Monbat traces its roots back to 1959, when it started the production of lead-acid batteries as a state-owned company, meant primarily for heavy military vehicles. In 1999, it went through privatization process to become Monbat Group and has since became the largest battery producer in Eastern Europe, selling on five continents and 70+ markets with battery production and recycling plants in five different countries. Monbat has been growing steadily in the field of power solutions for renewable energy. Since August 2021, the Group is led by its Chief Executive Officer Viktor Spiriev who predicts a bright future for the BESS lead-acid based solutions.
Following is the full text of an interview with the Group's CEO Viktor Spiriev, first published in The Renewable Energy Sector in Bulgaria report published by SeeNews and Gugushev & Partners Law Office.
Mr. Spiriev, Monbat has a rich history and expertise in lead-acid battery production but there has been a longstanding debate on the superiority of lithium-ion versus lead-acid batteries. What would be your argument in this debate and what are the commercial advantages of lead-acid power solutions, especially in the context of the energy transition and renewables?
I wouldn’t describe the market situation as a debate. Global demand for Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESS) is currently growing so rapid, that both technologies have promising potential and applicability to different client target groups. There are at least three important arguments that support the use of lead-acid batteries. First, lead-acid batteries offer a very competitive initial investment in the BESS equipment. Additionally, new technological developments (additives, novel electrodes, and battery designs) have paved the way toward further increase in their effectiveness. Second, lead-acid batteries fit best in the concept of circular economy (together with renewables) – almost 100% of the battery weight components are recyclable and Monbat Group is among the pioneers and still among the best achievers in this field. Our recycling procedures are well established, and end battery users are stimulated to actively participate in the recycling process, as they receive payback for their used batteries. Third, lead-acid batteries offer proven safety level in operation and can be transported to the customers as non-dangerous goods, whereas lithium-ion analogues belong to Class 9 of the Dangerous goods classification for transport and cannot be transported by air. Even in conventional transportation special packaging is required, adding to the overall costs.
It seems that this segment is indeed headed for further growth. What changes do you expect to take place within it and are there any regulatory events that could propel it further or, on the contrary, hinder its expansion?
Even the conservative estimates suggest BESS has the potential for new business globally with a value from $600M to $1.2BN for lead batteries between now and 2025. However, this growth can be significantly higher (depending on market trends and producer’s capabilities to expand its share) due to the greater levels of uptake of renewable energy generation, a process that has been reinforced by various governments through new climate change targets and policies. Moreover, a wide range of systems will be demanded to support smart grids and remote area power supplies for which our lead batteries are ideally suited. Residential application will be also among the global factors for sector growth. The characteristics of slow charge/ discharge rates are amendable to the technology resulting in an incredibly long life of 12+years in these applications. Monbat industrial batteries are serving their ESS on the Bulgarian Antarctic Base “St. Kliment Ohridski” on Isle of Livingstone for 15+ years – on temperatures of -50°C with 6-month hibernation. These are terrible conditions, and the batteries are still performing normally. Together with the other players in the market Monbat is looking forward to the final edition and gradual implementation of the Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning the batteries and waste batteries. We at Monbat review it rather as a new opportunity for more sustainable future than as an obstacle – the requirement for minimal share of recycled lead is already met until 2035, and we’re currently working on the implementation of battery ‘health-check’ and carbon footprint requirements.
Given your optimism about the performance of lead-acid batteries and the expected growing demand, Monbat surely has some investment plans in this area in the pipeline. Can you lift the curtain a bit on those?
Monbat is targeting a wide range of BESS solutions – from budget-sensitive to state-of-the-art systems. We’re working in two main directions – further development of lead-carbon batteries, offered as a special range in our industrial battery portfolio since 2016 and preparation for the next ‘leap’ in the lead-acid segment – full scale production of bi-polar batteries, competing to lithium-ion in terms of cycling capabilities. The bi-polar monoblock technology allows higher voltage in limited storage space. We are proactively cooperating with the world leader in bi-polar R&D - ABC and in our accredited laboratory MBLab we are successfully testing bi-polar prototypes, proving product and technology conformity.
You can download the report here.