EU batteries to be the world’s greenest under new rules – EURACTIV.com

Batteries produced in Europe will be the most sustainable in the world, under new rules agreed upon by EU lawmakers on Friday (9 December). 

In addition to helping the EU meet its green targets, the revised battery regulation is intended to bolster the bloc’s fledgling battery market, as Europe looks to compete with battery giants of Asia and the United States.

At present, China, Japan, and South Korea are the world’s most prolific battery producers, making Asia the global powerhouse of electric vehicle batteries. North America is the second largest producer, with Europe taking bronze.

The newly-agreed rules will cover the entire battery life cycle, from the extraction of raw materials to industrial production to end-of-life disposal.

Chief negotiator Achille Variati, an Italian lawmaker with the centre-left S&D group, said the agreed measures “could become a benchmark for the entire global battery market”.

“We agreed on measures that greatly benefit consumers: Batteries will be well-functioning, safer and easier to remove,” he said. 

“Our overall aim is to build a stronger EU recycling industry, particularly for lithium, and a competitive industrial sector as a whole, which is crucial in the coming decades for our continent’s energy transition and strategic autonomy,” he added. 

The regulation will apply to all batteries sold in the EU: From portable batteries in electronic devices to electric vehicle batteries to batteries used in e-scooters and e-bikes.

Under the rules, electric vehicle batteries, e-scooter batteries, and larger industrial batteries will be required to display a “carbon footprint declaration”, outlining the carbon expended in production.

Portable batteries must also be easy to remove and replace – a design capability that some manufacturers, notably iPhone maker Apple, have resisted.

In a bid to ensure consumers are better informed, batteries will be required to contain QR codes that link to information related to their capacity, performance, durability, and chemical composition.

Adhering to the EU’s green production criteria will be a prerequisite to selling a battery within the bloc.

It is predicted that by 2030 the need for batteries across the bloc will be 14 times greater than today.

Due diligence

The extraction of metals used in the production of batteries has led to controversy. 

In 2016, Amnesty International sent tremors through the tech industry when it published a report revealing that 35,000 child labourers worked at cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the world’s leading producer of the metal.

The report led to harsh criticism from lawmakers and consumers, and industry vows to address abuses in the supply chain.

Under the new rules, all companies placing batteries on the EU market must have a “due diligence policy” that addresses abuses in the supply of raw materials.

To cut down on the level of resources that must be imported into the bloc, the EU has also raised collection and recycling targets. 

According to the agreement, new batteries must contain a set percentage of recycled materials: 16% cobalt, 85% lead, 6% lithium, and 6% nickel.

Lawmakers also set ambitious collection targets for portable batteries to ensure a steady stream of recycled material. Under the rules, collection targets will rise from 45% by 2023 to 73% by 2030.

For electric vehicles, the rate is set at 100% collection.

Reactions

The centre-right EPP group welcomed the agreement, saying it is necessary for Europe to compete on the battery world stage.

“Unfortunately, the EU lags behind in battery production, making us vulnerable to industrial competition from Asia and the United States. With this agreement, we take another leap forward in strengthening European competitiveness,” said conservative lawmaker Jessica Polfjard.

The Greens also praised the agreement, arguing that it is needed to shift Europe to a more circular economy.

“By setting targets on both the supply and demand sides, we are creating a market for recycled materials. Not only do we have to open fewer new mines, it also means that the ever-growing mountain of electronic waste is tackled and used as a new raw material in the future,” said Greens MEP Bas Eickhout.

While the Dutch lawmaker felt the recycling targets could have been higher, he praised the emphasis on using reclaimed materials as “a good start”.

The centrist Renew group said that the new regulation “is a win for us and for the climate”.

“Instead of throwing out your old electronics it will be easier to replace the worn out batteries with new recycled ones,” said Swedish lawmaker Karin Karlsbro.

Industry Commissioner Thierry Breton sought to position the regulation as a boost to European manufacturing might, saying that the new agreement will ensure that European businesses are “not just subcontractors” in the global marketplace.

The agreement will now go to the Parliament and Council for final approval.

[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]



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