European Union in provisional agreement on recycling, carbon footprint regulations for batteries

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Rules on battery sustainability, performance and labelling will become more stringent within the European Union (EU), after the bloc provisionally agreed the direction new regulations should take.

The European Parliament and Council reached the provisional agreement on Friday (9 December), covering all aspects of battery lifecycle, with new requirements for treatment of batteries at end-of-life, carbon footprint labelling and design for ease of replacement among the new rules.

The EU proposed the new directive back in late 2020, arguing the need for an industry that produces sustainable, safe, and high-performance devices, using materials obtained without violating human rights.

From those initial proposals to the agreement made last week, a few changes have been made. For instance, batteries that use cobalt must use at least 16% recovered cobalt, which is an increase of 2% from targets set previously. Similarly, the EU has increased by two percentage points the amounts of recovered lithium and nickel to be used, from 4% each to 6%.

The agreement must now be formally agreed by the Parliament and Council before it comes into force and is expected to be phased in over a few years. Carbon footprint labelling is expected to be mandatory from mid-2024, while minimum recycled content rules may not come in until the end of this decade.

Of course, with batteries used widely across different industries, the regulations will impact different sectors in different ways. Carbon footprint declaration and labelling will be required for batteries of 2kWh capacity and over, while those batteries will also have to have a ‘digital passport’ – perhaps the most radical of the new regulations.

The Battery Passport scheme would see all components and materials that go into making batteries traceable and tracked in a central ledger. Information about their carbon footprint, safety certification and supply chain due diligence would be among metrics stored.

While the passport has broadly been welcomed, with a few companies anticipating its introduction already working on the technologies and administrative processes involved, trade organisation Flow Batteries Europe has argued the exclusion of flow batteries from its scope is a mistake.

The regulation focuses only on batteries with internal storage, like lithium-ion. That could lead to an unfair competitive advantage and distort the market for flow batteries, which store energy in external tanks, FBE has argued.

‘Implementation is uncertain’

Another trade group, RECHARGE, representing the European advanced rechargeable and lithium battery industries, said it had a number of “critical concerns” about the implementation of the new rules, which will replace the existing EU Battery Directive implemented in 2006.

RECHARGE had welcomed the proposal to introduce the rules in late 2020, but at the time warned against introducing a “high level of complexity” to regulations. Nonetheless, the organisation’s president Patrick de Metz said accountability for due diligence and carbon intensity were long overdue and their introduction to be applauded.

Last week, ahead of the Friday meeting of EU policymakers, RECHARGE said it had outstanding concerns about the details of how the regulations would come into effect.

Notably, there was ambiguity in EU language around recycled content over whether products would be accountable at model level or at production batch level. RECHARGE argued strongly against batch level declarations, which it said could result in unnecessary duplicate labelling of thousands of devices.

The group had a couple of other concerns. One was that end-of-life responsibility under the new rules would be placed on the producer of the batteries, which RECHARGE argued would be unlikely to be able to effectively trace and take back spent equipment or materials. Instead, the “economic operator” of the batteries should be responsible rather than the manufacturer.

RECHARGE general manager Claude Chanson said the Batteries Regulation, “is expected to play a significant role in setting rules for a new type of competition based on sustainability, but a successful implementation is uncertain”.

In an interview with Energy-Storage.news in July last year, Hans Eric Melin, managing director at consultancy and research group Circular Energy Storage, said there was also some risk that setting too high a bar for European manufacturers to meet, putting them at a competitive disadvantage.

A global approach might be better, Melin said, but described the EU regulation as a “great foundation for that”. Decisions taken in the next few years could define the industry “for many years after that,” the analyst said, with Circular Energy Storage’s work focused on tracking recycling and sustainability of batteries.

Energy-Storage.news’ publisher Solar Media will host the 8th annual Energy Storage Summit EU in London, 22-23 February 2023. This year it is moving to a larger venue, bringing together Europe’s leading investors, policymakers, developers, utilities, energy buyers and service providers all in one place. Visit the official site for more info.

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