What do you find most interesting about the lead battery industry?
That our campaign theme “Essential Energy Everyday” so accurately describes the industry and its products. Until joining BCI I had no idea how prevalent lead batteries are in our lives and that we unknowingly experience their power dozens of times a day. I knew there was a battery in my car, and if I had really thought about it might have realized they power golf carts and forklifts. But they’re everywhere! Maybe the reason the general public doesn’t recognize or consciously think about lead batteries is because they are so widely used, and function so reliably – we can spend our time worrying about other matters because lead batteries are on the job and keep our lives humming along.
What do you feel are the most pressing issues the industry is facing?
The real possibility that policymakers may move too quickly to mandate replacement technologies that aren’t ready for prime time. We’re experiencing an enormous amount of attention around electric vehicles and lithium-ion batteries. In some parts of the world it seems like there is a regulatory rush to set target dates to phase out lead batteries and move to lithium-ion. But the facts that newer technologies are vastly more expensive than lead batteries, that there are questions about ethically sourcing components like cobalt, and that only around three percent are recycled receive less attention. We need to ensure that there is a level playing field for all technologies.
Our research has shown that policymakers believe our industry is old, dirty and facing obsolescence. Talk about fake news! We need to change that perception, and I believe we can. For example, the same research found that when policymakers learned of our high rate of battery recycling they viewed the industry more favorably. We saw that same reaction from California regulators last month during a public workshop to discuss whether the state should move to impose more regulations on lead batteries and move to alternative and “safer” technologies. They were surprised to hear even an NGO speaker and frequent lead critic raise questions about the sustainability of lithium-ion batteries compared to lead batteries.
Why is the Advancing Lead Batteries Communications Initiative (ALBCI) so crucial to the future of lead batteries?
To remain a viable industry in a rapidly changing energy environment, we have to tell our story and the initiative provides that platform. Regulatory bodies are buying into the hype of lithium-ion batteries generated by the excitement and mystique of Tesla and Elon Musk. He’s a visionary billionaire who aims to send cargo to Mars in five years, followed by people within the decade. How do lead batteries compete with technology from someone who is bringing our childhood fantasies to life?
That’s the role of the initiative, to be the storyteller for the lead battery industry to the people who influence our future. We aren’t running a consumer campaign, we’re narrowly focused on the 1200-1500 regulators and lawmakers at the federal and state levels who shape energy, transportation, health and environmental policies.
Through social and digital media we will tell them about technology advancements in the industry and the vital role of lead batteries to power our economy. Lead batteries aren’t in the developmental stage like some chemistries, they are well understood and can meet energy storage needs today, not some future day. We’ll surprise them with the fact that all electric vehicles (with the exception of one model) also have a lead battery. We want them to understand that as the country’s energy policy has shifted from energy production, to energy storage, lead batteries play an important role in that transition.
Other chapters of our story will center on worker safety programs and voluntary pledges that have successfully reduced blood lead levels. As mentioned earlier, our near perfect recycling rate delivers a powerful, documented, sustainability message. Early next year we’ll publish a study that will provide details on the economic contributions of the industry, the number of jobs we provide, and the fact that these are well-paying manufacturing jobs.
Our biggest hurdle to success will be mining our member companies for real-life examples to bring color to our narrative. We want to hear about how you’ve helped customers solve problems, the cool application you’ve developed or how you’re making a positive difference in your community. These examples will be turned into social media and blog posts that vividly make the industry “real” and engage our target audiences. I encourage everyone who reads this to feel free to call or email me with examples that help tell this story.
The bottom line is that for decades we’ve been quietly delivering solid, reliable products. But in a changing marketplace that chases the shiny new thing, we must discard our modest persona and proudly tell the very good story of the lead battery and recycling industry