Envision Group’s CEO Zhang Lei Has No Time for Greenwashing

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If you want any additional proof that electrical automobiles (EVs) are taking up the world then contemplate the truth that my 86-year-old father already drives one. And like EVs produced by BMW, Mercedes, Honda and Renault, the mannequin he owns—a Nissan Leaf—runs on batteries crafted by Envision Group, a world-leading greentech firm based by CEO Zhang Lei.

Zhang graduated from the London College of Economics and labored for Whole and Barclays Capital within the U.Ok. earlier than returning to his native China to determine Envision in 2007. The Shanghai-headquartered agency started by designing and working sensible wind generators in locations as far-flung as Chile, New Zealand and Sweden, however has since expanded into storage techniques, inexperienced hydrogen energy and Synthetic Intelligence Web of Issues (AIoT) options for industrial and state shoppers.

Zhang’s EV battery division, Envision AESC, has provided over 600,000 items and claims zero vital incidents. He spoke to TIME about his newest enterprise of Internet Zero Industrial Parks that deliver collectively suppliers and producers right into a single facility powered by inexperienced power, in addition to the Envision Racing Method E workforce that he now runs.

“I like [Formula E’s] slogan ‘We’re racing in opposition to the local weather disaster,’” says Zhang. “It’s form of symbolic of issues.” He compares the ethos to the considering behind the Internet Zero Industrial Park Envision is constructing in China’s largest coal metropolis, Ordos in Interior Mongolia. “It’s an perspective, a form of demonstration. It’s additionally about expertise. In racing, only one second can separate first place and quantity 10. So that you want superior battery administration techniques, IoT techniques,” he says. “So it’s an excellent problem which might push us to innovate.”

This interview has been condensed and edited for readability.

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Envision has sprawling pursuits in battery manufacturing, wind farms and Internet Zero Industrial Parks. What’s your guiding philosophy that knits the corporate collectively?

Our mission is to resolve sustainability challenges for mankind. So, in the event you see batteries, wind generators and digital IoT, they’re related—batteries are the brand new oil; wind generators are the brand new coal; and IoT is the brand new grid. Internet Zero Industrial Parks are a mixture of the three to create inexperienced infrastructure for governments [to build] industrial clusters to decarbonize the provision chain. So it’s about fixing the hardest challenges of our time.

Was there a selected second or occasion that made you imagine that local weather change should be addressed by enterprise?

In 2006, I used to be working in London and had the thought to create a renewable power firm and the imaginative and prescient was to harmonize power and the surroundings. For those who have a look at Envision’s character, we’re an organization to resolve challenges; it’s not about discussing, it’s not about debating, we take actual motion.

Within the days once I was making ready for Envision, I heard numerous debate about local weather change. Most individuals form of ignored it. I’ve a scientific thoughts, I respect science, however on the similar time, I respect historical past. Once I went to Venice, I noticed Renaissance buildings—they’re already in peril. Perhaps inside 50 years, they’re gone. So it’s our technology’s duty to resolve [the climate crisis]. As a result of I care about historical past, I care concerning the future.

Envision has battery Gigafactories in China, Japan, the U.Ok. and Tennessee and is constructing new vegetation in Spain, France and Kentucky. The place are you heading subsequent?

Our objective is to assist our prospects resolve their challenges. So corporations like BMW, Mercedes, Nissan, Honda and Renault are our essential prospects—they’ve big stress to decarbonize their provide chain, and in addition to have probably the most superior batteries. So, this can be a problem that’s not solely taking place within the U.S. It might occur in Mexico, in different components of Europe, or in China. They want top of the range batteries, aggressive costs, superior expertise, and so they want the provision adjoining to them. So whereever our prospects want us, we go to be with them. It could possibly be in all places.

What’s the most important problem the EV battery business faces?

At this time the frequent problem for EV and battery makers is the tightening provide chain round uncooked supplies like lithium and nickel, which is making battery prices surge so much and EVs dearer. As a result of except electrical automobiles turn into very price aggressive, folks will lose the motivation to vary.

There’s numerous dialogue about totally different breakthrough applied sciences concerning EV batteries, comparable to sodium ion, solid-state, and plenty of different issues. The place do you imagine battery expertise goes subsequent?

I believe solid-state batteries. Envision’s [battery] headquarters in Japan is testing and designing the most recent solid-state batteries that can have a lot larger power density and different good efficiency parameters. And we’ll take into consideration industrializing in 2027-2028 for business scale productions. So our headquarters and our [Research and Development] in Japan is full pace on stable state batteries.

