Bellona welcomes EU Battery Strategy but concrete actions must follow

Renewable energy storage sign on dark wooden desk. Credit: Thinkstock

BRUSSELS, 17 May 2018 – The European Commission has today published its third and final mobility package, consisting of a number of key legislative proposals and communications, aimed at putting an end to unregulated CO2 emissions from trucks; paving the way for an autonomous, connected and safer mobility system, and very importantly, placing the need for a sustainable battery supply chain at the heart of Europe’s transition to electro-mobility.  

While a European Battery Strategy is a step in the right direction, it is paramount that this is accompanied by ambitious EU policies to secure both supply and demand for battery-powered electric vehicles, thereby creating certainty for investors. To this end, the adoption of bold zero-emission vehicle mandates via the ongoing redesign of the Union’s CO2 standards for cars and vans, as well as forward-looking public procurement targets via the recast Clean Vehicles Directive, are two complimentary parts of the solution.

Being the only sector whose emissions are still on the rise, it is clear that transport poses a tremendous challenge for the EU in terms of attaining its climate objectives. The uptake of electro-mobility is widely recognised as offering the largest carbon mitigation potential, while helping to boost security of energy supply and tackling ever growing air- and noise-pollution concerns in cities. In view of this, the European Commission has, throughout the past few years and with its consecutive mobility packages, undertaken first steps towards building a conducive legislative framework as well as rolling out an appropriate recharging infrastructure to facilitate this transformation.

A shift towards battery-electric solutions across all transport modes will inevitably also entail higher demand for lithium and other critical raw materials, the majority of which Europe imports from abroad. Europe is clearly lagging in terms of electro-mobility deployment as well as battery and cell production capacity, and today’s Battery Strategy seeks to put an end to this, by boosting Europe’s locally manufactured battery industry, which in turn promises opportunities for job creation and economic growth.

Huge untapped potential

According to some forecasts, from 2025 onwards Europe could capture a batteries market of up to EUR 250 billion a year, served by at least 10 to 20 Gigafactories (mass production facilities of battery cells) to cover EU demand. Given the scale and speed of investment needed, however, this can only be addressed in a coordinated manner.

A recent Bellona study, moreover looks into the enormous untapped potential and important opportunities for large-scale production of high capacity batteries in Norway, where access to cheap renewable energy, specialised expertise, and access to raw materials locally make this an environmentally and economically attractive option.

Importantly, Europe has the unique opportunity to position itself as a leader in the electric revolution by outperforming other regions through the production of safe and sustainable batteries. In particular, this can be achieved by directing EU funding towards researching the substitution of critical raw materials (such as cobalt) and developing advanced- and post-lithium-ion batteries. Bellona Holding is currently investigating the possibilities of sulphur-based graphene batteries which are showing promising results.

Putting an end to dependence on vulnerable regions

While in the short- to mid-term, used batteries from the construction and automotive industries will have useful secondary applications for stationary energy storage, recycling will have a growing role to play in recovering critical raw materials. Today recycling of lithium is expensive, facilities underdeveloped, and recovery rates low. In fact, as little as 5% of lithium-ion batteries are recycled in the EU today, the majority being dumped in landfill or incinerated instead .

The existing EU Batteries Directive design does not provide an adequate impetus to overcome these hurdles. Its upcoming revision should therefore take into account developments relating to batteries used in the automotive as well as construction industries by introducing dedicated and ambitious collection and recycling targets. The implementation of an effective battery collection and recycling system will have to be accompanied by adequate incentives, and the deployment of a comprehensive network of collection points, transport and recycling facilities.

This package is a welcome and much needed step but the upcoming policies and actions from EU policymakers and industrial actors will be decisive as to whether Europe takes this unique chance to become a global leader in battery and vehicle production.

Bellona Europa

europe@bellona.org