Original title: business model has not yet formed, power battery recycling “hard bone” hard to bite
Securities Times reporter Ye Lingzhen Mao Kexin
In 2020, new energy vehicles will enter the “first year of marketization”, and the news that power batteries will meet the first wave of “decommissioning tide” has once again triggered a hot discussion in the market, making the new industry of battery recycling stand on the top. However, the seemingly attractive “cake” has become a hard nut in practice, making the entrants confused.
The market game is everywhere, and the information is not transparent, which breeds a lot of interest rent-seeking space, and buries the hidden danger of safety and environmental protection. As a “sandwich layer”, power battery recycling enterprises are facing many challenges under the pressure of “joint forces” from upstream and downstream.
How to achieve stable profits is a common survival problem for recycling enterprises. Before the formation of scale effect, diversified operation, technology upgrading and group heating have become the mainstream mode recognized by the industry. However, it is still a long way to go to clean up the market environment, establish the traceability system and cultivate the awareness of environmental protection. The feasibility of the above scheme has yet to be tested in time.
Recycling outlets exist in name only
Where is the battery? This is the primary problem for battery recycling enterprises.
Interestingly, in the eyes of recycling enterprises, power batteries like “sweet cakes” are turned away by official recycling outlets like “hot potato”.
Recently, a reporter from securities times · e company came to Anhui huiyinghang Automobile Sales Service Co., Ltd., which is located in the famous car Square on Changjiang West Road, Shushan District, Hefei city. This is not only Geely Automobile 4S shop, but also Geely designated new energy vehicle power battery recycling service network. Surprisingly, when asked whether to recycle power batteries in the store, the staff were confused: “I have never heard of lithium battery recycling business, the manufacturer has no relevant policy guidance, and the specific process is not clear. The authorization to sell new energy vehicles in our store was only obtained in 2019. At present, we do not sell fuel vehicles, and there is no case that customers send batteries to the store. ”
Coincidentally, the nearby Anping Toyota sales Service Co., Ltd. is the designated power battery recycling network of FAW Toyota, and the staff also said that they have never heard of battery recycling. “We only started to sell new energy vehicles in recent years, and we don’t have relevant battery handling experience.” The staff in the store told the reporter, “batteries are hazardous wastes. Normally, if customers send batteries to the store, we still need to find qualified enterprises to collect them, and we have to pay a certain fee for them. So even if we receive a customer’s battery, it is unlikely that we will pay the customer the consideration. ”
In 2018, the Ministry of industry and information technology, the Ministry of science and technology, the Ministry of environmental protection and other seven departments jointly issued a document to clarify that vehicle enterprises should bear the main responsibility for power lithium battery recovery, and then a batch of recycling outlets designated by vehicle enterprises or echelon Utilization Enterprises sprang up. According to the website of MIIT, there are 13145 power battery recycling service outlets in China so far.
However, according to the reporter’s on-the-spot visit results and feedback from the industry, the setting of recycling points is more of a mere formality. “Recycling points are set up by vehicle manufacturers to meet the requirements of ministries and commissions. Most of them rely on sales and after-sales outlets. They are not good at the storage and safekeeping of lithium batteries. In addition, the new energy vehicles purchased by individuals have not yet reached the stage of large-scale retirement, and these outlets are basically in a state of no maintenance and no management.” A person in the industry told reporters, “in fact, the power battery is like a baton. The first is whether it can be received, which needs the cooperation of the car owners; the second is whether it can continue to pass down, which requires docking with downstream recycling enterprises.”
Zhang Qian (not her real name), a new energy vehicle owner in Anhui Province, recently dealt with a 6-year-old new energy vehicle. The battery energy density dropped to 80% and the warranty period has expired. “It’s not cost-effective to send them to the 4S store (recycling point). It’s better to trade in the second-hand car market, and the selling price can be higher.” After comparing many channels, Zhang Qian finally sold her car in the second-hand car market. An insider of a car company in East China told reporters that when the first owner buys a new car, the dealer will register and feedback the owner’s information, and the car company can track the vehicle and battery accordingly. Once the first owner sells the car, the tracking chain will be interrupted, and the battery’s whereabouts will be difficult to grasp.
