A year after a coalition of clean transportation sector leaders pledged to work together to drive progress forward on Canada’s battery supply chain, Accelerate is born
Canada may be one step closer to having an integrated EV battery supply chain realized with the launch of a national alliance group dedicated to the cause: Accelerate.
Founded by 21 core members representing nearly every province and facet of the zero emission transportation movement from mining to manufacturing, Accelerate’s goal is to harness the momentum of a fragmented industry to form an industrial strategy that will make Canada competitive on the global stage for batteries.
“As we are thinking about this opportunity it’s very important to think of it as a comprehensive supply chain that includes everything from assembly workers, passenger vehicles and medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, but also the infrastructure pieces,” says Moe Kabbara, interim executive director at Accelerate in an interview with Electric Autonomy Canada.
“This is really about a just transition for the workers and making sure that we can maintain our sector and grow it as part of a clean energy future.”
With their purpose statement in mind, the Accelerate coalition is faced with a daunting task that the organization has broken into six critical action items:
- Develop an industrial roadmap for building out Canada’s zero emission vehicle and infrastructure supply chains;
- Advocate for policy instruments from federal and provincial governments to support the ZEV supply chain;
- Enable collaboration and partnerships across the supply chain;
- Facilitate and attract investments into the Canadian ZEV industry;
- Promote the economic benefits of a Canadian ZEV supply chain to the public; and
- Create a talent pipeline aligned with the needs of the emerging ZEV supply chain.
Simple? No. But if a supply chain is established it could be transformative for Canada.
“These founding members are trying to take this from an idea to reality by demonstrating the value that this type of Alliance can bring,” says Kabbara.
“What we really want this alliance to be is a forum where companies come together to align on policy advocacy, on developing an industrial roadmap for the country, on developing partnerships. Members can join their voices, ally together and contribute to ensuring that policies and also partnerships are being developed to benefit the industry as a whole.”
Less talk, more action
The philosophy at Accelerate is simple: get moving — fast.
The core membership names could adorn a Canadian clean transportation wall of fame, but it’s not brand recognition that Accelerate was hunting when shaping the coalition. The X factor, says Kabbara, for each of the members is their hunger to seize the opportunity of a national battery supply chain now.
“There is lots of rhetoric, lots of conferences, lots of information sharing and great wishes, but no action plan. Traditionally, we talk a great story. We’re beyond the stage of talking,” says Ian London, executive director of the Canadian Critical Minerals and Materials Alliance.
“One thing that Accelerate and the partners bring is an industrial strategy. A battery supply chain requires industrial solutions and needs to be industry-led and government supported. Hopefully, our federal and provincial jurisdictions wake up to the fact that industry is putting its cards on the table.”
One of the challenges Accelerate faces in order to try and galvanize tangible action towards a supply chain is convincing both government and investors that Canada has more to offer than raw feedstock to foreign manufacturers and that it’s a disservice to Canadians that more value-added products are not made here.
According to a May 2021 Clean Energy Canada report, the majority of batteries — 80 per cent — are made in China, South Korea and Japan. Europe, which has its own battery alliance, is starting to claim a healthy market share with 15 battery manufacturing factories under construction and plans to be entirely battery self-sufficient by 2025. But despite boasting some of the largest OEMs in the world, the United States is barely making any batteries and Canada none at all despite having some of the richest stores of raw minerals available in the world.
“Canada has traditionally had a natural resource strategy of we will take it out of the ground and give it to somebody else to add that value,” says London.
“There is nothing magical is an industrial strategy: don’t give up your resources, only sell value-added products. Now that all the parties are getting to the table — not just a mining sector, or midstream processing, or academics, or an auto manufacturer — Accelerate brings that full swath across the value chain.”
An inclusive alliance
For Accelerate the full swath of stakeholders includes ensuring that alternative zero emission fuel sources like hydrogen fuel cell and indirectly impacted industries like electricians have their interests well-represented.
“People often don’t make the connection. They think ‘aren’t batteries and fuel cells competitors?’ No, they’re not, they’re allies. They’re allies in allowing electrification of transit and of transportation in all applications,” says Mark Kirby, president and CEO of The Canadian Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association.
“Our competitors are Ford F-150 diesel pickups. Together [batteries and fuel cell] provide a complete solution, which will allow the market in total to grow faster.”
Accelerate views the transition to zero emission transportation as an opportunity that everyone should have equal opportunity to benefit from. For every type of vehicle that’s on the road, hundreds of thousands of jobs are directly and indirectly affected by a transition to electric. Many works require up-skilling, support and education in order to successfully transition to zero emission transportation and cement what London calls “our human resource wealth.”
Kabbara says that goal is what brought organizations like the Ivey Foundation and Unifor to the alliance.
“Essentially the coalition of organizations came together to support Canada’s transition to net zero and secure the long term competitiveness of the auto sector,” says Kabbara. “Ivey’s interested in ensuring a just transition for the auto workers by creating more well-paying jobs in the sector. Unifor is representing the workers on the assembly line and in Ontario they played a very critical role in maintaining jobs in that sector over the years.”
While the 11-month lead up to Accelerate was a race to launch, the next 14 months is about deliberate, grassroots planning and building ensuring that the momentum generated from launch keeps snowballing. After all, the European Battery Alliance started with 16 members in 2017 and today they are over 600 members.
“Membership is going to be a critical milestone in the first year and also ensuring that we are able to develop industrial roadmap that can quantify and name the exact opportunities within the supply chain and also provide a provide a pathway and recommendations of how to actually accomplish them,” says Kabbara.
“That mirrors some of the work that we’ve seen from other jurisdictions like the U.S. on the lithium ion blueprint that came out recently and some of the national battery strategies that we’ve seen in Europe.”
Accelerate has already held talks with alliances from other parts of the world to learn about best practices, hard lessons and explore where there are opportunities for collaboration. But the focus of the coalition is, uncharacteristically for Canadians, to stay focussed on furthering Canada’s interests, first and fitting into the global marketplace, second.
“I’m 70 years old. I’m getting a little tired of watching us let these opportunities dribble away,” says London.
“Can it be done? We’re going to give it our best shot. The world’s moving towards electrification of transportation…Canada has its moment. What I don’t think it realizes is how fast the world is moving. I look at the Manhattan Project — amazing what could be done, if you want to. Automotive is a very big sector and climate is a very big sector. But you got to declare a mission.”