Battery Chats: Sarah Montgomery
Learning about blockchain and battery supply chains with Sarah Montgomery, Co-Founder and CEO at Infyos
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In a simplified explanation, a blockchain is a type of shared database that differs from a typical database in the way that it stores information; blockchains store data in blocks that are then linked together via cryptography (we wrote about blockchain in-depth in our other post). There are several key features of blockchain:
Decentralization: Information on transactions is spread in the network.
Immutable: Data stored in the chain are immutable and permanent which facilitates the detection of possible frauds.
Accessibility: All transactions are shared with all users which allows greater transparency.
Blockchain technology could potentially be used as a platform for battery tracking to allow for greater transparency and traceability across the supply chain from cradle to grave. It ensures visibility on features like chemistry, authenticity, performance, life expectancy, and so on, and also has the potential to prevent misuse.
Making batteries. Raw materials come from mines across the country, are processed by various chemical companies, and when combined with many other components before going into cells, packs, and then full working systems.
Using batteries. The behaviour and usage of batteries are all completely different based on various applications (electric scooters are night and day with eVTOLs).
Re-using and recycling batteries. A lot of data is required with different batteries coming to the end of life in order to know what to do with them next, what second-life applications they should go to, or whether they should be recycled.
Full writeup on blockchain:
🔋 Battery Chats: Sarah Montgomery, Co-Founder and CEO at Infyos
We were excited to learn more about Infyos!
Sarah is co-founder and CEO of Infyos, the digital platform that helps battery supply chain players manage, measure and improve their sustainability. Sarah has been part of the World Economic Forum’s Global Battery Alliance and their Greenhouse Gas Working Group, the industry consortium for improving the sustainability of the battery supply chain, and she has advised the UK Government’s COP Roundtable on battery supply chains. Sarah previously built the China and Asia expansion at Everledger, the supply chain technology scale-up which uses blockchain and IoT to trace diamonds, gemstones and other materials from source to end of life. She is Co-Head of Young China Watchers in London, speaks Chinese and has lived in Beijing and Taipei.
Tell us the Sarah origin story. How did you become interested in batteries and their supply chains?
Back in 2014, I moved to Beijing which is one of the most polluted cities in the world. I became fascinated by the unintended consequences of China’s rapid economic rise and how this relates to its position as a global manufacturing and consumption powerhouse. Around the same time, I started exploring blockchain technology’s application in supply chains and that’s where my journey into using technology to improve the impact of global supply chains began.
I built the China and Asia expansion for a supply chain traceability company called Everledger which is best known for using blockchain to prevent unethical sourcing of diamonds. We expanded across many industries and I started working with other mined materials including the metals going into clean technology such as batteries. I wanted to support the industry’s sustainable transition to a battery-powered future and joined the World Economic Forum’s Global Battery Alliance. I began to think about how I could more positively contribute to accelerating the transition to more sustainable supply chains behind clean technology.
What does Infyos do and what was the origin of the company?
Infyos is on a mission to build a future where every electric vehicle battery is sustainable. Right now, we’re very far away from this but regulators, shareholders, and the wider world are pushing for change. Carmakers, battery makers and mining companies are struggling to measure and improve the social and environmental impact of their complex global supply chains. That’s where Infyos comes in. We’re a digital platform underpinned by blockchain that helps battery players manage, measure and improve their supply chain sustainability.
Myself and my co-founder Tony met as part of Carbon13, the UK’s leading venture builder for start-ups focused on the biggest challenges surrounding climate change. Tony and I both come from supply chain sustainability and technology worlds and have seen how technology and data in themselves often don’t lead to meaningful action and improvements on the ground. Tony was previously co-founder and CTO at Pact Coffee where he built their entire supply chain tech and operations from source to consumer and I’ve been working with some of the world’s largest brands and technology companies to improve their supply chains. Now we’re combining our expertise in building supply chains and supply chain technology to help battery supply chain players have an easy-to-use platform to collaborate and improve the sustainability impacts of their entire supply chain.
What are the fundamental problems today with the battery supply chain?
Batteries are an essential component of meeting our 100% electric mobility goals. The challenge is that battery supply chains are hugely complex, global and opaque. Materials are sourced from multiple locations, often with five to ten steps in each material supply chain. Regulation, investor and consumer pressure means battery and carmakers are held most accountable for their supply chain activities but they have limited information or ability to change the materials, supply chain stakeholders, regulations, or sustainability impacts.