There is a lot of chaos
At present, the batteries retired from new energy vehicles are more scattered in the hands of the main players in the market.
“According to the extended producer responsibility system, vehicle enterprises are the main recycling body of retired power batteries, and when purchasing supporting batteries, some vehicle enterprises will sign some conditions with battery manufacturers for the recovery of attached power batteries, so battery manufacturers are an important part of the recovery, which also meets the requirements of extended producer responsibility.” Liu Dong, the person in charge of the battery recycling division of Hefei GuoXuan battery materials Co., Ltd., told the reporter, “as new energy vehicles were mainly used in the public sector in the past few years, the volume of this part is also large. At present, it is mainly concentrated in the hands of various operators. There are also some car dismantling companies and insurance companies that have a lot of retired batteries on hand. ”
According to the data of China Automotive Technology Research Center, in 2020, the total retired power batteries in China will exceed 200000 tons (about 25gwh), and by 2025, the total retired power batteries will be about 780000 tons (about 116gwh). According to the prediction of power battery application branch, considering the exponential growth of retired batteries in the future, the scale of power battery recycling market will exceed 100 billion yuan by 2030. In the face of attractive market prospects, batch enterprises have poured in. According to the data of tianyancha professional edition, up to now, there are 242 enterprises in China whose business scope includes “power battery recycling”, of which 85 will be added in 2020, accounting for more than one third.
“Everyone is talking about echelon utilization and recycling. I think it’s too impatient. As a matter of fact, the companies that really come in are mixed up, which turns out that more batteries are idling, and they don’t use the scene that they really need to use. ” Chu Bing, chairman of xunying New Energy Group Co., Ltd. (hereinafter referred to as “xunying new energy”), told the securities times, “in fact, there are not so many batteries that can be recycled through formal channels in the market.”
In the fierce competition of more monks and less meat, the price of battery recycling has been bid up, and the professional recycling enterprises are suffering. “As long as it is fair competition, we are not worried about the high cost of procurement, but now we may be facing unfair competition. If the price is higher in the bidding process, but some enterprises have poor facilities and some are just second dealers, we can’t do it for others. ” Zhang Yuping, deputy general manager of greenbeauty, told reporters.
Chen Weimin, research director of Anhui Jintong new energy automobile industry fund, said: “at the current time, the retired batteries have not reached the peak of dismantling and recycling. The enterprises that used to arrange the recycling of battery materials invested a lot in the past, and they were dragged down by the fixed cost in the case of insufficient supply. Most of the operations are in recession. In terms of echelon utilization, if the enterprises are not sensitive to the downstream application market Strong, inflexible play, it is easy to lose competitive advantage
In fact, as early as 2018, the Ministry of industry and information technology announced the “list of enterprises meeting the industry standard conditions for comprehensive utilization of waste power batteries for new energy vehicles”, that is, the “white list” in the field of power battery recycling. There are 5 enterprises in the first batch of “white list”, and it will be expanded to 22 by the end of 2020. However, the white list does not have mandatory exclusivity, and informal enterprises can still run rampant in the industry.
If a large number of waste batteries flow into small workshops, it will bury hidden dangers of safety and environmental protection. Zhang Yuping stressed that the used batteries are still charged. If the insulation is not paid attention to during the disassembly process, there will be a high risk, “sometimes the screwdriver that goes in may be melted directly.”
If the production process of echelon utilization is not standardized and the quality is not controlled, the safety problem will be extended to the consumer market. “If there is not a clean assembly workshop and good quality inspection, the retired large battery pack on the car simply reconstitutes into several small battery packs, which is tantamount to dispersing a big safety hazard into multiple safety hazards.” Zhang Yuping said.
