Making batteries sustainable, rights for drivers, and the European Year of Aviation?

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It’s a truism that much of the labour and materials that go into the goods we purchase are purposely rendered invisible – from fast fashion to cheap electronics, consumers are encouraged to enjoy the end product while maintaining a safe mental distance from the manufacturing process.

Batteries have been no exception.

As road transport increasingly moves to electric-powered vehicles, this means a rise in the demand for batteries, and with it comes an increase in the demand for cobalt, nickel, lithium, and other raw materials.

And while picking out an electric vehicle may seem to be the “green” choice, there is a darker side to this new demand for EV batteries, as the Guardian reports.

More than half of the lithium used in Europe comes from outside of the EU, while new mines opening in the EU are proving controversial (in Portugal, concerns over mining have led citizens to protest).

However, there is a largely untapped source of lithium that is easy to get to – the vast store of old mobile phones and laptops present in most households. Experts believe that so-called “urban mining” could go a long way to meeting Europe’s increased demand for battery materials.

To achieve this, the Commission wants collection rates for portable batteries to increase from the current figure of 45% to 70% by 2030, while industrial, automotive, or electric vehicle batteries must be collected in full.

The European Commission’s sustainable battery regulation sets a minimum level of recycled materials that must be used during the manufacturing phase, aiming to make EU batteries the greenest in the world.

But EU countries are concerned by the new regulation, citing the administrative burden it will place on battery producers and public authorities.

“Given the complexity of the questions we’re looking at, remembering that we’re talking about a very new regulation, and given the divergence of opinion amongst the member states at this time, I have to admit that is not going to be easy to approve the proposal by the Council in June,” said Portuguese minister João Pedro Matos Fernandes, who chaired a Council debate on the proposal.

Read the full article on member states’ reaction to the EU executive’s sustainable batteries proposal below.

Worker status

The UK’s gig economy was given a serious shakeup last week as Uber announced it will give its UK drivers a minimum wage, holiday pay, and a pension. Drivers were previously considered self-employed, meaning they were not entitled to the protections afforded to salaried employees.

“More than 70,000 drivers in the UK will be treated as workers, earning at least the national living wage when driving with Uber,” the taxi app said in a statement.

The decision comes following a ruling by the UK’s top court that the men and women behind the wheel for Uber are, in fact, deserving of workers’ rights. Read more below.

Road transport: asleep at the wheel?

ShareAction, an NGO that pushes for ethical investment, has warned that Europe’s five largest automakers are lagging behind when it comes to the low-carbon mobility transition, EURACTIV’s media partner edie.net reports.

“ShareAction is warning investors that, despite a flurry of climate commitments, Europe’s carmakers are largely unprepared for the expected changes to emissions standards and internal combustion engine phase-outs,” the NGO said in a statement.

“If these laggards cannot mobilise quickly enough for a climate neutral future, they may find themselves displaced by competitors better positioned for the transition to zero-emissions mobility – just as Nokia and Blackberry lost out in the telecoms transition to smartphones,” said Jana Hock, senior research officer at ShareAction.

BMW dismissed the allegations, however, telling edie that the company “does not recognise the claims made by ShareAction”.

Will 2022 be the “European Year of Aviation”?

MEPs have asked European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Commissioner Adina Vălean to declare next year as the “European Year of Aviation”, giving a boost to the ailing flight industry.

“In these difficult times, people can hardly go to an airport and catch a flight. A desolating image, empty airports – with their closed shops – are an emblematic portrait of this very challenging period,” MEPs from the European Parliament’s Sky & Space Intergroup wrote.

“The European Year of Aviation would be a great opportunity to show that a new era of zero-carbon aircraft is coming and that Europe is doing its utmost to get there”, said MEP Christophe Grudler of the centrist Renew Europe group.

Meanwhile, 2021 remains the European Year of Rail. So far it has been a less than auspicious year for railway companies, which are suffering, as airlines are, from COVID-driven travel restrictions. Read more about the European Commission’s efforts to restart free movement within the bloc below.


A roundup of the most captivating transport news.

Commission’s ‘ambitious’ green battery proposal criticised during Council debate

EU countries expressed concern on Thursday (18 March) that the European Commission’s sustainable battery proposal sets unworkable targets and deadlines and would increase bureaucratic costs for battery producers, raising the prospect that the legislation will require significant changes before entering into law.

Europe has overtaken China on electric cars. Three roadblocks stand in the way

Europe had a strong head start in electric cars in 2020, but the roadblocks of weak regulation, road cap-and-trade system and – above all – detour into e-fuels all stand in the way of Europe’s ambition on zero emissions mobility, writes Julia Poliscanova.

Six things to know about EU certificates meant to save the summer

Although the newly proposed vaccine certificate should not be considered a second passport, the European Commission’s tool conceived to ease free movements restrictions – and save the summer season – still raises concerns ranging from discriminatory aspects to its medical validity.

Uber grants UK drivers worker status in world first

Uber said it is granting its UK drivers worker status, with benefits including a minimum wage – a world first for the US ride-hailing giant.

EU official: Road digitalisation will lead to safer and greener highways

Intelligent Transport Systems have the potential to increase road safety and efficiency, cutting emissions and saving lives, says Pierpaolo Tona, a senior project manager with the Innovation and Networks Executive Agency, a body established by the European Commission to manage specialised projects.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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