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European Commission proposes minimum sustainability thresholds for batteries

The world’s second largest battery market is mulling strict regulation of what type of products can be sold within it. The bloc wants to tighten rules on using hazardous materials and would encourage circular economy approaches. The scope of the commission’s proposal would also affect the design of devices, with phones, laptops and other portable gadgets without removable batteries set to be prohibited.

Global decarbonization efforts periodically encounter headwinds related to concerns about the technology meant to drive carbon reduction itself. Batteries are a prime example of a technology which has raised concerns about resource extraction, manufacturing energy requirements, and recyclability.

Today, the European Commission, which wants to build enough battery manufacturing capacity in Europe to meet the continent’s demand, proposed new battery regulation to make products more sustainable. Around 800,000 tons of automotive batteries, 190,000 tons of industrial products and 160,000 tons of consumer energy storage devices enter the European Union each year, the commission reported – and those figures are on an upward trajectory.

“Clean energy is the key to [the] European Green Deal but our increasing reliance on batteries in, for example, transport, should not harm the environment,” said the commission’s executive VP for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans. “The new batteries regulation will help reduce the environmental and social impact of all batteries throughout their life cycle. Today’s proposal allows the EU to scale up the use and production of batteries in a safe, circular, and healthy way.”

Demand

Under current decarbonization plans, the commission expects global demand for batteries to increase 14-fold between 2018 and 2030, rendering such legislation an essential addition to the European Green Deal.

The proposed batteries regulation builds on the EU’s battery directive and extends its scope. As envisioned by the commission, the new regulation aims to harmonize battery product requirements and address hazardous substances such as mercury and cadmium. The plan also aims to set rules to minimize the environmental impact of batteries by introducing a carbon footprint declaration from July 2024. Then, from January 2026, batteries would feature a carbon intensity label and, from July 2027, maximum carbon thresholds would be implemented.

Far from railing against more regulation, European lithium-ion battery industry body Recharge welcomed the proposal. “Due diligence and carbon intensity were clearly missing in this comprehensive framework so far, undermining the efforts of European actors,” said Recharge president Patrick de Metz. “A carbon footprint and due diligence measure have the potential to not only prevent under-performing batteries from entering the EU market, but to work, on [a] product-level, on the EU’s climate-neutrality and sustainability objectives.”

Circular

The commission wants to foster legal certainty for a circular economy approach in the battery industry. From January 2027, electric vehicle batteries would have to declare their recycled cobalt, lead, lithium, and nickel content under the proposed regulation. From 2030, the commission has proposed minimum recycled content thresholds of 12% for cobalt, 85% for lead, 4% for lithium and the same for nickel. Five years later, the thresholds would rise to 20% for cobalt, 10% for lithium, and 12% for nickel.

Only around 45% of portable batteries – such as those used in laptops and mobile phones – on the European market are collected and properly recycled. The commission proposes to raise that figure to 65% in five years, and 70% in ten years. For automotive, industrial, and stationary storage batteries collection and recycling rates are expected to leap to 100%. Beyond collection, the commission proposal also envisages recycling be classified so high recovery rates for lithium, cobalt, nickel, and lead become implicit in law.

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“With this innovative EU proposal on sustainable batteries, we are giving the first big push to the circular economy under our new circular economy action plan,” said environment, oceans and fisheries commissioner, Virginijus Sinkevičius. “Batteries are essential for crucial sectors of our economy and society, such as mobility, energy and communications. This future-oriented legislative toolbox will upgrade the sustainability of batteries in each phase of their life cycle. Batteries are full of valuable materials and we want to ensure that no battery is lost to waste. The sustainability of batteries has to grow hand in hand with their increasing numbers on the EU market.”

The plan also foresees the use of ‘battery passports‘ to enable the use of second-life applications at scale. Passports make a battery’s critical parameters accessible to recyclers and second-life companies. Data such as how many deep-discharge cycles have been undertaken and the temperature in which a battery has operated can give clues on its remaining capacity, reducing procurement risk for second-life application providers.

The European Commission has also proposed minimum performance standards for cycling stability be imposed from 2026. The commission wants batteries to be removable from portable electronic devices so the life spans of kit such as laptops and mobile phones is not dictated by battery longevity. Such battery access would also ease recycling of the storage components.

Circular manufacturing

Circular manufacturing was the focus of the pv magazine UP initiative in the last quarter. We asked whether adopting circular approaches could create a competitive edge and reap financial and reputational rewards, in addition to investigating what is already being done in the solar industry. Browse our coverage here.

“The commission puts forward a new future-proof regulatory framework on batteries to ensure that only the greenest, best performing and safest batteries make it onto the EU market,” said commission VP for inter-institutional relations, Maroš Šefčovič. “This ambitious framework on transparent and ethical sourcing of raw materials, [the] carbon-footprint of batteries, and recycling, is an essential element to achieve open strategic autonomy in this critical sector and accelerate our work under the European Battery Alliance.”

The latter organization was founded in 2017 and has seen around a dozen battery gigafactories announced in Europe, to potentially drive the creation of around 800,000 jobs by 2023, according to Recharge. ‘Gigafab’ start-up, and Recharge member ACC, said: “We need the European framework to support this new dynamic and provide for … comprehensive, timely, and lean legislation.”

European commissioner for the internal market, Thierry Breton, said: “Europe needs to increase its strategic capacity in new and enabling technologies, such as batteries, that are essential for our industrial competitiveness and to fulfill our green ambitions. With investment and the right policy incentives – including today’s proposal for a new regulatory framework – we are helping establish the full batter[y] value chain in the EU: from raw materials and chemicals via electric mobility all the way to recycling.”

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Source: pv magazine