Important Takeaways from the New EU Regulatory Framework for Batteries
Earlier this year, we extensively discussed a select few energy storage projects in Europe that might inject robust contributions to the future of energy sustainability. The roles batteries play in realizing the EU’s climate-neutrality goals can never be overstated. This importance is manifested in the proliferation of electric vehicles (EVs) in Europe. A study from 2021 projected Europe to overtake China as the global leader in EV production by 2030– a feat that is predicted to significantly limit the EU CO2 emission per km to 59 by 2030.
That said, the discussions and analyses bordering batteries so often focus on the positives associated with them that the downsides are seldom considered, sometimes totally ignored even.
With the global adoption of electric mobility steadily accelerating at a spectacular rate, one thing that raises concern is how the world will source enough raw materials for the batteries being used in these vehicular scenes without creating adverse social, economic, and climatic impacts on the environment the solution aims to protect.
For example, a single sample car lithium-ion (Li-ion)battery could contain about 8kg of lithium, 35kg of nickel, 20kg of nickel, and 14kg of cobalt. The listed metals are valuable, and the percentage composition of each in a car battery is huge.
Let’s take a moment to put these concerns in context. Li-ion batteries, for instance, are estimated to account for the manufacture of 60% of EVs by 2030. On the other hand, lithium mining leaves the earth harmed and the air contaminated.
The regions in South America where lithium is mined are arid; therefore, the local communities bracketing these regions eke out water for their survival. Lithium mining, however, leaves the water contaminated and useless. To mine one tonne of lithium, approximately 2.2 million litres of water must be given up.
70% of the world’s cobalt is sourced from The Democratic Republic of Congo— a process so corrupt it results in child labour, environmental ruin, and toxic pollution that account for birth defects in the immediate population.
So, What is the EU Proposing to Combat These Challenges?
February 10 2022, was perhaps the day that these apprehensions were briefly met with some revolutionary proposals that could go on to steer the course of the future:
The EU Parliament Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) adopted its report to revise the 2006 EU regulatory framework for batteries.
Regarding the sustainability of batteries, the new proposals aim to impose certain mandatory requirements:
- Carbon footprint rules
- Minimum recycled content
- Performance and durability criteria
- End-of-life management requirements
- Due diligence obligations
- Safety and labelling
1. Carbon Footprint Rules
According to a study conducted by the Swedish Environmental Research Agency, a kWh of battery produced generates about 150 to 200 kilograms of CO2. An interpolation of this means the production of 10 kWh of batteries would generate about 2 tonnes of CO2– a dangerous and counterintuitive result considering that the primary purpose of storage batteries in Europe is to advance the EU climate goals.
The New EU’s Position On This
In the new EU regulatory framework for batteries, the commission moves to ensure that already manufactured batteries carry their footprint so that users become more aware of their environmental impacts. In addition, the commission aims to ensure that new batteries must contain the minimum amounts of lead, nickel, cobalt, and lithium.
This rule will promote transparency regarding existing batteries and their dangers while also limiting the production of batteries from unmined raw materials.
2. Minimum Recycled Content
One of the commission’s objectives is to mandate minimum recycled industrial and EV battery content. At least 12% cobalt, 85% lead, 4% lithium, and 4% nickel must be recycled as from 2030; and 20% cobalt, 85% lead, 10% lithium, and 12% nickel as from 2035.
Proper recycling of raw materials used in the manufacture of batteries restricts mining— which contributes largely to environmental pollution.
3. Performance and Durability Criteria
The EU proposes that portable batteries be easily removable and replaceable for easy collection against second-life use.
Moreover, the commission studies the possibility of totally discontinuing non-rechargeable batteries by the end of 2030.
The implementation of these rules encourages better battery and appliance management. Non-removable batteries are harmful to devices and the environment (i.e. cannot be collected for second-life assessment).
4. End-of-life Management Requirements
The EU seeks to improve recycling efficiency for an increased rate of second-life use of batteries.
Building upon this aim, the following specific objectives have been set:
- Collection rate targets for waste portable batteries will increase to 65% by 2025 and 70% by 2030.
- Recycling 75% by weight of lead-acid batteries by 2025 and 80% by 2030.
- Recycling 65% by weight of li-ion batteries by 2025 and 70% by 2030.
- 90% material recovery targets for cobalt, copper, nickel, and lead, 35% for lithium by 2025; 95% for cobalt, copper, nickel, and lead, and 70% for lithium by 2030.
Better recycling efficiencies help in repurposing and remanufacturing industrial and EV batteries for second life use.
5. Due Diligence Obligations
The proposals introduce a due diligence requirement on battery producers in sourcing raw materials. Following the data above surrounding the abuse of human rights and the environment, battery manufacturers must comply with obligations regarding sourcing, processing, and trading of raw materials used to manufacture batteries.
This check is a necessity to mitigate the chances of human rights and environmental abuse.
6. Safety and Labeling
To refine the safe use and handling of batteries, manufacturers are obligated to label batteries with necessary information such as charging capacity, lifetime, the presence of toxic substances, and safety risks.
In furtherance of this, the EU requires that beginning in 2026; each battery should have its quick response (QR) code which will be used to access its battery passport.
This regulation will enable battery owners to learn the relevant details about their batteries and exercise necessary precautionary measures regarding safety and management.
Relevant statistics have shown that the manufacture of storage batteries poses a sufficient dose of unfavourable impacts on humanity and the environment alike. To ensure that batteries don’t become the problems they were made to puzzle out, imperative steps must be taken. This is why it’s safe to say the new EU regulatory framework for batteries is a paradigm shift that, come 2035, will have cast ample light on the shadows imbuing storage batteries.