EU seeks competitive edge from green batteries

Only the greenest, best performing and safest batteries will make it onto the EU market, said Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič. [Dati Bendo / EC - Audiovisual Service]

Electric car and industrial batteries sold in Europe will soon face legally binding environmental standards, the European Commission said on Thursday (10 December), as it seeks to give local producers an edge in a rapidly growing global market.

The proposed regulations aim to ensure that the increasing demand for batteries in Europe is met with green products with lower emissions and produced using recycled materials, boosting circularity and reducing pollution.

These batteries will need to be fit for repurpose, remanufacture or recycling, as well as using materials from sources that respect human rights and environmental standards.

“Batteries placed on our market, regardless of their origin, they will be sustainable,” said Commission vice president Maroš Šefčovič, who announced the proposal, which now needs approval from EU countries and the European Parliament before it becomes law.

EU to push new standards for ‘greenest’ car batteries on earth

The European Commission will table new EU-wide regulations this autumn to ensure that batteries manufactured or imported into Europe are “the greenest on this planet,” a top EU official told EURACTIV.

Europe’s battery demand is set to soar this decade, with the Commission expecting a 14-fold increase by 2030, spurred mostly by the 30 million electric vehicles the EU says Europeans will be driving by 2030.

By creating the mandatory requirements for these batteries, the Commission hopes European companies can gain an edge on the global market.

“The new batteries regulation will help reduce the environmental and social impact of all batteries throughout their life cycle. Today’s proposal allows the EU to scale up the use and production of batteries in a safe, circular and healthy way,” said Frans Timmermans, the executive vice-president of the European Commission in charge of the Green Deal.

Under the proposals, rechargeable electric vehicle and industrial batteries sold in Europe must disclose their carbon footprint from 2024 and comply with a CO2 emissions limit from 2027.

From 2027, there will be an obligation to disclose the content of recycled raw materials in those batteries, followed by requirements to use a minimum share of recycled cobalt, lithium, nickel and lead from 2030.

To encourage battery recycling, the Commission also proposes targets for EU countries to collect 65% of portable batteries by 2025 and 70% by 2030 – up from the EU’s current target of collecting 45% of portable batteries.

Industrial, automotive and electric vehicle batteries would need to be collected “in full”. And all collected batteries would need to be recycled with a high level of material recovery, particularly for cobalt, lithium, nickel and lead.

“Batteries are full of valuable materials and we want to ensure that no battery is lost to waste. The sustainability of batteries has to grow hand in hand with their increasing numbers on the EU market,” said Virginijus Sinkevičius, the EU’s environment commissioner.

EU to target 30 million electric cars by 2030

The European Union will aim to have at least 30 million zero-emission vehicles on its roads by 2030, as it seeks to steer countries away from fossil fuel-based transport, according to a draft EU document.

Today, China hosts roughly 80% of the world’s lithium-ion cell production, but Europe’s capacity is set to expand quickly.

Last year, €60 billion was invested in European battery production and the Commission says local producers could cover the bloc’s entire demand for electric vehicle batteries by 2025.

Brussels hopes its proposal will support that aim by giving green-minded local producers an advantage over those in countries where a coal-heavy electricity grid means the CO2 footprint of battery manufacturing is higher.

“Once again, Europe is setting a sustainable global standard in one of the fastest growing and most critical global markets for the future,” said Jytte Guteland, a Swedish lawmaker from the the socialists and democrats group in the European Parliament.

Reactions

The Commission proposal was welcomed by Swedish battery maker Northvolt which said it will incentivise clean battery production. It will help Europe “get out of batteries produced in less good energy grids from a CO2 point of view”, said Jesper Wigardt, vice president for communications at Northvolt.

Mobility and stationary batteries will reach their end-of-life in the next 10-15 years, so industry players welcomed initiatives aimed at recovering battery metals. However, a lot of work is still lying ahead, said Guy Thiran, director general of Eurometaux, the European metals association.

“We’ll also need to bridge the supply gap for recyclers while batteries are still in operation. Maximising the collection and recycling of Europe’s portable batteries will be essential,” Thiran said.

Recharge, the European industry association for rechargeable and lithium batteries, was more critical of the proposed EU regulations.

“In today’s proposal we see a high level of complexity and fear that this will translate into overregulating fast-paced, innovative industries such as batteries or electric mobility,” said Claude Chanson, RECHARGE General Manager on the long-awaited Commission proposal for a Batteries Regulation.

Closing the gap with international competition will depend on long-term investments and a coherent regulatory framework,” he added.

Raw materials: the missing link in Europe’s drive for batteries

While Europe is rapidly catching up with China on investments into batteries for electric cars, it is still lagging behind when it comes to securing supplies of the critical raw materials that are needed to produce them.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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