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Speaker spotlight with Dr. John Warner

· 800 words, 4 min read
As we move closer to the highly anticipated Lithium, Battery and Energy Metals Conference, we sat down with Dr John Warner, Manging Director, Jord Proxa to hear more about his view on the EV boom, Australia’s progression in the green battery chemical industry, and the importance of moving out of your comfort zone.
What message would you like to highlight to the delegates at this upcoming Conference?

It is time to act to capitalise on the EV boom. Any doubts that by 2025 car makers will require more battery chemicals than can currently be produced have been removed. There is need to build more battery chemical capacity. The challenge is to meet the aggressive schedule that is now required in an affordable and reliable way.

What are the biggest trends you are seeing in the field today, and what innovations do you predict we will be seeing in the future?

Battery chemicals connect the mining and resource industries to the consumer more closely than ever before. Although the connection is mediated by several intermediate industry steps, consumer expectations and demands are relayed directly to the companies at the start of the supply chain. Thus, the consumer's expectation that the cost of EVs will continue to fall with time has and will continue to exert pressure to be lean. Consumer demand that the sequence of operations which produce EVs does not produce more carbon emission than is saved by driving an EV necessitates that being green is more than a slogan.

To date, innovations in battery chemistry have delivered the value that consumers seek. More energy can now be stored in less mass of battery chemical. That has improved EV performance and helped reduce prices. However it has also imposed much tougher requirements for purity. Where once "4 nines" purity ( 99.99%) was more than sufficient, "5 nines" ( 99.999%) has become the goal.

Further innovations will be required to meet the challenge of being pure, lean and green. These may need to go beyond the technical advancements to be gained from research and development to encompass rationalisation of business models both at company level and across the supply chain.

The supply and demand of commodities globally are growing at an exponential rate. What are the biggest challenges impacting the lithium and energy metals, especially regarding ESG?

The supply of energy to power the transport of people and goods has evolved over the course of a century into a highly efficient business ecology based on hydrocarbons. Production volumes are immense and operating margins are often slim. Trading mechanisms have adapted to suit these circumstances and with remarkably few exceptions, have delivered stability over long periods.

We are perhaps five years into a transition away from hydrocarbons as a fuel for transport. At this point lithium-ion battery electrical vehicles are leading the transition. Much has been achieved in the last five years, but many times more in terms of both scale and efficiency must be achieved before lithium-ion battery EVs provide the bulk of the transport needs now met by hydrocarbon fuelled vehicles.

ESG issues add to the challenge of ramping up production to create a stable, sustainable energy business. However, my belief is that they also provide opportunity for those who are fast to adapt to changing circumstances. Sweden and Finland are moving fast to develop a green battery chemical industry with strong social values and transparent governance models. There is opportunity for Australia to do likewise.

Why do you think it is important for professionals from all levels to continue their professional development and connect on a global scale through conferences like AusIMM’s?

The pace of change in technology continues to accelerate. Whereas someone entering the work force in the early 1900's could confidently expect that their skills would still be relevant when they retired, many of those entering the workforce in the mid 1900's found that their skills were redundant before they retired. Those entering the workforce today may find their skills need to be updated in less than 10 years.

It is therefore vital that we all keep abreast of change and continue our professional development. Attendance at conferences such as AusIMM alerts us to change. Membership of professional bodies provides access to accredited professional development.

What are you most looking forward to seeing, or wanting to see at the conference?

At any good conference, there will be a number of talks given that challenge the comfortable viewpoint you may have reached over the years. Finding these and adjusting to the new perspective they bring is always rewarding, even if it requires you leave a zone of comfort.

Of course, being able to once again attend a conference in person enables you to connect with delegates from across the globe. That is always a highlight.

For more information on Dr John Warner and to register for #Lithium2022 click here.

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