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EU to mandate battery targets

Brussels will introduce mandatory recycling targets for battery makers including electric car manufacturers from 2030. The move comes as the EU attempts to meet growing demand for vital raw materials without undermining its ambitious environmental goals.

In an interview with the Financial Times (FT), EU commissioner for environment, oceans and fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevicius explained that an update of the bloc’s battery directive would crack down on the use of hazardous materials and propose “ambitious but realistic” recycling targets for materials used in batteries to help create a “sustainable batteries value chain”.

“Global exponential growth in demand for batteries will lead to an equivalent increase in demand for raw materials — notably cobalt, nickel and manganese. We have to strive for sustainable production and consumption and reduce batteries carbon footprint,” Sinkevicius said.

Update proposal

This week the commission will propose an update of the EU’s batteries directive for the first time in more than a decade, revamping the legislation to reflect vast improvements in a technology that is seen as a major driver in the transition to clean transport.

According to Sinkevicius, European electric carmakers and non-EU manufacturers who want to sell their batteries in the single market will have to abide by tougher environmental standards. He added that Europe was on course to be the world’s second-largest market for electric vehicles over the next decade.

Under the updated regulation, electric vehicles manufacturers would have to disclose the recycled content in their batteries in an attempt to then meet mandatory targets set in 2030 and 2035,” Sinkevicius told FT.

“This is a fundamental first step in closing the loop for valuable materials contained in batteries. We’re going to aim for ambitious yet realistic targets for collection, recycling efficiencies, and the recovery of materials from waste batteries.”

Before settling on the exact targets for 2030 and 2035, Brussels will need to carry out a thorough impact assessment and consult with sectors like EV manufacturers and the chemicals industry.  In response to concerns that the regulation would stifle the development of clean car technology in Europe, Sinkevicius said the rules would provide “legal certainty” and “incentivise the investment and production capacity for sustainable batteries in Europe and beyond”.

The EU has committed to becoming the first continent to reach net zero emissions by 2050, a goal that will require a radical overhaul of Europe’s energy, transport, and manufacturing sectors.

Creating secondary demand

The commission estimates that lithium, one of the key components of battery cells, has a recycling efficiency of only 50 per cent. Sinkevicius said that rather than encouraging more mining of raw materials like lithium, Brussels wants to meet rising battery demand by creating a secondary market for recycled materials.

The regulation will also propose measures to extend the life cycle of batteries, by making recycling obligatory for collected waste batteries, and encouraging the repurposing of batteries for “second life”.

Brussels also wants to phase out gradually non-rechargeable single life batteries — such as those used to power remote controls — but the commission will not impose a target date for their expiry, the commissioner said.