The shocking scene is being staged in reality. According to a person in the industry, a group of battery recycling enterprises have gathered in Longgang, Dongguan and nearby Huizhou. “They have established a close network with each other, and most of them have no formal qualification. The dismantling process is manual, and the unused batteries are discarded in the open air. Batteries that are discarded at will will bulge over a long period of time, and the electrolyte will leak out, causing damage to the land and water quality. ”
It is reported that some enterprises directly resell the batteries after receiving them to earn a price difference. Regular enterprises sometimes have to buy batteries from second dealers.
“However, with the subsequent large-scale effect of decommissioned batteries, the price will become more and more transparent. Individual traders need more capital to monopolize the regional market. Moreover, when there is no shortage of batteries in the market, it will be more and more difficult for traders to find the next home, which will help the price return to rationality.” Chu Bing told reporters.
It’s hard to be a matchmaker
In fact, the failure to grab the battery is just one of the difficulties faced by battery recycling enterprises. The current situation is that even if there is a battery in front of us, it is just a “black box” that is difficult to judge the quality and price according to it.
“Our third-party recycling enterprise is actually a” matchmaker “. When the front-end has resources, it will look at the back-end needs. When the back-end has needs, it will go to the front-end to look for resources. If we don’t rely on both sides, it will be very difficult and painful.” Wu Ying, head of a battery recycling company in South China, vividly described the situation.
It is reported that there are two main ways to deal with waste power batteries: echelon utilization and recycling. Echelon utilization refers to the recycling of waste batteries into energy storage power stations, low-speed electric vehicles, small electrical appliances and other fields with low energy density requirements, which is mainly suitable for lithium iron phosphate batteries with longer life and more stable performance; recycling refers to the extraction of valuable metal materials from waste batteries, which is suitable for ternary lithium batteries containing expensive metals such as cobalt and nickel Pool.
How about the composition and residual value of a waste battery? Before testing on the production line, recycling enterprises have no way to grasp these situations. In the exhibition hall of xunying new energy, the reporter of securities times saw that there is a two-dimensional code on each disassembled cell, which is used for product traceability management. “We can’t see the battery information by scanning the QR code, which is more like the internal management system of the battery factory.” Chu Bing told reporters that when enterprises recycle, the seller will inform the factory information and basic performance, which needs to test the integrity of both sides. “In the case of opaque information, there will be more space for rent-seeking interests. It is even more difficult to evaluate the value of batteries. Basically, it depends on experience to gamble.”
In fact, as early as 2018, the state has issued relevant regulations on the traceability management of new energy vehicle power battery recycling, and established a traceability management platform. A recycling enterprise who did not want to be named told the reporter: “as far as I know, not all battery information is recorded in the system. After all, it is not compulsory. Moreover, the information uploaded by battery factories, vehicle enterprises and recycling enterprises is not interconnected, that is to say, the source information of batteries can not be seen by logging into the traceability system. ”
Wu Ying also said that automobile enterprises and battery factories, as battery producers, have more battery data, but they will not open to the industrial chain, because it involves their trade secrets, technical routes, etc., and the data itself has development value. “This is a data barrier.”
As the cost of power battery is gradually decreasing, the original fuzzy valuation system is more contradictory. Li Liang, vice president of Beijing Huasheng Xinli Technology Co., Ltd., has been engaged in the research of lithium battery industry for a long time. He told reporters that in 2015, the cost of a power battery was more than 2 yuan, but now it only costs about 1 yuan. The seller was unwilling to sell the battery at a low price when he bought it at a high price, while the buyer’s bid is generally based on the existing price plus a certain discount. There is an irresistible relationship between the two The contradiction of reconciliation.
Li Liang revealed that because the amount of retired ternary batteries on the market is small and it is difficult to get the goods, many small enterprises doing recycling have gradually given up power batteries and turned to dismantling lithium cobalt oxide batteries for mobile phones and laptops. The cobalt content in the batteries is about 60%, and the recycling cost is higher.
The value of echelon utilization is controversial
Turning to the downstream, under the background of cost reduction of new batteries, the price advantage of echelon batteries is squeezed, the application scenarios are gradually narrowed, and the fluctuation of market demand makes recycling enterprises feel more anxious.
