's the social awareness not only of what you're doing and what you're consuming but in every aspect of our behavior and how we can limit the amount of CO2 we're emitting through our consumerist behavior, as it were. And I think that's changing generation by generation, and we can really see that change.
Karen Kinsella: I think, at the moment, consumers are more aware than they've ever been. If we take an example... Let's use an analogy. If you want to buy a T-shirt, a number of years ago, people would choose a T-shirt made of maybe a recycled material. I think there's much more awareness now of "where's that T-shirt made?". Is that T-shirt made in an area where people are paid well, et cetera, et cetera? We haven't really seen evidence at the moment that consumers are making the choice about where's that battery made or where are those battery cells from. We haven't really seen that level of evidence. But I think it's fair to say manufacturers are very aware of this, and there's different ways of metricking this, and there's a different analogy coming into place. So just measuring the emission of a vehicle from A to B, we do see that that's going to get longer and longer, and people are going to be more aware of how they measure the emissions.
Chris Parker: Lithium is a finite resource on planet Earth, right? This is not an infinite thing, much like our fossil fuels. But the interesting thing about this is that it can be re-used and recycled. So help me understand what's the latest and greatest that's happening out there?
Jamie Lansdell: It's been really interesting. Not only, as you say, just to support the UK's ambition for 2030, 60,000 metric tons of lithium has to be mined. And this has made the cost of lithium just increase gradually year over year. And in fact, there's been a massive spike over the last 12 months within the cost of lithium. So there's now much more of a tipping point from industry to say, "Well, how can we reclaim lithium, cadmium, and nickel from other sources? How can we take batteries that are currently out there in consumer products or in batteries that are currently in first-generation vehicles and take that material closer to where it needs to be manufactured and to recycle this?" So there's much more of an incentive for the manufacturers to be thinking this way moving forward.
Karen Kinsella: And there are profitable strategies to be able to reduce the environmental impact of the industry as well. So the relevance of the recycling industry. Some companies are commercializing new battery recycling technologies. So you will get manufacturers who identify that there are some monetization benefits from this. But also, as you've said, it's not an infinite resource. So in order to be able to recycle that, then how you renew that in a different way, either back into the battery manufacturing process. A lot of manufacturers are identifying you can renew that energy in a different way. You can power your house. You can store the energy and re-use that to put back into the grid. So there's various different ways that this type of technology is really going to advance.
Chris Parker: I donate my electric car. I don't know where it's going. Where does it go? And what's happening now, and does that need to change, or will that be changing in the future, do you think?
Karen Kinsella: Well, only 5% of batteries are recycled today, Chris. So remember, this is a relatively new industry.
Chris Parker: Wow. Right, right.
Karen Kinsella: A couple of years ago, it was only 2% of all of the batteries were renewed. So I think you are going to have... It's a touchpoint. You're going to have a lot more people identify the opportunity to use renewable energies, so there's going to be an emergence of a new type of industry, I think. But if you were to give me your electric vehicle, there would have to be strict or stringent ways of extracting some of those types of components. It's not going to be a layman's industry, to be honest. It's going to require a level of technical expertise. And obviously, to be able to do that safely and renew that energy, you're going to have to have some element of specialism. So again, I think there's a number of companies in certain markets, but I would expect to see over the next ten years, this is definitely a growth area.
Chris Parker: Yeah.
Jamie Lansdell: Agreed. I think also, there are a couple of different use cases for this. We talked a little bit earlier about maybe taking the cells from that car and then breaking them down and putting them into a power wall that could potentially be charged via solar power panels on your roof to make sure when you plug your car in at home, it has a source of power, or your lights on an evening. That's one particular way. But also, we could potentially see different things come out into the marketplace. There's a lot of charging infrastructure that's required out there. And there's a lot of different generations of technology.
Jamie Lansdell: And we're seeing this also as batteries tend to change as well. Currently, lithium-ion batteries are made of lithium and cadmium, and nickel. And then, as new battery technology is evolving, we're seeing more solid-state batteries that don't have that nickel capacity within them. So technology is moving on. Recycling technology is moving on, and the use case for this material is also moving on. So I imagine we're going to see a lot more innovation in this area moving forward, and we'll see lots of exciting different ways of reusing this technology as we move forward.
Chris Parker: Karen, you brought up a really interesting point, though, with the technical expertise needed to disassemble these batteries, to strip them, and this is not a layman's industry, as you point out.
Karen Kinsella: Yeah, that's right.
Chris Parker: I thought that's a very interesting point there. And I understand that we need to have stringent policies around dangerous goods to move them safely. But sourcing, I think, is also another thing that comes to mind if they have to be recycled at specific areas. What kind of complexity does that bring?
Karen Kinsella: Really, the automotive industry is learning from other industries, Chris. I mean, the recycling of batteries that we would have from mobile phones or laptops, for instance, has had the re-use in the applications and taken into recycling. So you'd have to find a qualified e-waste recycler that can handle and recycle the lithium safely and responsibly. There's a number of directives. So there's now, in Europe, for instance, there's a batteries directive, and it's becoming the scene where legislation is dictating who and how the recycling of this material can be processed. And the transportation of this product is a premium, and it's very specialized. I don't envisage every single transport provider would want to be able to invest in this. You're going to have to have a level of competence and a level of qualification and certification in order to be able to do this. So we do see that recovering the battery chemicals and the precursors for that will really spawn a new specialism in the industry.
