Date: 31 August 2021
Benedikt Sobotka, Co-Chair of the Global Battery Alliance and CEO of Eurasian Resources Group, says that following the publication of the IPCC report, it is more important than ever that we work together to achieve a ‘circular, responsible and just’ battery value chain.
The recent report released by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change makes for stark reading. The UN Panel was unequivocal about how human-induced climate change is already leading to climate extremes in every region across the planet. Put simply, floods, fire, and other extreme weather conditions will only get worse, unless we act now.
Climate change is clearly a growing concern for consumers, as is evidenced by rapidly rising sales of electric vehicles over traditional car models. Research from the International Energy Agency (IEA) shows that electric car registrations increased by 41% in 2020, despite the Covid-induced global downturn causing global car sales to drop by 16%.
“Batteries can be a major near-term driver to support the transition to renewable energy, decarbonise transportation and meet the 1.5C Paris Agreement targets, but this can only happen if the entire value chain – from mining to production to waste disposal – is rooted in sustainable practices.”
Similarly, the latest EY Mobility Lens Consumer Index found that nearly half of all prospective new car buyers are thinking of going electric.
However, whilst the growing EV revolution and move towards electrification marks progress to reducing carbon emissions, we must not forget the bigger picture. To make electric vehicles a truly sustainable solution, governments, battery makers, mining companies and automotive producers have a social responsibility to support a circular economy.
Greenpeace East Asia research indicates that from 2021 to 2030, around 30% of the world’s proven cobalt reserves will be spent on the production of batteries for EVs, mobile phones and other devices. Meanwhile, 12.85 million tons of EV lithium-ion batteries are expected to go offline between now and 2030. To meet the rising demand for battery materials whilst avoiding the uncontrolled disposal of waste, there is a simple solution: we need to renew our efforts to improve end-of-life and recycling practices for batteries.
Linear to a circular
Moving from a linear to a circular value chain is dependent on setting ambitious goals for battery recycling and repurposing. Steps are being taken in the right direction. For example, the European Commission recently proposed strict battery recycling requirements which could be introduced from 2023. The UK has set a 2021 target collection of 45% of portable batteries placed on the market by small producers and compliance scheme members between 2019 and 2021.
However, these targets must be accompanied by concerted cross-industry collaboration. This is the over-arching aim of the Global Battery Alliance (GBA), which Eurasian Resources Group co-founded in 2017. The GBA brings together more than 70 national governments, tech firms, automotive producers, mining companies and NGOs – including Volkswagen, UNICEF, and the World Bank Group – to facilitate the sustainable scale-up of the battery value chain.
The GBA recently developed a whitepaper which looked into the environmental, economic and societal benefits of high-quality battery recycling. The paper concluded that access to information on first-life battery usage and end-of-life metrics could lower the costs of repurposed batteries by around 20%.
“By getting more out of the batteries in use and harvesting their end-of-life value, we can improve their environmental and economic footprint and ensure they power sustainable development.”
In addition, recycling and repurposing batteries can reduce hazardous waste accumulation, ensure sustainable demand for raw materials and create multiple job and income opportunities in the collection and recycling sectors.
In addition, it must be made easier for consumers to differentiate between batteries that have been produced sustainably and those that have not.
To this end, the GBA has been working on a ‘Battery Passport’, a type of quality seal for lithium-ion batteries that will allow people buying electric vehicles to check the environmental impact of the batteries they contain. By providing necessary data about batteries’ chemical make-up, usage and origins, the Passport can enable a safe second life and reduce the costs of recycling.
Batteries can be a major near-term driver to support the transition to renewable energy, decarbonise transportation and meet the 1.5C Paris Agreement targets, but this can only happen if the entire value chain – from mining to production to waste disposal – is rooted in sustainable practices.
By getting more out of the batteries in use and harvesting their end-of-life value, we can improve their environmental and economic footprint and ensure they power sustainable development. Following the publication of the IPCC report, it is more important than ever that businesses, civil society and governments work together to achieve a circular, responsible and just battery value chain.
View the original interview here: Circular.