“At present, the retired batteries are all loaded in the early years. Most of them are lithium iron phosphate batteries, which have great echelon utilization value and many downstream application scenarios. In addition, many battery enterprises also use a large number of B products (batteries with capacity and performance not up to standard) for echelon.” Chen Weimin said.
“At present, the whole echelon utilization market is still in a groping stage, and there is no stable customer group, which leads to the lack of front-end supply power.” Wu Ying said.
“At present, the volume of retired batteries is not large. In addition, in the early years, the manufacturing processes of different companies were very different, and the degree of standardization was not high. In the process of dismantling, it was impossible to carry out large-scale assembly line operation, and the cost of each process was uncontrollable.” Li Liang calculated an account for the reporter. The cost of buying a second-hand battery itself is not low. The key is that a lot of time is still needed for subsequent testing, pairing and packing. The cost of equipment and labor input is more than 20 cents per kilowatt hour. “If the cost of the new battery and the echelon battery is almost the same, the new battery is naturally more attractive to customers.”
In the echelon utilization workshop of xunying new energy, a reporter from the securities times saw that although a number of automatic disassembly production lines have been equipped, manual intervention is still needed for feeding, picking and other work, and each production line is equipped with about 4 to 5 workers. According to reports, about 3000 groups of workshops are dismantled daily, and the production capacity of echelon utilization products is 1000 groups / day.
In addition to the cost is not easy to calculate, echelon utilization of the battery is also facing the question of unstable performance. A person from the new energy vehicle industry in East China said that because of the different battery quality, if the consistency measurement is not done well, the “barrel effect” will appear, which will greatly increase the subsequent maintenance costs. “Just like decorating a house, the cost of rough decoration is much lower than that of second-hand decoration. “
The reporter learned that the backup battery of communication base station of China tower used to be the largest application market for echelon utilization, but after 2019, China Tower gradually reduced the frequency of echelon battery.
A person from an energy storage industry in East China also said that he preferred to use new batteries. He told reporters that at present, the source of echelon batteries is limited, and the service life and safety also need to be verified. Although the current purchase cost is lower than that of new batteries, the payback period of energy storage projects is generally 6 to 8 years. During this period, if the echelon batteries have problems, it is easy to argue. After all, it is a new thing. There is no precedent for business operation.
In addition to the energy storage market, other application scenarios of echelon utilization are also facing challenges. According to Wu Ying, echelon batteries can also supply power for street lamps, but the domestic infrastructure is basically saturated, and the single quantity of street lamps is small and scattered; small energy storage of overseas families is also one of the scenes, but the market was seriously impacted by the epidemic situation last year; there is also a two wheel electric vehicle power exchange market, but the competition is also fierce, so it is difficult for large enterprises to find positioning advantages. The reporter learned from people familiar with the matter that Didi’s Qingju motorcycles in various places clearly stipulated that suppliers should not use echelon batteries.
“When the application scenarios are not rich enough, the batteries collected by recycling enterprises are easy to be” overqualified “, resulting in unnecessary waste of resources and reducing the input-output ratio.” Chu Bing said frankly, “how to make a detailed echelon scene and make the best use of retired batteries is an urgent problem for most recycling enterprises.”
It is worth noting that if there is no market for echelon utilization, a large proportion of waste batteries will have nowhere to go. “If the battery has no echelon value, we are not willing to accept it. Finally, we need to find a way to deal with the batteries that have completed all the echelons of life cycle utilization. Now these batteries are flowing in the market, and each of them has its own magic power. If there is a lack of public welfare and harmless treatment means, the subsequent harm will be considerable. ” Wu Ying said.
Where is the way out?
The business model has not yet taken shape. At present, battery recycling is more dependent on other business forms as a “icing on the cake” existence. For example, Li Liang said that echelon utilization is mainly attached to energy storage, two wheeled vehicle pack plant or battery plant, while recycling is attached to hydrometallurgy plant. If enterprises only rely on echelon or regeneration business to survive, they may lose money.
