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Revised directive sets out goals for Europe's battery industry

Mon, 12/14/2020 - 09:27 -- Paul Crompton

The European Commission has launched its revised Batteries Directive that sets out its goals of modernising legislative framework supporting the transition to electro-mobility, carbon-neutral energy storage, and a sustainable battery value chain.

The proposed directive announced on 10 December is the first update of the document for a decade, and was written to reflect the latest developments in battery technology as well as plans on reducing the carbon footprint of batteries.

The Commission proposes mandatory requirements for all batteries (i.e. industrial, automotive, electric vehicle and portable) placed on the European market are sustainable, high-performing and safe all along their entire life cycle. 

This includes from 1 July 2024, only rechargeable industrial and electric vehicles batteries for which a carbon footprint declaration has been established, can be placed on the market.

A European Comission statement read: "Batteries have to be long-lasting and safe, and at the end of their life, they should be repurposed, remanufactured or recycled, feeding valuable materials back into the economy. This means batteries that are produced with the lowest possible environmental impact, using materials obtained in full respect of human rights as well as social and ecological standards."

It added: "Better and more performant batteries will make a key contribution to the electrification of road transport, which will significantly reduce its emissions, increase the uptake of electric vehicles and facilitate a higher share of renewable sources in the EU energy mix.

"With this proposal, the Commission also aims to boost the circular economy of the battery value chains and promote more efficient use of resources with the aim of minimising the environmental impact of batteries." 

The Directive builds on commitments and reports adopted by the European Commission, including the strategic action plan on batteries, the new circular economy action plan, the new industrial strategy for Europe and the sustainable and smart mobility strategy, which aims at delivering a 90% reduction in transport-related GHG emissions by 2050.

In 2017, The European Commission launched a public consultation into the Batteries Directive, as part of a fundamental review of laws governing batteries in Europe. The Directive updated legislation, which came into force in 2006, was written before lithium-ion technology had fully come into widespread use.

The Directive forms an integral part of the EU's Green Deal action plan, which aims to transform Europe into a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy that encourages investment in environmentally-friendly technologies, supports industry to innovate, decarbonises the energy sector and works with international partners to improve global environmental standards.

This initiative addresses three groups of interlinked problems related to batteries.

  • A lack of framework conditions providing incentives to invest in production capacity for sustainable batteries. 
  • The poor functioning of recycling markets and insufficiently closed material loops, which limit the EU's potential to mitigate the supply risk for raw materials.
  • The social and environmental risks not covered by EU environmental law. These problems include: a lack of transparency on sourcing raw materials; hazardous substances; and the untapped potential for offsetting the environmental impacts of battery life cycles. 

The new report states the root of these issues are market failures and information failures, which are related to the functioning of the single market. In addition, they are exacerbated by a third driver, the complexity of battery value chains. 

The proposal’s objectives are: to strengthen the functioning of the internal market (including products, processes, waste batteries and recyclates), by ensuring a level playing field through a common set of rules; promote a circular economy; and reduce environmental and social impacts throughout all stages of the battery life cycle. 

EUROBAT, the association for the European Automotive and Industrial Battery Manufacturers and supply chain, said it strongly welcomed the fact the new proposal looked at the battery sector holistically and moved towards a risk-based approach, taking into account chemicals management, occupational health and safety policies, competitiveness and sustainability.

It stated: "We appreciate that in most cases the proposal looks at the specificities of each battery technology and applications when it comes to recycling efficiency, collection and information requirements. For instance, the proposal correctly recognises that automotive and industrial batteries are collected at the end of their life, and rightly includes a continuation of the current no-losses policy in this regard." 

Since 2006, batteries and waste batteries have been regulated at EU level under the Batteries Directive (2006/66/EC). A modernisation of the framework was necessary because of changed socioeconomic conditions, technological developments, markets and battery uses— especially as demand for batteries is set to increase 14 fold by 2030. 


Industry response

Dr. Marc Zoellner, president of EUROBAT and CEO of Hoppecke Batteries, said: “This proposal is an important milestone. All battery technologies and applications will be regulated by this new piece of legislation, stretching all the way from batteries in vehicles and forklift trucks to energy storage and telecommunications. European manufacturing must take a leadership role for a sustainable future, to which all battery technologies will contribute.

"As next steps, EUROBAT and its members will analyse the proposal and proactively contribute to the debate in the European Parliament and Council on the proposed regulation, which has the potential to guarantee the future of a sound and sustainable battery industry in Europe."

Dr Andy Bush, managing director of the International Lead Association, said: “These proposals are a welcome step towards Europe’s zero carbon objectives. A range of battery technologies will be required to achieve these objectives. We agree that all batteries placed on the EU market should be more sustainable, high-performing and safe through their entire life cycle.

“We therefore support the focus of the new proposal on increasing recycling efficiencies and material recovery for all battery chemistries, increasing use of recycled materials in the manufacture of new batteries, increased requirements for due diligence and responsible sourcing of raw materials, and minimising the environmental footprint of batteries.

“Our industry— the entire lead and lead battery value chain— is a successful example of strategic autonomy and the circular economy in action. Lead batteries are already the most recycled battery in Europe, with all batteries that are collected at the end of their life recycled in a closed loop. Currently 80% of a new lead battery made in Europe is made up of recycled materials collected in Europe, and of course, we support thousands of jobs and supply many other key industries and services with products that deliver clean energy that is the key to the European Green Deal.”

Callum McGuinn, senior associate and patent attorney in the Chemistry team at Mewburn Ellis, who specialises in battery technology and materials, said: “This seems a necessary development from a sustainability perspective, and it seems likely that the targets could help stimulate important innovation within battery recycling, ultimately leading to a more reliable alternative source of the costly elements needed to manufacture new batteries. 

Claude Chanson, general manager at European association The Advanced Rechargeable & Lithium Batteries Association (RECHARGE), said: “Today’s proposal for modernised EU rules for batteries represents the next milestone in delivering on the Strategic Action Plan on Batteries. It puts European policymakers in the unique position to now translate the EU’s vision for sustainable, innovative and competitive batteries “made in Europe” into a meaningful legislative framework that will close the gaps in existing legislation and can level the playing field with international actors.” 

Virginijus Sinkevičius, EU commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, said: ”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. 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 lifecycle. 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.”

Thierry BretonCommission for Internal Market, 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 fulfil 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 batteries value chain in the EU: from raw materials and chemicals via electric mobility all the way to recycling.”   

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