Sustainability is EU’s competitive advantage in battery rivalry

By MIAPETRA KUMPULA-NATRI, MEP (S&D Group), Member of the ITRE Committee

The Green Deal growth strategy, climate change mitigation and new emission target for Europe are the top priorities at the EU’s agenda this autumn. Energy storage and batteries are crucial elements of the green transition. As the renewable energy sources become more and more important, batteries have key role in balancing the grid. The electro-mobility is a key in transforming our transportation sector carbon neutral. Demand for batteries will dramatically increase during the following years as the whole energy system is transforming.

The global state of play is tough in the battery industry. The Europe is aiming to be competitive in the battery market but so does other continents too. Today 84% of batteries are produced in Asia and only 6% in Europe.

However Europe has great potential to come a global player in sustainable battery industry. For example in Finland, there are components needed for the entire battery ecosystem: own raw materials such as cobalt, graphite and lithium as well as actors in refining, processing and manufacturing industry. There are also actors that are experts and global forerunners in battery recycling.

At the European level the work has been already started as the Battery Alliance has had big impact on boosting the industry ahead and starting the journey to create competitive battery ecosystem in Europe.

Still, we are not using our resources and potential even nearly to maximum.

There are environmental and ethical concerns related to battery production. We need to be sure that the impact of the growing battery industry to the environment and climate is minimal. Minimum sustainability requirements for batteries are in this sense essential in order to make sure that the whole industry is moving to the right direction.

The sustainably sourced raw materials are a key question for European battery industry. Now most of the raw materials are sourced outside the union and are concentrated to few countries. This fact makes the value chains very vulnerable. We need to be able to reduce our dependency from third countries and foster reliable and quality sourcing as there is potential in increasing also locally sourced raw materials in Europe! Also too many mines do not meet with environmental and climate standards nor ILO standards for workers.

However in near future as the demand for battery raw materials increases dramatically, EU still needs to import raw materials from third countries. It is crucial to ensure the transparency of the value chain so we can be sure that the ecological requirements as well as questions related to human and workers’ rights have been taken account.

EU needs to consider the certification for the sustainably sourced battery raw materials – there are certificates for many other risk raw materials too. Certification requirements could also limit unfair competition from third countries, which do not comply with the European sustainability requirements.

Battery recycling is still in its infancy in Europe. Valuable metals in batteries can be processed and reused. To secure the access to sustainable raw materials, EU needs to take quick steps in the field of recycling. Now big part of the used batteries are recycled outside of the EU and the valuable raw materials leak out of the continent. EU needs to support research and innovation in battery recycling and as legislators, we must require high standards and targets in recycling. To boost the recycling of raw materials, targets for the use of secondary raw materials in battery production should be considered. In addition as recyclability needs to be taken account already in the design phase of the batteries, eco-design directive could be a useful tool for this purpose.

Europe can become an important player in battery industry by creating battery eco- system based on sustainability requirements and excellence in research and innovation. As the European union counts close to 20 percentage of the world market, it is not a small player, we can certainly lead by example and create, use and require sustainable solutions. We at the policy level can give a great push to this development.