ONE COUNTRY’S DREAM OF EV-DRIVEN PROSPERITY HELPS FUEL A COAL BINGE INSTEAD | Kanebridge News
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ONE COUNTRY’S DREAM OF EV-DRIVEN PROSPERITY HELPS FUEL A COAL BINGE INSTEAD

Indonesia pitches its plan to leverage natural resources as a model for other developing nations.

By JON EMONT
Mon, Feb 5, 2024 1:25pmGrey Clock 4 min

A few years ago, Indonesia set out to turn its treasure trove of nickel into an electric-car manufacturing boom.

It imposed a sweeping ban on the export of raw nickel. That meant that companies wanting to tap the world’s largest source of the mineral—used in the most powerful type of EV batteries—would have to build smelters in Indonesia. Officials bet that factories to make EV batteries and entire electric cars would also follow, spawning end-to-end supply chains close to the mineral bounty.

The smelters came, and Indonesia’s nickel industry witnessed explosive growth. But powering it is a coal binge that is throwing off the country’s climate goals. And Indonesians are still waiting for EV makers to lay down production lines.

As President Joko Widodo prepares to leave office this year after a decade—the most he can serve—he is exhorting his potential successors to stick with the policy that is at the centre of his economic legacy. Indonesia holds presidential elections on Feb. 14, and a new leader will take charge in October.

Widodo has cast his plan, referred to in economist-speak as downstreaming, as the answer to the question of how Indonesia will become a rich nation. He says the country is reversing a 400-year pattern dating back to colonial times of being exploited for its natural resources and getting little in return. He has prodded other developing nations to follow its lead.

Last year, officials escorted delegations from mineral-rich Papua New Guinea and the Democratic Republic of Congo to one of Indonesia’s largest nickel industrial parks to show them the scale of Indonesia’s achievements. New Chinese-built smelters dot the archipelago. The value of Indonesia’s nickel exports is up four times since 2019 to around $33 billion.

Not everyone believes the silver metal is a silver bullet.

Nickel smelters have led to a surge in coal use, with new coal plants coming up at a time when the world is trying to phase out the fossil fuel. A January report by Climate Rights International, a U.S. environmental group, said that a single nickel-focused industrial park located on eastern Indonesia’s Maluku islands will burn more coal than Spain or Brazil when it is fully operational.

“We are sacrificing the environment and society, while at the same time getting limited profits for the country,” Muhaimin Iskandar, a vice-presidential candidate in the coming election, said during a televised debate with his political opponents.

Other candidates have pledged to carry forward the president’s nickel policies, including the front-runner for president, Prabowo Subianto, who has said it is much better to export electric-vehicle batteries than raw nickel.

The “dirty nickel” reputation is threatening the very economic opportunities Indonesia covets. In October, nine U.S. senators signed a letter opposing a proposed free-trade agreement to source critical minerals from Indonesia, citing environmental and safety concerns. Without a free-trade deal, EV batteries with substantial quantities of Indonesia-processed nickel won’t be eligible for a major U.S. tax credit.

That makes the country’s nickel less attractive to Western EV makers, who are already battling questions from green groups about the environmental fallout of the country’s sprawling nickel operations.

In a sign of the growing unease, a deputy director for batteries and critical materials at the U.S. Energy Department, Ashley Zumwalt-Forbes, voiced concern in a LinkedIn post last month about what she called the grip of dirty Indonesian nickel on the market. Indonesia accounts for half the global nickel supply, up from a quarter in 2018.

The problems with nickel are also pushing EV makers to rework car batteries and go nickel-free. A lithium-iron-phosphate alternative is gaining traction, though it remains less powerful than batteries containing nickel.

Then there is the question of whether the policy is taking Indonesia toward Widodo’s goal of downstreaming—that is, a shift to higher-value manufacturing. Widodo has long said the endgame isn’t localising nickel processing but rather attracting EV and battery factories. Anything less, he says, could put Indonesia on the same track as some commodity-rich Latin American economies that have languished.

But so far, EV makers haven’t rushed into Indonesia. Tesla, which Widodo has assiduously courted, including on a 2022 trip to Texas to meet with founder Elon Musk, hasn’t shown any signs it plans to set up a factory in the country. No other Western automakers have built EV factories either, though General Motors has a stake in one China-based automaker producing electric cars in Indonesia. Some, like Ford, have made deals to tie up nickel supply.

Korean automaker Hyundai has since 2021 operated one of Indonesia’s only EV factories, focused on the domestic market. The unit can produce 150,000 vehicles a year, but made fewer than 9,500 in 2022 and 2023. Hyundai and Korea’s LG expect to begin producing battery cells at a plant in West Java this year.

Automakers generally look to set up battery and EV plants in the markets where people are already buying electric cars. That puts Indonesia, where few consumers have switched from combustion-engine vehicles, at a disadvantage. The country has a limited charging network and gasoline is heavily subsidised.