Chris Parker: Karen, you said that this is a relatively new industry that's still got a lot of growth ahead of it. So as it develops and grows, what's being discovered? What kind of innovations are being born out of this?
Karen Kinsella: Well, I think we're going to continue to see, over the next ten years, the continuation of lithium-ion domination. It's going to take a long time to get the productivity, but you are definitely going to see more energy efficient or density of the vehicles. The vehicles are going to get lighter. They're going to be probably cheaper in the manufacturing processes. Batteries are going to be produced closer to the final production site. And as well as the energy density and the lowering pf the costs, as Jamie said, there's going to be a reduction in the amount of cobalt in a battery. So improving charging rates are going to become faster. Consumers, or as all of us, we want everything quicker, cheaper. We want everything today.
Chris Parker: Sure, sure.
Karen Kinsella: So I think the scale-up of manufacturing and continued research is really going to take shape over the next ten years.
Jamie Lansdell: I think also, just to add to that, is we're also seeing more and more innovation not only for lighter vehicles and more density, which gives you more range, but the long pole of the tent at the moment is currently charging, as to how long it takes to charge your car. And we're seeing a lot of our customers have replaceable and autonomous replaceable battery packs or different ways of charging or different charging infrastructure as to how you're going to deal with the behavioral change of driving an electric vehicle versus driving a petrol vehicle. And I think the technology will change before our behavior changes almost. So we'll see a lot more innovation in this area into, I imagine, pulling into a gas station in the future and pull out one battery pack and put in another. That will potentially be one of the things we'll tend to see over the next few years, I would imagine.
Karen Kinsella: And electrification or renewable components for batteries is only one source of renewable energy, Chris. So I think there's lots of discussion around now the growth of hybrid renewable-energy power plants, where batteries have been installed alongside the existing solar farms and the wind farms. And this will improve the economics of solar farms as well, and it'll continue to push those prices down.
Chris Parker: Okay. So now I want to draw back to the fact that you two are supporting automotive customers. What role does automotive play in battery recycling, from your understanding?
Karen Kinsella: Well, the industry brings scale. I mean, if you think of all of the vehicles on the road, and the latest forecast, even with all of the crisis and downtime with production, it's still estimated 40% of all of our vehicles within the next 20 years are going to be electric.
Chris Parker: Wow.
Karen Kinsella: So I think the industry most definitely brings scale, and it brings a level of technology advancement. So if you look at the way that the vehicles are being produced today, combining with autonomous self-driving, for instance, it really gives manufacturers a way of producing a vehicle for the next generation. Yeah. So I think that the focus of having a gear stick on a vehicle, that will be long gone in the future when most of us will be using our battery to be able to renew the energy that we power our houses by.
Karen Kinsella: Is it an evolution or a revolution? I would say it's a bit of both, Chris. I think the technologies for batteries that we've seen really have advanced over the last five years, and every manufacturer that we're talking to right now with our teams across the world, everybody is developing battery technology. So it's a really, really exciting time. I think we have started to see the demand from our customers to bring those into logistics solutions. So that's also taking shape, where a consumer is now driving the buying behavior of the logistics. So I would envisage that will become the normal over the next couple of years as well.
Chris Parker: All right. Thinking about all this now, why should a consumer care at all about how batteries are being recycled or the discoveries that are happening in this new and growing industry?
Jamie Lansdell: I think it's important that, as consumers become more and more aware of the ethics of their buying power, of where they're spending their dollars. And if you're buying into the biggest consumer launch of any product we've seen in many, many years, which is an electric vehicle, not only are you buying into reducing your carbon footprint, but in the same way, buying into the ethics behind how that vehicle was built, so where the battery materials come from and how much CO2 has been emitted in the creation of that vehicle. And there's so much more awareness around these processes.
Jamie Lansdell: So it isn't just about having a sustainability message as a battery-electric vehicle company. It's about really making sure that your supply chain and the ethics behind how you build that vehicle really do stand true to the mission statement of those companies. And we, as consumers, are becoming more and more educated in how these things are built, and we're putting our money where our mouth is, and we're seeing that impact happen across the industry and across the logistics and freight-forwarding industry also.
Chris Parker: Excellent. Well, Karen, Jamie, any final thoughts before we close out this discussion?
Karen Kinsella: No, I think it's an exciting time for the industry, dare I say, as it charges ahead.
Jamie Lansdell: I think it's so interesting that this is the catalyst for lots more innovation, both in our vertical and everywhere else around the world. This is one of the biggest changes we're going to see in our lifetime. And we're all excited to see where this goes. So exciting times ahead.
Chris Parker: Well, Karen, Jamie, thank you so much for your time to talk about this. I'm really excited for how this will change and where this will go in the next few years. So I'm definitely going to keep my eye on this one. And yeah, thanks for the time.
Chris Parker: Thanks for listening to today's episode. If you've got any questions or want to learn more about today's topic, check out the show notes for more information. And before you go, make sure you're subscribed on whatever podcast app you're using so you won't miss the next episode. To learn more about Expeditors, you can find us on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, or simply visit us at expeditors.com. Take care, and I'll see you next time.