Battery manufacturers of Europe unite!

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

Croatia's Rimac electric supercar is one of Europe's few home-grown success stories. [Photo: Goran Jakus / Shutterstock]

As electric vehicles begin to soar in popularity, one of the key members of the European Commission’s in-house think-tank, Sami Andoura, asks: does Europe want to take the lead on electro-mobility or not?

Sami Andoura is team leader for sustainable development at the European Political Strategy Centre (EPSC). The EPSC was established in November 2014 by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, and operates directly under his authority.

Today there are more than 4 million electric cars and buses on the road worldwide. Most of these were not manufactured in Europe, and were not built and developed by European companies.

Yet the market is growing fast. Forecasts indicate that there will be between 50 and 200 million electric vehicles in use globally by 2028 – and 900 million by 2040.

At the same time, sales in electric bikes are soaring and electric scooters start populating the streets in many cities. European industry and politicians must consider whether Europe should take the lead on e-mobility or not.

If the answer is yes, Europe needs to act fast.

The continent’s industry is lagging behind on one key component, batteries. They represent about 40% of the value of electric vehicles. However, Europe’s share in global battery cell manufacturing stands at only 3% today.

China and other Asian countries are dominating that business with an 85% share of global manufacturing. China has been playing the long game in developing its leadership position.

It has created a domestic market for electric cars by setting rigorous emissions standards. At the same time, China subsidised battery cell factories and brought crucial resources such as cobalt mines in Africa and other world regions under its control.

The European Commission under President Juncker understands mobility as an ecosystem. Energy is what connects different modes of transport, the world of cars to the world of trains and planes.

Being able to store energy is crucial. That is why we launched the European Battery Alliance in October 2017. Around 260 industrial and innovation actors have joined so far.

They are working together on solutions along the entire battery value chain, from mining of raw materials to educating people with the skills needed in the battery industry. Some companies are also teaming up to build battery cell factories.

If these projects fulfil the necessary conditions, they can apply for a state aid rule called Important Projects of Common European Interest. Battery manufacturers of Europe unite!

But we do not just want any batteries. Batteries sold in Europe should be clean. If they are produced with a lot of coal power, there is little value for the climate in the fact that electric cars emit no CO2. The lifecycle emissions count.

Europe is and will be a key market. If we set strong standards and admit only batteries with low lifecycle emissions, producers have to comply. The same goes for sourcing raw materials. Do we really want African children risking their lives in cobalt mines so we can drive electric cars? We can prevent this if we set ethical standards for the supply chains of products sold in Europe.

The battery market is an area where the EU can empower its industry, protect the planet and defend human rights. The European Commission has made the necessary proposals. Let’s implement them!

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