Sealed lead-acid batteries for automotive, industrial use prevail

Makers are setting their sights on new applications such as solar and wind energy storage systems.

Rising demand from the automotive, telecom, electric power and transportation industries are spurring growth in China’s sealed lead-acid battery segment. Models for vehicle or motorcycle starting batteries, electric vehicles and industrial use take up nearly 90 percent of the country’s total output.

At present, almost all automotive starting batteries are of the sealed lead-acid type. To power up the starter motor, lights and ignition system, suppliers eye products with good high-current discharge performance, better environmental adaptability, and strong reliability and stability.

Competitiveness-boosting strategies are pushing manufacturers to develop variants for emerging markets, including solar and wind energy storage systems.

Applications are likewise reaching the UPS, security and aviation fields.

Further, the growing popularity of new energy industries and
3G networks is expected to bolster sales in the years ahead. Companies forecast a more than 10 percent CAGR for the line in the next five years, with 2015 output reaching 244 million kVAh.

China is currently the largest manufacturing base for sealed lead-acid batteries in the world, accounting for 45 percent of global output. The line is pursued by more than 2,000 makers, with those concentrating on the category numbering 300. The provinces of Zhejiang, Guangdong, Jiangsu, Hebei and Hubei are the major sourcing hubs.

In the period January to July this year, China achieved a total output of 787.2 million kVAh, up 3 percent from the same period in 2010. Production last year hit 144.2 million kVAh at an export value of .765 billion.

Overcoming industry challenges

The biggest challenge makers in this line face stems from stricter state regulations on the use of lead, a key ingredient in manufacture. Companies also battle climbing raw material costs.

Sealed lead-acid battery production accounts for about 70 percent of domestic lead consumption, which is estimated to reach 4.1 million tons by end-2011. This positions China as the world’s top consumer of refined lead.

Lead poisoning incidents, however, have prompted the Ministry of Environmental Protection to start a nationwide crackdown on lead-acid battery operations to enforce environmental standards on the booming industry more strictly. As of the end-July, nearly 2,000 plants have been inspected by a joint initiative of nine government departments. Of the 1,930 sealed lead-acid battery production, assembly and recycling plants scrutinized, operations in more than half were suspended and 583 manufacturing mills shut down. The factories were forced to close for a variety of reasons, ranging from improper disposal of hazardous waste to small production scale and poor technical standards.

In addition, the China Battery Industry Association has drafted an “access mechanism” program to reduce pollution and improve the competitiveness of the sector. The regulations, which are likely to affect the output rates of some companies, will specify the requirements for new projects. Such requirements cover total amount control, industrial layout, technical equipment and manufacturing technique used, and safety and environmental protection measures. These access controls will be officially released in 1H12.

Supply in China constitutes 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 24 and 36V models, with the capacity ranging from 0.5 to 3,000Ah. All are valve-regulated types.