Future outlook for lead and lead batteries

In all the EV hype, don’t forget the e-bike!

Huw Roberts (CHR Metals, United Kingdom)

Automakers around the world appear to have accepted that the days of cars powered purely by an internal combustion engine (ICE) are numbered. Forecasts compete to show how rapidly electric vehicles (EVs) will become mainstream and how soon they will overtake sales of conventional vehicles. In China, one target is for New Energy Vehicles (NEVs), essentially battery powered vehicles and plug-in hybrids, to comprise 25% of sales by 2025 and 30% by 2030. If this can be achieved in what is already the world’s largest auto market, then projections of global EV sales comprising more than half of all sales by the late 2030s may not be far off the mark. Notwithstanding the fact that most vehicles in the global fleet will still be powered by ICEs for many more years and that these will all require replacement SLI batteries from time to time, and that almost all EVs today are still fitted with a 12V lead-acid battery, the rapid projected increase in the share of EV sales does pose a significant threat to the market for lead-acid batteries and future lead demand.

Much of the attention of those forecasting demand for lead-acid batteries has, understandably, been focussed on the medium to long-term threat from EVs while, at the same time, pointing to opportunities in energy storage systems that might offset losses in vehicles. However, the lead battery industry faces a much more immediate problem in China where a major change in the regulations covering the sale and use of electric bicycles (e-bikes) came into effect in April this year. CHR Metals estimates that around 40% of lead demand in China, and 20% globally, is accounted for by batteries used to power e-bikes and e-trikes in China. While standards existed for e-bikes dating back into the late 1990s, these were ignored and unenforced. Regulations promulgated in 2018 set new standards for e-bikes specifically limiting the weight and maximum allowed speed and these are now being enforced with vigour. Moreover, it will be difficult for e-bikes to meet the new weight limit of 55kg if powered by lead-acid batteries.

Does this mean the permanent loss of a very important market for lead-acid batteries in China or are there other developments which will mitigate the impact of the new e-bike regulations? The presentation will discuss the evolution of the market for e-bikes/trikes in China, explain what is happening now following the introduction of new the regulations and look at likely developments over the short to medium-term and the impact on lead demand.


Huw Roberts is an economist and co-founder with Claire Hassall of CHR Metals Limited. The company has an international reputation for providing in-depth analysis of the global zinc and lead industries, offering particular insight into developments in China. It also publishes detailed forecasts of global industrial production in its regular monthly report, Global IP Watch. Huw’s career in the metals industry included working for an LME broker, a number of years with a mining company and senior positions in metals industry consultancy. CHR Metals was established in 2000 and has offices in the UK and China.

Huw Roberts

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