Pedal Power is a Hit for Lead Batteries
It sounds like a cue for a song. There are a hundred million electric bicycles in China. But even though it will never be a hit, the fact is sweet music to the ears of the World’s lead-acid battery makers.
E-bikes, as they are known, are pedal-powered but have an electric motor to give them a boost up to a Government-imposed limit of 12mph. However, the demands placed on the small lead-acid batteries that power the motors mean they have to be replaced around every 12 months.
That means that approximately one million tonnes of lead — nearly a third of China’s total lead production — goes into the manufacture of lead-acid batteries for e-bikes every year.
Experts predict that the e-bike phenomenon, which has already taken off in Japan and Holland, is likely to boom throughout South East Asia and India where economic growth is putting personal transportation with the reach of millions of people.
The Chinese e-bike boom is a direct result of government policy which made the development of the technology an official goal almost 20 years ago. The extensive bicycle lanes that criss-cross many Chinese cities and high licensing fees on conventional petrol-powered scooters gave e-bike manufacturers a ready-made market.
Today, the Chinese account for around 90 per cent of the 23 million e-bikes that are sold annually around the world.
Dr David Wilson, Director of the respected International Lead Association (ILA), said: “The future for this market clearly has enormous potential, not only in China but also in many other countries where car ownership is only a distant dream for many people.
“Despite having been around for a long time, lead-acid batteries continue to serve the automotive industry well and remain a competing technology — lithium ion and nickel-metal hydride batteries for example can be up to 25 times more expensive to buy. And in markets where price will always be a major consideration that’s a massive influencing factor.”