Indonesian policymakers who believe the country’s nickel bounty gives it leverage over carmakers are mistaken, said Tom Lembong, a former trade minister under Widodo. He pointed to the growth of nickel-free batteries as a warning against betting big on nickel.

Lembong, who is advising presidential candidate Anies Baswedan—whose ticket advocates focusing on promoting labor-intensive industries—said Indonesia has made limited progress moving up the value chain.

“The irony about this is they call it downstreaming, but we’re still very upstream,” he said.

Septian Hario Seto, a senior Indonesian official involved in nickel policymaking, acknowledged that EV battery and car factories have been slower to come than nickel smelters. The government has brought new regulations to address that, he said, such as one that makes it easier for EV makers to import cars into Indonesia on the condition they later build a factory.

Last month, Chinese EV giant BYD said it would begin car sales in Indonesia, and break ground on a manufacturing unit later this year.

Overall, Seto said the nickel policy has been successful, boosting economic growth in less-developed eastern regions where the nickel is found, and providing jobs and tax revenue. The government has taken steps to limit environmental degradation, such as by banning companies from jettisoning mining waste into the ocean, and will try to bring hydropower projects online as an alternative to coal, he said.

Cullen Hendrix, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, D.C., said there are two ways to assess Indonesia’s industrial policy.

“It’s been successful at driving foreign investment and building nickel processing capacity,” he said. “So far it hasn’t achieved the fully integrated mine-to-EV battery assembly to which it aspires.”



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Preparatory Work for UAE to Oman Hafeet Rail Project Commences at Full Speed

Preparations have begun on the transformative UAE to Oman Hafeet Rail network, revealing significant construction details during a site visit.

Thu, May 16, 2024 3 min

The $3bn Hafeet Rail project between the UAE and Oman will feature 60 bridges and a 2.5km tunnel, making it an “architectural and engineering marvel,” according to CEO Ahmed Al Musawa Al Hashemi.

Hafeet Rail has announced that preparatory work is moving full speed ahead for constructing the transformative railway link between the UAE and Oman. This announcement was made during a site visit attended by key officials, members of the Asyad and Hafeet Rail executive management teams, project contractors, and consultants.

Key Highlights

During the visit, attendees were introduced to the main components of the project, including passenger, repair, and shipping stations, as well as major bridges and tunnel sites.

The Hafeet Rail project is set to play a very important role in enhancing local and regional trade, unlocking new opportunities in the infrastructure, transportation, and logistics sectors, and fostering economic diversification. It will also strengthen bilateral relations between the UAE and Oman.

The project will involve constructing 60 bridges, some reaching heights of up to 34 meters, and tunnels extending 2.5 kilometres. The Hafeet Rail team showcased the latest rail technologies and innovative engineering and architectural solutions designed to navigate the challenging geographical terrain and weather conditions while maintaining high standards of efficiency and safety.

The rail network will boost various industrial sectors and economic activities and significantly impact the tourism industry by facilitating easier and faster travel between the two countries.

Ahmed Al Bulushi, Asyad Group Chief Executive Asset, noted that the project’s rapid progress reflects the commitment of the UAE and Oman to developing and realizing the project’s multifaceted benefits.

Investment and Future Impact

Al Bulushi added that investments in developing local capabilities and expertise in rail-related disciplines over recent years have enabled the project to reach the implementation phase successfully under the leadership of highly efficient and professional national talent.

Hafeet Rail’s CEO Ahmed Al Musawa Al Hashemi emphasized, “The commencement of preparatory works for construction is a testament to the robust synergy between all parties involved in both nations, achieving this milestone in record time. We are confidently laying down the right tracks thanks to the shareholders of Hafeet Rail and the expertise of local companies in Oman and the UAE, alongside international partners.”

During the site visit, the visitors explored some of the key preparatory sites, including Wadi Al Jizi, where a 700-meter-long bridge towering 34 meters will be constructed. This ambitious project is envisioned as an architectural and engineering marvel in a complex geographical landscape.

Future phases will require more collaboration, with a continued focus on quality, safety, and environmental considerations in line with the international industry best practices.

The Hafeet Rail project represents the first-of-its-kind railway network linking two Gulf nations, marking a significant shift in regional goods transportation. This efficient and reliable transportation option will reduce dependence on slower and less sustainable road transport.

Hafeet Rail promises a 40% reduction in shipping costs and a 50% in transit times compared to traditional land transportation methods, as it will be connecting five major ports and several industrial and free zones in both countries.

This shift will reduce reliance on road transport by cars and trucks and promote more sustainable shipping practices. The establishment of the railway network will also create significant opportunities for SMEs in construction, engineering, and logistics support, acting as a catalyst for economic growth and innovation within the domestic economy.

By linking major ports, the Hafeet Rail project will enable local SMEs to import, export, and distribute their products more effectively, enhancing their market reach and global competitiveness.

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