Greenmead is a leading enterprise in the environmental protection and recycling industry in China. Zhang Yuping said that its power battery recycling business will be profitable in 2019, three years after its initial production. “Green beauty’s advantage is to start with the recycling of waste batteries, which has accumulated 20 years of experience. In addition, there are industrial layout such as home appliance recycling and scrap cars to play a synergistic role, so as to drive the recycling of power batteries.”
For battery recycling enterprises, technology upgrading is a sharp sword to solve the current problems. Zhang Yuping said that for echelon utilization, the problem to be solved is how to achieve rapid and accurate detection, and match the applicable scene; while on the recycling route, it is difficult to crush and separate the battery materials accurate to micron level, efficiently extract resources, and safely and environmentally treat the waste residue. “The development time of this industry is still very short. Now everyone is doing research and development while recycling.”
Qiantai Technology Co., Ltd. of Shenzhen Shantou Special Cooperation Zone was listed on the “white list” at the end of last year. It has independently developed a flexible battery pack disassembly production line, that is, with the help of artificial intelligence automation technology, it can disassemble different types of battery packs with one production line, so as to solve the safety hidden trouble of manual disassembly and improve production efficiency. However, the relevant person in charge of the company said that due to the complicated sources and categories of batteries, and the continuous changes of process technology, it is still necessary to adjust the production line according to the incoming materials at any time in the actual production process.
In addition to technological breakthroughs, recycling enterprises want to get more space, how to “accurate positioning” in the industrial chain is very important. Li Liang believes that in the future, with the introduction and evolution of power exchange mode, life-long warranty and other services, batteries will be gradually concentrated in vehicle factories and battery factories from scattered corners. As vehicle factories generally hand over after-sales of batteries to battery factories, battery factories will become the main body of echelon utilization. Firstly, the battery factory has technical advantages, which can easily solve many disassembly problems; secondly, the battery factory can accurately evaluate the residual value of the battery to maximize the value. Enterprises in the echelon utilization industry chain should pay more attention to how to group up with battery factories.
In Chu Bing’s view, at present, many power battery recycling enterprises have become passive executors, and have not formed the industry development thinking based on the whole life cycle of batteries. He thinks that the battery has been qualitative from the moment it is produced. If you wait until the battery arrives in front of you to think about the layout, it will be too late. Only by deeply participating in product R & D and application research, can we better grasp the battery status and downstream scenarios, and grasp the initiative in the subsequent application. “At present, we have been involved in the field of energy storage, the manufacture and supply of battery packs, and we have brought batteries into the monitoring platform through the big data center. After the value chain is laid out more widely, we can realize the profit complementarity of various sections. How can we not be profitable?”
For the regular enterprises, cutting off the gray area of battery recycling and establishing a transparent and traceable battery data system are the common voice. “Give the battery a unique identification code, so that the source of each circulation link of the battery can be traced, the destination can be traced, and the node can be controlled. I believe that many problems such as rampant small workshops and battery residual value evaluation can be solved. Of course, it needs a process. I just hope it won’t be that long. ” Liu Dong told reporters.
In addition, the awakening of public awareness of environmental protection will be a longer road. The reporter learned that in some developed countries, the waste battery recycling system has been mature. For example, the International Battery Association of the United States has established a “deposit system”. When consumers buy battery products, they need to pay a deposit to the seller. After the scrapped battery is recovered, the seller will return the deposit. In Japan, people have a good sense of recycling, and every sales outlet of battery manufacturers has become a window for reverse return of waste power batteries.
“We hope that one day, the domestic public will be able to consciously practice the concept of environmental protection without relying on policy constraints. At that time, the spring of our large recycling enterprises will come, but before that, we will still be alive. ” Wu Ying said.
(at the request of the interviewee, Wu Ying is a pseudonym)
Photo of this edition: Ye Ling rare edition drawing: Peng Chunxia