Malaysia is set to venture into the production of lithium-ion batteries, with plans to manufacture 18650 cells in the coming future. According to Malaysia Automotive Robotics and IoT Institute (MARii) CEO Datuk Madani Sahari, battery development forms part of the technology growth slated for the industry in 2019.

A feasibility study is currently being conducted in the country together with a local listed company, which is set to manufacture these cells. The study is expected to be concluded in three months, he said at a press briefing earlier today.

The eventual plan is for the country to become the regional hub for the production of lithium-ion batteries, and production will not just be limited for automotive applications, Madani said.

“The whole idea of making Malaysia the regional production hub for lithium-ion batteries is because of the importance of it (the battery). Not just for electric cars, buses but as a form or electric storage. As you know we have a lot of sunlight and this can be harnessed as a form of energy. However, there is no form of storage,” he said.

“Lead-acid units are not a good energy retention medium, but lithium-ion is, so this project contains a two-prong strategy. One is to provide lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles and the other, for the purpose of establishing energy storage systems,” he said.

Madani said that these energy storage systems can be used in rural areas in Sabah and Sarawak that are off the electric utility grid, where traditional cabling involves long distances and would be too expensive. In these cases, solar power and battery storage would be able to provide electricity to rural folk on a 24-hour basis.

He indicated that the project is expected to kick-off this year, but the line set-up to produce the 18650 cell – as seen in some Tesla battery configurations – will take another 12 months to complete, to accommodate cathode production for the cell.

“Malaysia already has an electrolyte supplier, and the anode can be gotten off the shelf, but to build the cell, the facility needs to be able to handle cathode production. so in order to manage this the line has to be set-up,” he explained, adding that once this is done then development will progress to cell production and eventually to module assembly, with different layouts for automotive and non-automotive applications.

Madani said that the plant location is still being decided on, with Negeri Sembilan and Selangor being considered as a possible location to house the facility, but unlike the past where similar plans were envisioned, things are expected to move in rapid fashion in this case, given that the country is eyeing regional dominance in this area.

“If we start things off this year, Malaysia will be the first country in the region to produce lithium-ion battery cells. Thailand has assembly, yes, but we want to produce the cells, because the technology is in the cells,” he said, adding that the long-term aim is to look at technological autonomy.

“There are not enough batteries in the world, what more for Malaysia. And when automotive OEMs start production of their full EVs or hybrids (or even buses) there will be more than enough demand, so there’s really a big market. This project will be a key enabler to grow electric mobility in the country. After all, the battery is the core and heart of an electric vehicle,” Madani said.