Dr. Yazami says it is time for Morocco to take advantage of its unique, leading position in green technology and battery manufacture.
Rabat – Professor Rachid Yazami is a world-renowned Moroccan scientist, best known for inventing the graphite anode, an indispensable facet of rechargeable lithium batteries.
Following Dr. Yazami’s presentation at the “Economic recovery of Morocco” seminar on Tuesday, hosted by the General Confederation of Moroccan Enterprises (CGEM), Morocco World News interviewed him for an in-depth delve into the topic.
During the seminar, Yazami discussed Morocco’s economic recovery within the context of technological innovation. Morocco is uniquely positioned to take a leading position in green technology and battery manufacture, in part due to King Mohammed VI’s vision to prioritize renewable energy, noted the professor.
As it stands, Morocco should take full advantage of this. The future is in fast-charging batteries. The future is in cobalt mining and innovation. The future is in domestic production and development, he stressed.
Reaching out to Morocco
Rachid Yazami never hid his hope for an innovation-driven Morocco. In 2020 he unveiled a new type of battery for electric cars, one that reaches a full charge in a mere 20 minutes (three times faster than those of the famed Tesla automobiles) and presented this technology to Moroccan authorities. To his dismay, a response was slow to develop.
“We want to help to dream, to innovate in Morocco, but to do that you need all the planets aligned at the same time,” laughed the professor.
Dr. Yazami has over 160 patents listed with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), ready for implementation in Morocco. “In principle, we can exploit all these patents in Morocco,” said the professor, “but we can not do all of them.”
Instead, “we can select maybe 10 of them,” he explained, and “these are the ones we push a little bit more, push the technology, the prototype, the validation, then commercialisation.”
On July 29, 2016, Tesla opened its Tesla Giga Nevada (also known as Gigafactory 1), a factory theoretically capable of supplying 500,000 Tesla cars per year. Yet, some years earlier, Yazami was already networking, attending technology conferences in Morocco concerning batteries, clean energy, and green innovation.
“I started to share the message,” speaking of opening a gigafactory in Morocco, “with my colleagues in these events,” Yazami said.
In 2014, celebrating Yazami’s achievements, King Mohammed VI decorated the professor with the Royal Medal (Wissam Malaki) of Intellectual Competency.
“I told him, if Morocco needs anything when it comes to batteries, I’m available. I’ll be happy to come, be part of national projects, where we put together industry, university, environment, to create an ecosystem for battery innovation,” he recalled.
The professor remains hopeful that in the coming years he will see giga factories take off in the North African country.
Fast charging is the future
But the future goes beyond gigafactories. In fact, the future is in fast charging, claims the professor.
Yazami explained that “this market, in the next six years will reach an annual growth rate of 34% a year.” For comparison, most markets are expected to experience at least a 5% to 10% overall annual growth rate, according to Jeanette McMurtry, an expert on psychology-based marketing and consumer behavior.
Developing the means to charge an electric vehicle’s battery in 15 minutes, in the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee, is essential if consumers are to embrace the technology. Thankfully, Yazami’s patents have that covered. While electric vehicles are already becoming increasingly common, as Global EV Outlook shows, the new developments could help Morocco lead the age of electric vehicles.
“So the best time to invest in this technology is now. Because the market will need fast charging stations all over, and we will need many 100s of thousands of recharge stations for EV,” explains the professor.
As the saying goes, the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second-best time is now.
If Morocco adopts the fast charging technology soon, it “could be ahead of many countries, including the US, in the area,” stresses Yazami.
But it is not only about adopting the new tech in Morocco. Yazami believes that it could provide a fruitful opportunity to not only produce the technology but also to export it to the world. With the right foresight, “Morocco could be the only country to provide a full charge in 20 minutes.”
In 2020, Morocco’s Minister of Industry, Trade, and Green and Digital Economy Moulay Hafid Elalamy unveiled the first 100% Moroccan-made smart charging station for electric cars. When asked if Morocco could build 100% domestically produced fast-charging stations, the professor responded that he does not think it should be a problem.
“Making charging stations is not a big deal, from a technological standpoint,” he explained. Instead “what we are bringing is the method of filling the battery. A charger is simple, it’s about how we fill the battery.”
During the CGEM seminar, Yazami spoke enthusiastically about cobalt mining, calling it “essential.”
Asked to elaborate, he told Morocco World News: “Without cobalt you don’t have your cell phone battery… It has been in use since the 90s, so there is not so much innovation. Now, we do know that every technology needs cobalt. The thing is that cobalt is the most expensive transition metal we use, compared to nickel and manganese.”
Yazami emphasized the need to understand how to reduce the amount of cobalt used in batteries to the minimum, without compromising the technology.
The professor also pointed out that Morocco has been mining the metal for approximately 50 years now. According to him, Morocco produces some of the purest cobalt on the planet. But most of the cobalt produced in Morocco is sold in its raw form. The metal gets sent to China, where it is used for batteries, or to Germany, where BMW uses it in its cars.
“Many countries want Moroccan cobalt,” Yazami went on.
Instead of exporting the metal, the professor believes that Morocco should focus on domestic production. Right now, “we export [the cobalt] to China, they turn it into lithium cobalt oxide, and then it comes back in the form of batteries to Morocco.”
Why not cut out the middle-man? Why not produce lithium cobalt oxide in Morocco?
When Yazami spoke to Managem, a Moroccan company that mines cobalt among other metals, he explained that they do not want to innovate, as they have clients already.
But if an outside company were to come, and invest between $10-$20 million (MAD 89 million, MAD 178 million), the joint venture could produce the combination lithium cobalt oxide, Yazami explained.
Not only an opportunity for Morocco, it would also be an opportunity for “Moroccans abroad to come back and invest in a joint venture with Managem to produce batteries,” stressed the professor.
For Yazami, then, the future could be bright for Morocco if it makes the most of its unique position to become a world leader in battery innovation. If the Moroccan government takes sufficient notice and adopts long-term planning in cobalt mining and transformation, the North African country can change from a trend follower to a trailblazer in innovation and the coming energy transition.