European Chemicals Agency Targets Critical Battery Raw Material

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

Promoted content

Credit: © iStock

As the EU continues to develop its battery strategy as part of delivering a low carbon future, a range of technologies will form part of Europe’s battery eco-system. These must include advanced lead batteries that are very important in meeting Europe’s Green Deal objectives, supporting automotive and energy storage industries with products that are manufactured and recycled by EU companies.

Nearly all lead batteries in the EU are collected at the end of life, and this post-consumer waste becomes the raw material used to make new batteries. In fact, up to 80% of a typical EU manufactured lead battery is composed of recycled materials collected in Europe.

This is a clear success story for the circular economy principle.

A new report by EBP has found that the EU’s lead battery industry – from manufacturers to recyclers, to mining companies and equipment suppliers – supports no less than 184,000 direct and indirect jobs and delivers 36.5 billion euros in “overall economic impact.”

Yet the lead battery value chain, along with other companies and products that rely on lead may face a serious risk from a new regulatory development that is neither proportionate, nor particularly effective in the management of risks to human health and the environment given the existence in the EU of a plethora of regulation that already addresses lead exposures.

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has just announced that it plans to include lead metal on its eleventh list of substances recommended for REACH authorisation – a process designed to facilitate substitution of Substances of Very High Concern and ultimately establish a sunset date for any existing uses.

All this just as the EU institutions and Member States are working hard to make Europe a centre of excellence for battery production and adoption of a circular economy.

Industry leaders describe the REACH authorisation proposal – currently subject to public consultation – as a good example of a regulatory action that will deliver little additional benefits in reducing risk but will create a good deal of business uncertainty, reducing investments in Europe and impeding strategic planning, policy goals and decision-making.

They say ECHA’s proposal is significant because lead matters to Europe’s economy and society in ways that are little known or understood by policymakers.

The biggest volume user of lead metal, approximately 90% of the total EU demand, is the lead battery industry. These are batteries that not only start combustion engine vehicles, but provide energy saving functionality in hybrids and critical back-up power for safety systems in electric vehicles. They are batteries that deliver uninterrupted power supply to hospitals and data centres; power forklift trucks and boats; and even provide energy storage for renewables from solar to wind power.

The President of Europe’s automotive and industrial battery industry body, EUROBAT, and CEO of Germany-based battery manufacturer Hoppecke, Dr Marc Zoellner said: “We are proud that in Europe we produce high quality advanced lead batteries that support electrification and decarbonisation throughout the economy – we do so with the highest recycling rates anywhere and in state of the art facilities meeting some of the most stringent health and environmental regulations in the world. This is an industry that forms part of Europe’s centre of excellence in batteries and we need regulation that’s both effective and proportionate

“REACH authorisation of lead metal is both ineffective and counter-productive and it would stifle innovation and further investment in Europe. This is why we are calling on Member States and the European Commission to consider more appropriate measures.”

And lead matters to a whole host of essential products and services beyond batteries. There are more than 20 essential uses of lead in the aeronautics industries, while lead-based radiation protection is currently the most effective, sustainable and cost-efficient way to safeguard the use of medical imaging today.

The carrier metal properties of lead make it an efficient and effective enabler for the recycling of a broad range of non-ferrous metals, from the critical raw material gallium used in mobile phones and solar panels, to precious metals including gold, and even platinum used in automotive catalytic converters.

Roland Harings, Group CEO of Aurubis, which is a leading producer of essential metals and raw materials for manufacturers in Europe, explained: “There is a need to secure the future safe use of lead, otherwise, Europe will not be able to produce and recycle strategic metals for the green transition and will incur a loss to a home-grown metals recycling industry which is in fact one of the most advanced and efficient in the world.”

The International Lead Association and the Lead REACH Consortium, which represents over 90 companies, have published a position paper detailing how lead metal supports many sectors critical for delivering Green Deal objectives such as carbon neutrality and circular economy, and calls for policy makers to recognise the already extensive framework of EU legislation designed to mitigate risk to human health and the environment. The Industry Groups propose that any residual risks should be managed by more targeted regulatory interventions that would not have the business impact or bureaucracy presented by REACH authorisation.

Read more from over 40 sectors on the vital, safe and sustainable use of lead in their industries and why lead matters for Europe’s future

Read more on Europe’s innovative, low carbon lead battery value chain

Subscribe to our newsletters