European battery alliance launched in Brussels

Matthias Machnig, German State Secretary, Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, Brune Poirson, French Minister of State, attached to the Ministre d'Etat, Minister for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition, Jadwiga Emilewicz, Polish Deputy Minister of Economic Development, and Maroš Šefčovič, European Commission Vice-President in charge of the Energy Union. [© European Union , 2017]

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.

German chemical group BASF, automakers Renault and Daimler and engineering firm Siemens were among those invited to the gathering in Brussels yesterday (11 October).

The initiative, which could lead to an Airbus-style consortium for battery production in Europe, was launched by Maroš Šefčovic, EU Commission Vice-President in charge of the Energy Union.

“The lack of a domestic, European cell manufacturing base jeopardises the position of EU industrial customers because of the security of the supply chain, increased costs due to transportation, time delays, weaker quality control or limitations on the design”, the Commission Vice-President said.

“So, we need to act fast – and collectively – to overcome this competitive disadvantage and capitalise on our leadership in many sectors of the battery value chain, from materials to system integration and recycling.”

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Although European carmakers assemble battery packs for electric cars, the region has no significant player in battery cells – the essential building blocks for the batteries that are now mostly made in Asia.

The market is dominated by Japanese firms Panasonic and NEC, Korea’s LG and Samsung and China’s BYD and CATL, as well as US manufacturer Tesla.

German carmaker Volkswagen, Total unit Saft Group which makes batteries, automotive supplier Continental AG and materials technology group Umicore were among those saying they would attend the talks.

The European Commission sees batteries as being “at the heart of the ongoing industrial revolution,” saying “their development and production play a strategic role in the ongoing transition to clean mobility and clean energy systems”.

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Roadmap in 2018

“The work starts immediately,” Šefčovic said, announcing the launch of a number of working groups on issues ranging from supply chain, investment financing, trade issues, and R&D. “Industrial participants will take the lead, express interest to participate in or even be rapporteur for each work strand,” the Commission Vice-President said.

A strategic plan is expected to be adopted “early next year” that “could take the form of a comprehensive roadmap for an EU Battery Alliance, to be presented in February 2018,” Šefčovic said.

The EU could support the initiative with up to €2.2 billion (£1.95bn), according to the Financial Times, which first reported on the meeting last week.

The global market for batteries is forecast to reach €250 billion annually by 2025, Šefčovic said, citing industry figures presented to him by industry representatives.

Europe needs an “Airbus for batteries”, said Egbert Lox, vice president of Umicore, which makes materials for the car industry and rechargeable batteries. “This is a good initiative at the right time,” said a spokesman for Volkswagen, whose brand chief called for the industry to create a regional battery supplier last month.

If sales of electric vehicles rise, as many carmakers now expect, developing European cell capacity could cost as much as $30bn (€25bn), analysts at Bernstein Research wrote in a note.

“How on earth can the industry build/buy/find enough batteries or raw materials if and when EV demand takes off? This is a critical missing piece of the puzzle,” they wrote.

EUROBAT, a trade organisation representing European Automotive and Industrial Battery Manufacturers, welcomed the European Commission initiative, saying one of the key conditions for  its success will be to develop a coherent regulatory framework.

One example cited by EUROBAT is "the legislative overlap" that exists between the Battery Directive, End-of-Life Vehicles Directive and the REACH Regulation on chemical safety.

"A variety of battery chemistries and technologies exists today: lead, lithium, sodium and nickel batteries. They all answer to different demands in terms of performance, capabilities and applications," EUROBAT said, calling for "further development of all existing and new battery technologies without jeopardizing or even banning them".

Coinciding with the Commission's initiative, the European Association for Storage of Energy (EASE) published an update of its energy storage technology roadmap, a document drawn up with the European Energy Research Alliance (EERA), an EU-funded body which coordinates a massive public research effort to develop more efficient and cheaper low carbon energy technologies.

The 120-pages long document provides an overview of all existing energy storage technologies with a focus on stationary applications, and draws recommendations related to policy and research activities in Europe.  Energy storage for electro mobility is also considered.

"EASE and EERA consider that a wide range of energy storage technologies will be needed to address the challenges of the energy transition," EASE and EERA write in their report, which identifies cost reduction as "the most important goal" for each type of technology.

"Another overarching theme is the need to research energy storage business cases and to clarify the technical requirements and economics of aggregating different energy storage services," the two organisations write.

  • Early 2018: Strategic plan
  • February 2018: Roadmap for EU Battery Alliance

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