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Study slams EU on lithium recycling and praises 'climate-friendly' lead

Mon, 11/12/2018 - 00:00 -- John Shepherd

More than half of Europe’s used batteries “disappear” without proper treatment because of “outdated” recycling rules and inadequate targets for collecting lithium-ion batteries, according to a damning report.

The study criticises the European Union’s Batteries Directive for lacking “a target or provisions for a monitoring system” to keep track of uncollected batteries— which are said to be fuelling health and safety fears by being dumped with household waste.

The study, however, acknowledged the efficient recycling of lead-acid batteries in the EU (“mostly 97% or higher”), saying the process was “generally profitable” and helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition, data shows lead-acid battery production in the EU contributed to “more than €7 billion” (US$8bn) worth of overall products made in the bloc by the battery industry in 2016.

The study was compiled for the European Commission’s Environment Directorate-General by the German non-profit Oeko-Institut, the Netherlands-based economic policy consultancy Trinomics and international consulting group EY.

“Overall, the Batteries Directive is not well-adapted and not specific enough to address new developments,” the study’s authors said. “Generally, the Directive does not provide any criteria (eg, amount, hazardous substances, economic relevance) to determine when new battery types should be addressed separately, when separate reporting is required and when a separate recycling efficiency should be applied.”

A 45% collection rate for portable batteries— a key directive target— was met by only 14 of the existing EU member states. “The remaining 13 states did not meet the target or did not report.”

By comparison, the recycling of lead-acid batteries reduces emissions by 0.88 million tonnes CO2 equivalent, which “has a positive impact” on EU climate change and resource efficiency policy objectives.

Oeko-Institut researcher and lead study author, Dr Hartmut Stahl, said the EU needs a revised Directive with “ambitious targets” for recovering key battery materials such as lithium and cobalt.

The European Commission launched a consultation into the Batteries Directive last year, as part of a fundamental review of existing laws governing batteries in Europe that came into force in 2006.

A European Commission official told BEST Battery BriefingThe Batteries Directive is currently under review, the publication of the evaluation report is expected to take place this year. The study referred to was requested by the Commission in support of the evaluation of the Batteries Directive and will be taken into account in the revision of the Directive, together with the answers to the public consultation that took place, amongst others.

Batteries & Energy Storage Technology (BEST) magazine’s technical editor, Dr Mike McDonagh, takes an in-depth look at the recycling issues facing policymakers and manufacturers in the autumn edition, out now.

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