There’s numerous speak about recycling EV batteries nevertheless it’s truly fairly a harmful course of. Do you suppose there’s going to be some breakthrough to allow the large-scale repurposing of EV batteries?

After all, you’ve got secondary makes use of now and corporations have already got battery swap expertise, which is changing into extra commonplace. However I believe the ultimate recycling is about breaking down batteries to take out the valuable supplies, and that isn’t harmful. I believe after 2030 when batteries begin to recycle into the worth chain we are able to scale back dependence on lithium and nickel mining.

There have been projections of battery prices dropping dramatically by way of this decade. Do you are concerned that current will increase in uncooked materials prices and power prices can have a major influence on this?

I’m very optimistic for the [medium] and long-term. As a result of at the moment there’s a rush for electrification, however as soon as new demand reaches a [steady] stage in time, the tempo of refineries and mining amenities will improve. So it is best to see shortly that costs will come down. [Maybe] three to 4 years.

Battery manufacturing requires quite a lot of power. I perceive 96% of Envision Group’s complete operational emissions come from Envision AESC, your battery division. The power consumed within the provide chain for battery supplies implies that an EV sometimes has to run over 40,000 miles earlier than it “breaks even” in greenhouse fuel phrases in contrast with a gas-powered car. How can embedded CO2 be diminished sooner or later?

That’s why we created Internet Zero Industrial Parks. So we’re utilizing inexperienced electrical energy to provide a battery, however not just for ourselves; I may also deliver my suppliers into the Internet Zero Park. We’re utilizing ample wind and photo voltaic power to produce them, which isn’t solely price aggressive but additionally a totally inexperienced supply. It’s going to be very highly effective to cowl the whole provide chain industrial system within the Internet Zero Park, since you additionally scale back transportation prices, packaging price, power prices and transmission prices, as a result of [there are] no energy losses. Ranging from mining, to refinery, to precursor, to cathode, to anode, to battery cell, to packs—you’ll be able to make a “pure” product. Their processes haven’t any embedded CO2. Globally, with our companions we’re going to construct 100 Internet Zero Industrial Parks and we need to reduce 1 billion tonnes of CO2 yearly. If I’m in a position to try this, I ought to win the Nobel Prize!

Is that your intention?

It’s my KPI [Key Performance Indicator], it’s not my intention. [laughs]

The Chinese language authorities has made quite a lot of daring, formidable local weather pledges comparable to reaching peak carbon by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060. However on the similar time, there may be nonetheless a reliance on coal and certainly extra coal vegetation being constructed. Are you involved by the information on the bottom?

I’m fairly assured of the Chinese language authorities’s technique and dedication. Perhaps within the brief time period, they should take care of some conflicts. However in the event you see the current assertion by President Xi [Jinping], he mentioned “let’s construct earlier than we destroy.” So let’s make renewables stronger earlier than phasing out fossil gas. They’re restoring some coal however general coal remains to be balanced. And they’re much, rather more aggressive on the renewables facet.

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China and the U.S. stay the world’s two high polluters. And lately, we noticed that Beijing suspended cooperation with the U.S. concerning local weather change over Nancy Pelosi’s go to to Taiwan. How frightened are you about current geopolitical tensions between the U.S. and China undermining cooperation on local weather change?

Individuals do must have a special perspective on the Internet Zero economic system. It’s a mutual alternative relatively than competitors. The web zero economic system is just not a [zero sum] sport: For those who win, I lose. It’s going to be a win-win sport. The web zero transition will be capable of empower humanity with not solely sustainable power, however with the most cost effective power. As soon as society has ten instances extra power than earlier than, how our civilization can flourish! We must always have extra pleasure about this. In order that’s what I need to inform policymakers.

Your objective to succeed in carbon neutrality in Envision’s worth chain by 2028 is without doubt one of the most formidable in enterprise. You additionally clarify to think about “Scope 1, 2, 3” emissions­—these produced by suppliers or companions­—into your online business plans. Why is it essential for corporations to suppose on this strategy to keep away from so-called “greenwashing”?

For me, it’s an emotional difficulty. For those who’re very shortsighted on subsequent week’s or subsequent 12 months’s calculations, you’ll not have actual perception. And particularly once we need to present web zero options for others, if we can not show it ourselves, how can we be a job mannequin? We use this to push us to suppose outdoors the field to have extra innovation. As a result of if it’s the inevitable development for each business to be decarbonized ultimately, in the event you act sooner you’ll be able to encourage folks and in addition make a worthwhile enterprise mannequin.

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Write to Charlie Campbell at charlie.campbell@time.com.



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