Why Europe needs to accelerate efforts to build its battery industry

Publish date: May 30, 2016

When it comes to the deployment of electric vehicles (EV) one of the main remaining hurdles is their higher purchase costs in comparison to conventional internal combustion engine (ICE) cars. Bringing these costs down will be largely determined by the scale of investments to improve performance and cost of EV batteries.

Numerous studies predict that the cost of lithium-ion batteries will continue to decrease significantly over the next decade. Element Energy, for instance, finds that their packaging costs can be reduced up to 70% by 2030, to approximately €203/kWh from the current €661/kWh.[1] The IEA predicts that by 2020, EV battery costs will have reached $300/kWh (or €283/kWh): a threshold they estimate to render EVs cost-competitive with their ICE counterparts.[2]

In addition to reducing costs, we need to see further battery improvements to prolong their lifespan, allow them to charge faster, be lighter and safer, more technically reliable and easily recyclable. Attaining a driving range of roughly 400-500km is key to enabling inter-urban mobility and rendering EVs a viable alternative to ICE cars. To this end, it is important for increased levels of EU funding to be made available and to stimulate locally manufactured batteries.

Currently Asian manufacturers are dominating Li-ion battery production. In China, for instance, the development of alternatively fueled vehicles and the Li-ion battery sector has been booming thanks to the robust support scheme that has been put in place by the government. In May 2016 alone, nearly €360 million have been poured into China’s Li-ion battery market.

To put this into perspective, over the past five years, the growth of the energy storage market in China has outpaced that of the global market by six times, with a growth rate of 110%. Installed capacity of Li-ion battery captured 66% of the market share in the energy storage market.[3]

In light of this strong competition from its Asian counterparts, coupled with last year’s Volkswagen-initiated emission testing scandal which revealed the ever more challenging and costly nature of attaining combustion engine efficiency improvements, Europe needs to urgently get off the brakes on electro-mobility and embrace this inevitable transition.

Failure to ensure timely investments into strengthening Europe’s automotive battery industry and thus fostering the mass deployment of Li-ion batteries and EVs, will put Europe at risk of undermining the industrial competitiveness and viability of its automotive industry.

In addition to harming Europe’s competitive advantage, a dependence on Asian markets entails high transportation costs, and most importantly a large carbon footprint. In order to ensure the CO2 emissions entailed in transportation do not undermine the effect of electrification, it is important for the EU to invest in locally manufactured batteries.

2016 will be a turbulent year, with a number of legislative EU processes underway which could provide important opportunities for highlighting and providing a stimulus for the development of batteries and electro-mobility uptake. These include the Commission’s Communication on the Decarbonisation of Transport (expected in June/July 2016), EU Member States’ transposition of the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure (AFI) Directive (by November 2016) and the ongoing reform of the EU ETS and its funding mechanism for low-carbon technologies, the Innovation Fund.

Bellona will be closely monitoring these processes with a view towards ensuring an optimal outcome for the development of Europe’s EV battery industry and that of a European Single Market for Electro-mobility.