A backdoor attempt to “choke off” supplies of key raw materials for Europe’s lead-acid battery industry could face a legal battle, BBB can reveal.
The move was sparked by proposals from the Swedish Chemicals Agency to have lead metal classified as “substances of very high concern” (SVHC) under EU health and environmental rules.
The European Commission (EC) has launched a public consultation into the EU’s Batteries Directive, as part of a fundamental review of laws governing batteries in Europe.
Current legislation, which came into force in 2006, is based on data and the market situation that existed around the turn of the millennium— before lithium-ion technology had fully come into widespread use.
An international manufacturer of single wall carbon nanotubes (SWCNT), OCSiAl has successfully achieved registration in the EU's Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) listings.
OCSiAl claims it is the first and only company that is capable of producing industrial-scale volumes of SWCNT in the market. REACH registration will boost OCSiAl’s core product TUBALL™ to help it deliver 60 tonnes next year to the European continent.
Solvay Specialty Polymers, a global producer of plastics, has launched a sustainability programme called LIFE+ GLEE to limit the use of harmful solvents in lithium-ion battery manufacturing processes.
The substance Solvay is targeting for elimination is N-Methyl-2-pyrrolidone (NMP) which has been classified as a substance of very high concern under the European Chemicals Agency REACH classification. This means it has carcinogenic, mutagenic, or toxic effects for reproduction properties. Current manufacturing processes use the organic solvent because cathode materials are sensitive to water.
Battery making in Europe still hangs in the balance as lead remains under scrutiny by the European Commission’s REACH division. Four lead compounds irreplaceable in battery making were formally added to the candidate list in December 2012.
If authorised, battery makers would incur a significant cost to continue using them. Lead monoxide, lead tetroxide, tetralead trioxide sulphate and pentalead tetraoxide sulphate were added to the REACH list following proposal in August and public consultation that ran until October.
The ILA called it “deeply regrettable” that the European Commission chose to pursue this route rather than carrying out a risk assessment before identifying the substances as SVHCs, (a substance of very high concern).
EUROBAT’s EU Affairs Manager Michel Baumgartner said: “It didn’t come as a surprise because it’s the logical conclusion to the consultation – lead substances are repro-toxic. What we do regret is that it’s a political decision to achieve the target number of chemicals on the list before the end of 2012.“
At this stage there are no obligations for battery manufacturers using the lead substances. Baumgartner said: “It constitutes an information obligation along the supply chain and it starts with whoever makes the substance. But because there is none of the substance in the finished article, it does not pose an obligation to the battery manufacturers themselves.”
Agreeing to evaluate the risk management options before taking further action on lead is a move welcomed by the ILA and EUROBAT. It will be conducted by ECHA over the coming year. For this companies may be asked to prepare additional information to ECHA. The conclusions should be available in January 2014. By then it should be known if ECHA is proposing authorisation or any other restrictions.