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European batteries must become the best in the world. Nothing more and nothing less than that is the ambition behind the new standards for producing and recycling batteries the European Union member states have agreed on today. Before the proposal becomes European law, member states will still need to negotiate with the European Parliament.

Well-functioning and sustainably-produced batteries form a crucial part of Europe’s climate ambitions. Far-reaching electrification of industry and the transport sector can only succeed if there are enough batteries available with much greater storage capacity than at present.

The so-called Batteries Directive sets new standards for how raw materials for batteries are produced, how long they last, and how they can be recycled. One of the tasks that European politics sets for the industry is to ensure that batteries can always be easily removed from a product. So that the old battery can be recycled and the product lasts longer with a new battery.

Battery passport

A salient detail of the European proposal is the introduction of a ‘battery passport‘. This digital document records what raw materials a battery is made up of, how and where these were obtained, and what the battery has ‘experienced’ during its life cycle. It will become mandatory to provide each industrial battery or battery in an electric car with such a passport.

The EU aims to have 30 million electric cars on the road by 2030. Battery production will have to increase substantially to supply all these cars with electrical power. For one thing, the worldwide extraction of lithium and nickel will have to increase significantly. The European Union is also setting certain standards concerning the sustainability of mining practices via this passport.

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In this respect, the European dependence on importing raw materials from other parts of the world constitutes a major problem. Already, half of the nickel used in Europe comes from Russia. We have learned from the war in Ukraine just how risky it is to be so dependent on a single producer to import a strategic raw material. The European Union is fully committed to recycling to reduce dependence on imports.

Quality

“Batteries will have a longer life and it should be easier to process battery waste into new batteries,” says Dutch Secretary of State Vivian Heijnen (CDA) responsible for implementing the directive in the Netherlands. She calls on industry and science to invest heavily in innovation over the coming years.

Vivian Heijnen © Dutch National Government / Photo: Valerie Kuypers

“It’s just really important to show that we as Europe are willing to take steps to produce batteries sustainably and process the waste and reuse everything in a chain as much as possible,” the Dutch politician contends.

This is a tough law, it’s about the regulation of the market and new regulations for companies. Is this one of those times when Europe is asserting its power as a governing body?

“It’s important that we, like Europe, stay innovative and figure out how to compete with other economies producing batteries. By being innovative, we want to make sure that the level of quality remains very high. By doing this, we can also be self-sufficient in Europe to some extent. And the idea behind this is to keep Europe competitive in the battery market.”

So, will our batteries have to become better than those from China?

“Yes, better. And that they also last longer, which also helps consumers in the end.”

And what does the European Union have in mind when it comes to improving batteries?

“That will be related to innovation. And you can already see that a lot is happening in that respect. By standardizing certain rules now, you will see that we can make gains in this area as Europe.”

At present, batteries contain a lot of nickel, and half of Europe’s nickel currently comes from Russia. So in effect, we are still dependent on Russia by virtue of those batteries.

“That’s why it’s extremely important that we come up with ways to reuse the waste from batteries so that we also deal with those resources in a very prudent way and rely as little as possible on third countries to supply certain materials.”

But you will never accomplish this by recycling alone, will you?

“No, but it can still make an important contribution. If you don’t do it, you will be sure that you will need all those raw materials all over again.”

You talk about innovation, mandatory recycling, and standards for incorporating batteries into products. All of that costs companies money, which is ultimately passed on to the customer. In other words, this ordinance does make life more expensive.

“There’s a possibility that things might become a bit more expensive, but innovation also means that the quality will improve. And you also pay for quality from time to time. On the other hand, because you are innovating and hopefully producing more, you will also end up with a sort of price correction.”

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