Top EU climate official issues ‘wake-up call’ on batteries for EVs

Market uptake for electric vehicles won’t happen without significantly ramping up investment in recharging infrastructure, says the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA). [Nicola Sznajder / Flickr]

European industry is lagging behind in the manufacturing of batteries that power electric vehicles, warned the top official in charge of the European Commission’s department for climate action.

The electrification of the economy is underway and batteries are a central element of that transformation – whether in cars, homes or other appliances – said Jos Delbeke, the Director-General of the European Commission’s directorate for climate action.

“Other parts of the world are steaming ahead,” said Jos Delbeke, citing China and California who are de facto standard-setters for electric cars.

“We want our car manufacturing sector to be as excellent as it was in the past. And that implies that they must get cracking on an important segment of the future which is the electric car,” Delbeke told participants at a EURACTIV event on clean mobility last week (23 November).

But he said Europe was lagging behind when it comes to batteries, which are today predominantly produced in Japan, Korea and China. “And we miss that sector in Europe,” Delbeke said at the event, supported by ExxonMobil.

“The chemical sector must step forward,” he stressed, saying “it’s a task more for the chemical sector than for the car manufacturers.”

“And that is a wake-up call,” Delbeke added, saying the Commission was working with the companies involved to get investments in Europe in battery cell manufacturing.

“Let’s not minimise this: the battery is a third of the value-added of a car. So if Europe misses that opportunity to be present in battery development and investment, we would lose out for years – for decades – on a very important segment of the market.”

The European Commission hosted auto, chemical and engineering executives in Brussels earlier in October to develop battery manufacturing in Europe. The initiative, which could lead to an Airbus-style consortium for battery production in Europe, is expected to see the launch of a “strategic plan” and “roadmap” for an EU battery alliance in early 2018.

European battery alliance launched in Brussels

The European Commission hosted auto, chemical and engineering executives in Brussels yesterday (11 October) to develop battery manufacturing in the EU to compete with Asian and US manufacturers.

Erik Jonnaert, Secretary General of the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA), said carmarkers were “making an effort” on batteries. “There is battery production in Europe,” he remarked, saying it was the battery cells that were mainly produced in Asia.

“What Europe needs to do in terms of battery production is look into the future – second generation batteries, the new technologies. We shouldn’t focus on outdated technology,” Jonnaert told participants at the event.

Jonnaet also warned regulators about the temptation to regulate the market for batteries. “If you look at battery production, we see overcapacity. And we see a trend towards batteries becoming cheaper. And if batteries become cheaper, it’s good for the consumer and it’s good for manufacturers.”

But more generally, he stressed that market uptake for electric vehicles won’t happen without significantly ramping up investment in recharging infrastructure.

“Frankly member states are lagging behind big time. There is now a plan to force member states to do more in that area, which is welcome,” he said, referring to an electrification roadmap for the transport sector, published in October 2016.

But he questioned whether the ambition of that plan was big enough. “We would need a least one million public recharging points” to deliver on the EU’s 2030 clean mobility targets, Jonnaert said, adding:

“There is still a long way to go there.”

EU unveils proposal to clean up transport, boost electric vehicles

The European Commission proposed on Wednesday (8 November) a legislative package aimed at reducing CO2 emissions in road transport and encouraging the uptake of electric cars, in an attempt to help Europe’s car industry remain competitive in the face of growing pressure from the US and China.