Sven Giegold
Member of the European Parliament – Greens/EFA Group

Speaker of the German Green Delegation

Batteries: My suggestions for sustainable batteries

Dear friends, dear interested,

Whether climate protection, energy transition or mobility transition: Batteries are increasingly becoming a key technology for the major challenges of the 21st century. But only sustainable batteries can live up to these expectations. Critics today repeatedly point out the environmental degradation and human rights violations that go hand in hand with the manufacture of many batteries. These arguments often cannot be dismissed today, because the production of batteries too often destroys entire ecosystems and badly exploits workers. The production of batteries consumes a lot of energy, and batteries are too rarely recycled at the end of their life.

But all of this can change! In the European Parliament, we are working on a new EU Batteries Regulation to set global standards for clean batteries. Europe can show the way with new rules on the CO2 footprint of batteries and the sustainable extraction of raw materials. In the future, all batteries should meet minimum social and ecological standards. The looting of the environment, resources and people will be restricted. All batteries must be recycled to a high quality in order to conserve resources and make Europe less dependent on raw material countries. This is an opportunity to massively expand battery production in Europe, thereby increasing competitiveness and creating jobs. High standards for Europe’s battery market contribute to clean mobility ‘Made in Europe’. This regulation for green batteries is an opportunity to permanently strengthen the acceptance of electric mobility.

The EU Commission has made a strong proposal for clean batteries. But in order to really guarantee a safe and sustainable circular economy for all batteries on the European market, the proposal needs to be improved in key areas. On behalf of the Greens Group, after many discussions with companies, civil society and the scientific community, I submitted more than 160 amendments to the Environment Committee. I would like to briefly present our most important suggestions. Detailed information on all parts of the Battery Regulation can be found here: https://sven-giegold.de/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/Batteries-Background-Briefing.pdf

In addition to the Environment Committee, the Internal Market Committee is responsible for voting on the conformity of batteries, i.e. the determination to be carried out by the manufacturers whether batteries on the European market comply with the rules set out in the Batteries Regulation. My colleague Anna Cavazzini takes care of the issue for the Green Group there.

Strong recycling targets

Electromobility is a real alternative to combustion engines only  if car batteries are produced and recycled in an environmentally friendly and socially responsible manner. All car batteries must be recycled to a high quality. For the first time there will be special recycling targets for cobalt, nickel, copper, lead and lithium. With a recycling obligation, we can reuse these valuable raw materials. However, some of the targets proposed by the Commission are far below what is technically feasible today. Lithium in particular must be fully recycled. We are therefore committed to significantly increasing the recycling targets for lithium. The EU Commission proposed recycling 30% of lithium in batteries from 2026 (from 2030: 70%). We want to recycle 70% of lithium by 2026 and at least 90% by 2030. The same applies to the other raw materials. Here, too, we propose – together with the socialist rapporteur – that the recycling targets be raised to 95% and 98% respectively. In China, recovery rates for cobalt and nickel of 98% are already part of official government guidelines. Europe must therefore at least keep up in international comparison. Real recycling not only increases the benefits for the environment, but also increases Europe’s independence from raw material countries. We should trust the European industry to recycle batteries efficiently. Because many companies are already leading the way.

Consumer information

Consumer rights are significantly strengthened with the new Batteries Regulation. We Greens want to use clear labelling on portable batteries and batteries in e-bikes and e-scooters to inform about the service life, capacity and number of charging cycles, the presence of dangerous substances and safety risks. In doing so, we are clearly strengthening the Commission’s proposal, which does not provide for any identification of the service life or charging cycles. We Greens are proposing a new colour code for the quality and lifespan of rechargeable and non-rechargeable batteries of general use (e.g. AA and AAA batteries). In this way, consumers will be able to easily identify high-quality batteries in the future.

Right to repair

Batteries in cell phones, laptops, e-bikes and similar devices should in future be replaceable and repairable in order to extend the service life of the products in which they are installed. We want to delete or severely restrict the exceptions to this rule, which are foreseen in the Commission proposal. We want to enable the repair of batteries in devices with clear rules on spare parts, tools and repair instructions for all consumers. In doing so, we consistently implement the right to repair. Also new is our proposal to simplify the repair and replacement of batteries in electric vehicles and industrial batteries, such as storage systems for solar energy. This point was not covered by the Commission proposal. This also ensures that recyclers can dismantle these large batteries in order to get to the valuable raw materials in the cells.

Climate protection

The carbon footprint of large batteries (e.g. in electric vehicles and renewable energy storage systems) must be calculated and communicated to consumers in the future. The EU will set a maximum footprint that batteries sold in Europe cannot exceed. With this we set standards for sustainable production all over the world. We Greens are calling for the carbon footprint to be introduced for all electric vehicles, light means of transport (e-bikes, e-scooters, etc.) and industrial batteries (e.g. solar energy storage systems). The Commission has proposed exceptions for smaller batteries below a certain capacity. We reject this in order to create the same conditions for all manufacturers and to avoid uncertainty among consumers. We want to bring the introduction of the maximum carbon footprint forward by a year so that clean batteries are on the market as soon as possible.

Due diligence along the value chain

For the first time, there will be minimum requirements for sustainable and socially responsible mining of raw materials for batteries. Particularly in the production of the important raw materials cobalt, lithium, graphite and nickel, entire ecosystems are often destroyed and workers are badly exploited. To prevent this, battery manufacturers should set up a system of controls and transparency along the supply chain in the future. In the event of possible risks to people or the environment, manufacturers must develop and implement strategies to prevent or mitigate negative effects. Batteries will be one of the first products in the EU to have strict rules along the supply chain. The Commission proposed these requirements for batteries in electric cars and industrial applications above a certain capacity limit. We Greens want to extend the due diligence requirements along the value chain to all batteries on the European market.

The proposal for a new regulation now has to be agreed upon by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers of the Member States before it can come into force. The new rules for batteries will replace the EU Batteries Directive that has been in force since 2006. A transposition into national law is then no longer necessary. The vote in the lead Environment Committee of the European Parliament will take place in January 2022, and in February the Parliament will determine its position in plenary for negotiations with the Council.

That is why we now have to fight for an ambitious decision by the Environment Committee. But the first serious conflicts with the Council of Ministers are already emerging. Because the national governments are much less ambitious on many points. They want to shift the carbon footprint back by years, slow down increased collection targets for batteries, and apply the due diligence requirements only to a very limited proportion of all batteries. It is all the more important that Parliament enters the negotiations with a strong and ambitious position. We Greens will continue to campaign for this.

With green European greetings,

Sven Giegold

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The full background briefing is available here: https://sven-giegold.de/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/Batteries-Background-Briefing.pdf