Building skills to boost Europe’s battery value chain

Frank Gielen, Education Director at EIT InnoEnergy, outlines the role of the EBA Academy in developing Europe’s battery value chain.

In 2021, global electric vehicle (EV) sales were up 109% on the previous year, with 2.3 million sold in Europe as the continent increases its share of the market. Europe’s growing appetite for e-mobility is great news for its ambitions as a sustainability leader and its ability to implement a European battery value chain.

However, the same cannot be said for its lithium-ion battery production capacity. In 2020, Europe accounted for just 6% of global capacity, behind Asia on 85%, and the US on 9%. It is worth remembering that EVs are only part of the demand-side picture. Our dependence on dictators in control of oil and gas flows increases the urgency of energy independence and the renewable energy transition, of which battery storage is a key enabler. On top of that, there are growing markets for the likes of electromobility, residential storage, and grid-scale storage which will also add significant demand to
the equation.

In other words, despite significant successes, Europe’s demand for batteries has outpaced its ability to produce them and support the surrounding supply chain infrastructure at the scale required. Without a sharp increase in manufacturing capacity, European companies are destined to become nearly entirely reliant on imports, and countries in Europe will miss out on a large segment of the battery value chain. For an international community that boasts such a wealth of technical talent and holds sincere aspirations to lead the world in shifting to a more sustainable economy, Europe needs to take advantage of the current opportunity.

What can be done to deliver that sharp increase in manufacturing capacity?

At a high level, we can identify two avenues for action: building a European raw materials supply chain, and massively expanding, accelerating, and diversifying the pool of talent with the necessary skills to build and operate a supercharged European battery sector. However, while the former problem has attracted a lot of attention, activity in the latter avenue has been relatively understated.

That is, until recently. Now, initiatives are afoot to rectify the deficiency and switch the European store of battery skills from slow- to rapid-charging.

The European Battery Alliance and job creation

In 2017, the European Commission launched the European Battery Alliance (EBA), which is tasked with establishing an innovative, sustainable, and globally competitive European battery value chain.

To date, the EBA has helped launch more than 111 major battery-related projects, including more than 20 gigafactories either planned or already under construction, such as Sweden’s famous Northvolt – one of EIT InnoEnergy’s three unicorns it has successfully supported as part of its sustainable innovation portfolio.

These projects are expected to create between three to four million direct and indirect jobs by 2025, 800,000 of which will require re- and up-skilled workers equipped with battery-specific expertise they do not have today.

Needless to say, re- and up-skilling 800,000 people in three years is a gargantuan undertaking. Traditional pedagogic methods such as postgraduate degrees and in-person, small-group training courses are unlikely to be sufficiently scaleable to achieve what is required on their own. A diversification of approach is required, including one-to-many, mass educational materials that will be critical to achieving the breadth of upskilling. However, simply uploading videos or written materials will not be engaging enough to ensure the depth of upskilling that Europe needs.

Creating a well-informed, well-resourced skills strategy

As the knowledge and innovation community responsible for the industrial side of the EBA, EIT InnoEnergy launched the EBA Academy in 2021, as the flagship programme designed to reskill the European battery value chain.

The Academy aims to create a true education and training ecosystem for interested businesses, leveraging the knowledge and experience of EIT InnoEnergy’s researchers, entrepreneurs, businesses, and thought leaders, plus key players from 18 different countries across Europe. There are already more than 30 digital courses and learning activities, which have served 40,000 learners so far.

The design of the ecosystem draws on decades of accumulated experience delivering sustainability-focused, digital-first materials, and effective online educational methods for precision learning. We work closely (and not in competition) with the EBA250 and its 750 partners to understand future plans, and thus, human capital and skills needs across the value chain. We can then aggregate these findings to develop skills intelligence – whereby we learn the common factors across the sector so that individual countries and companies can focus on the needs and solutions specific to them.

Crucially, the European Commission has recently awarded EIT InnoEnergy €10m in funding to develop, scale, and operate the EBA Academy in order to help bridge the skills gap. With these resources in place, the Academy is ready to directly train and certify 100,000 workers in the short term, before working with Member States to broaden access to 700,000 further workers across at least 15 countries.

In doing so, the EBA Academy will have created a strong industrial education backbone for the battery sector, which can continue to deliver value well beyond 2025 and the initial target of 800,000 jobs. By 2030, the European battery sector should have enough capacity to supply 11 million EVs per year. The 2025 targets are only the first milestone on a far longer, grander journey.

Of course, battery technology does not exist in isolation. Batteries are only one cornerstone technology in the broader energy transition and the new European Green Deal. Other sectors and value chains will have similar skills gaps to bridge and similar teaching and training challenges. In this respect, the EBA Academy has the potential to have a far wider impact on sustainability progress by establishing a template for others to follow both in Europe and worldwide. Ultimately, the EBA Academy is the starting point for a vision of a European Green Deal Academy, where all rapidly changing industrial value chains will be served with the same educational infrastructure blueprint.

There are many hurdles to overcome before Europe’s battery value chain can deliver on its full potential and supercharge European prosperity and decarbonisation. New raw material supply chains must be created from scratch; new battery chemistries may be required; and various policy and regulatory issues will need to be surmounted at both EU and national levels. However, none of these challenges will be solved without an appropriately driven, informed, and skilled workforce. As such, though it typically attracts less attention than more tangible supply-chain-based issues, we can argue that the battery skills gap is the foundational challenge for the European battery value chain. Therefore, the workforce needs to be plugged into rapid-charge education infrastructure.

Frank Gielen, Education Director, EIT InnoEnergy

Frank Gielen
Education Director
EIT InnoEnergy

Please note, this article will also appear in the tenth edition of our quarterly publication

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