Hardly a week goes by without news of supply chain sustainability challenges. Human rights, child labour, indigenous community rights, health and safety incidents, and civilian protests are becoming increasingly common concerns across many critical battery materials. Supply chain carbon emissions are another big challenge. The production of electric vehicles produces more carbon emissions in comparison to the production of an internal combustion engine. However, of course, over the lifetime of the vehicle, electric vehicles produce a third as much carbon emissions as an internal combustion engine. Lots of manufacturing of batteries is currently powered by coal and this needs to switch to renewables. This means that where a battery is produced and the energy mix associated with it is important if carmakers are to meet their net-zero supply chain goals.
Another problem as electric vehicle adoption rapidly increases is what happens to batteries when they get to the end of life. There is minimal infrastructure for recycling and resource recovery of batteries at the end of their life in a car but they still typically have about 80% capacity left so there are big opportunities for repurposing and recycling. Updated policy and corporate action are required to enforce a more circular approach to batteries and the incoming updates to EU battery regulation look set to support this. As I talked about in Sifted recently, the complexity of sustainability impacts is difficult for one player to tackle alone and so that’s where tools that enable collaboration along the supply chain are essential.
What are battery makers today doing to address supply chain issues?
Battery makers have typically been assessed on the performance, price and delivery timeline of their batteries. However the increasing spotlight on the supply chain problems I just mentioned means that battery makers must have credible sustainability strategies and processes in order to sell to carmakers and other customers.
This has been driven by multiple factors. Many governments and global organizations are now enforcing a step change in regulation to make carmakers accountable for mandatory measures to improve environmental and social impact along the battery supply chain. Additionally, customers of car manufacturers are putting increasing pressure on battery and car manufacturers to proactively address their supply chain impact.
At the moment, battery makers tend to work with consulting firms or traceability companies to support different aspects of their sustainability strategy, supply chain engagement or impact measurement. This lets them get tailored support to start to address sustainability issues but there’s still demand for solutions that manage the wide breadth of sustainability challenges facing battery players.
Blockchain traceability and physically tracking metals is increasingly talked about in the battery industry. How are you approaching this and how do you see it evolving?
Our main goal at Infyos is how to make the battery supply chain as sustainable as possible by supporting battery players on their entire sustainability. The Infyos platform is focused on being an all-in-one solution to go from sustainability strategy to operations to impact on the ground. This includes supply chain analysis, strategic planning, impact management and supplier management. It lets us build unique digital certificates for each battery and their associated impacts but we believe it doesn’t make sense for most players to physically track metals - yet! That’s because so many of the sustainability improvements we urgently need aren’t related to getting into the nitty-gritty detail of bagging and tagging but rather are about having enough data to be able to improve impacts in the most efficient way. As an example, given that we know 70% of the world’s cobalt comes from the DRC, most companies today can assume that it is highly likely some of their cobalt is coming from the DRC. Rather than spending millions of pounds bagging and tagging cobalt to get traceability back to mines in the DRC, it is much more impactful for battery companies to use their resources to directly engage with the community and build impact programs in the DRC.
What are your thoughts on the recent lithium and nickel price volatility and how does this affect the Infyos business?
Global supply or demand shocks have significant impacts on resource pricing. The Russian invasion of Ukraine led the cost of nickel to increase by 45% in a day. Given the limited alternative sources of these materials, it isn’t surprising to see this type of price shock and they won’t be going away anytime soon.
These price shocks point to the bigger problem of resource scarcity and supply chain security. Regional dominance in battery resources is having a large sway on supply and demand in the industry; for example, 70% of cobalt is produced in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and 80% of lithium refining is in China. Price volatility highlights the urgent need to understand where battery materials are sourced and the associated risks associated with these regions and material procurement. It is important to emphasise that battery and car manufacturers need to proactively work to manage these risks, even though the risks may be much further up the supply chain and therefore previously beyond their boundaries of control. We’re going to see leading players increasingly moving towards vertical integration and long term contracts with critical suppliers across the supply chain. Just like the announcement from ACC about working with Umicore and Northvolt working with various mining companies.
What does Infyos development plan look like for the next year? Chance to talk about fundraising/hiring/etc.
We’re just at the beginning of the transition to electric mobility and much in the same way Infyos is just beginning our journey towards building a world in which batteries are truly sustainable. The next steps for us are to continue to support more battery players in their journey towards sustainability, develop our technology and build an amazing team and company culture to make our mission of sustainable batteries a reality - as cheesy as that sounds!
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