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Europe moves further towards large-scale battery cell production

At an event held in Paris, more than a dozen European Ministers of Economic Affairs have released a joint statement setting out the next steps to turn Europe into an industrial hub for large-scale battery cell production. The role of SMEs and competition was highlighted repeatedly in the statement. Additionally, European cells that should be supported in the future should provide a degree of innovation in terms of raw material use and sustainability and recyclability, indicating a turn-away from traditional lithium-ion.

European ministers of Economic Affairs met in Paris at the Friends of Industry conference this week, to sign a seven page joint statement which aims to accelerate the establishment of European battery cell production. The ministers of France, Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Spain have all signed the new deal.

The statement sets out four core objectives to realize the goal of European battery cell production. Firstly, the signatories agreed that a new commission be put in place to propose an ‘ambitious and comprehensive’ industrial strategy that should be reached by 2030. Herein, the ministers highlighted their focus on reducing the regulatory burden for small and medium sized enterprises to improve competitiveness.

Secondly, the ministers agreed that by early 2019, strategic value chains for the European market should be identified within the Strategic Forum for Important Projects of Common European Interest (IPCEIs). Thereby, technologies eligible to fight global climate change such as electric batteries, autonomous vehicles, semiconductors, low carbon industrial processes and net zero energy building renovations, among others should be prioritized.

Thirdly, the goals should be realized through new policies in the areas of competition, research and innovation, digitalization and the single market. These would include new norms and standards for regional development, international trade, energy and sustainability development. Additionally, the ministers foresee the role of financial tools in this project and highlight their preference for using the next Multiannual Financial Framework, particularly for R&D&I, the IPCEIs framework and InvestEU programme, as well as structural funds.

Fourthly, the group of ministers reiterate the role of competitiveness in the project and seek to involve the Competitiveness Council to steer European policies that benefit the industry.

On the technology side, the statement highlights the focus on “disruptive innovation,” which should receive financing through various channels at the EU’s disposal. Furthermore, artificial intelligence and electric mobility are the core objectives of the programme.

Indicative of the further acceleration of European battery cell production is that government representatives of Germany and France yesterday signed a joint statement highlighting that after Germany reserved €1 billion for the support of the development of battery production in Germany, France has also agreed to provide substantial financial support to its industry.

In this separate statement, German minister for Economic Affairs Peter Altmaier, and his French counterpart Bruno Le Maire outlined the roles of the IPCEI framework and competition as well. While both statements make repeated reference to finding new technologies that are either disruptive, sustainable, recyclable or allow for fairer conditions of the extracted raw materials, it is not yet clear, which technologies will benefit from the policy.

In October this year, the University of the West of England produced a report on battery sustainability for the European Commission that finds widespread current battery systems include raw materials that prompt severe environmental and social issues.

The report examines resource availability, toxicity, safety, production, and recycling and disposal impacts. Addressing the composition of electrodes is a paramount issue to meet enhanced eco-political targets, the authors say. On the matter of resource availability, the researchers conclude, while shortages will become an issue in future – for some materials – this will not be a problem in the near or medium-term.

Aside from other viable options they identified, the researchers claim they “without a doubt” see sodium-ion batteries as the most appealing candidate to circumvent the adverse impacts of lithium-ion systems. Sodium, they state, is highly abundant and not associated with geopolitical issues. The batteries post a lower energy density than lithium-ion, but the researchers are confident significant progress is feasible. In that vein, they also cite the European Strategic Energy Technology Plan for batteries, which also highlights the potential of sodium-ion.

Source: pv magazine