A climate neutral economy needs sustainable batteries

Some of Europe’s largest green networks have urged ministers to make durable, repairable and low-carbon batteries the norm.

Environment ministers met last week to kick off discussions about, among other issues, the much-awaited revision of the EU’s Battery Regulation.

From transport and energy storage to smartphones, the revision has the potential to reduce the environmental impact and downsize the risks of our increasingly electrified and digital economy.

The discussions focused on a legislative proposal put forward last year by the European Commission to boost the market for sustainable batteries. Announced as one of the cornerstones of the European Green Deal, the strategy received widespread attention, with the European Investment Bank promising to allocate more than €1 billion to battery-related projects.

The European Parliament and Council are now expected to come up with their own positions by the end of the year. An ambitious stance by national governments may further improve the Commission’s proposal and turn the existing directive into a more comprehensive and binding regulation.

A once-in-a-generation opportunity

Batteries are necessary to replace fossil fuels with clean energy. However, the extraction of raw materials used to produce them is depleting resources, polluting natural ecosystems and fuelling environmental and social injustice.

According to recent studies, if reuse and recycling rates do not grow sufficiently by 2050, the reserves of copper, lithium, nickel and manganese in existing mines will be exhausted. Much of this depletion will be due to the batteries required by electric vehicles, as the global lithium-ion market is set to grow by up to 30% each year.

For this reason, a coalition of leading green NGOs – Deutsche Umwelthilfe, ECOS, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and Transport & Environment has called on ministers to seize this opportunity and improve the Commission’s proposal further by:

  • Introducing manufacturing requirements to ensure optimal performance as well as replaceability, disassembly, repairability and reusability;
  •  Ensuring that carbon footprint rules incentivise real world use of green energy with independent verification of industry data, in particular from third countries;;
  • Ensuring better collection of spent batteries by introducing a deposit return system for portable batteries, waste collection targets and incentivises for the collection of electric vehicle batteries, including light means of transport;
  • Implementing mandatory tests to determine whether it is technically possible and economically reasonable to reuse a battery;
  • Increasing the ambition of the battery material recovery targets, especially for lithium, and aligning them with current best practice.
  • Enforcing the effective phase-down of disposable batteries by replacing them with rechargeable batteries whenever it is clearly a preferred option;
  • Ensuring the ethical sourcing of raw materials throughout all stages of battery manufacturing;
  • Proposing ambitious targets and a common methodology for the calculation and verification of recycled content used in the production of batteries.