by Gerardo Fortuna
Speaking at a recent event at the Finnish permanent representation to the EU, the head of unit for Automotive and Mobility Industries at DG GROW Joanna Szychowska said that the Commission was confronted right off the bat with a whole new challenge of adopting a very operative work programme, sharing experiences with all operators in the emerging battery value chain.
“In order to do so, we put the Commission in the mindset of the startups,” she explained, highlighting the biggest difference compared to the industrial strategies developed in the past.
The so-called European battery alliance was launched in 2017 to develop battery manufacturing in the EU to compete with Asian and US manufacturers already established in the business.
“But we don’t want to copy either the Chinese or the US model, we want ours,” she said, adding that the focus should be on horizontal enablers such as standardisation rules, and innovations that may break potential areas and skills.
The official suggested that the production of batteries will be a strategic interest for future societies in terms of sustainability in general and transport in particular, enabling synergies between policy areas like climate change digitisation and artificial intelligence (AI).
“Results are already there and we are waiting for the decision on the first two projects of common interest on batteries, while our Commissioner [Maros Sefcovic] is expected to establish permanent guidance for the discussion with member states,” she said.
Green Deal on the radar
According to the Commission official, developing a sustainable battery value chain would tick many boxes and benchmarks either regarding the industry strategy and von der Leyen’s European Green Deal.
Recently, Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic warned that battery imports not complying with EU environmental standards could be banned from the bloc’s single market.
Cutting emissions by 50-55% by 2030 is the main reason why the socialist group finally supported von der Leyen’s bid in the plenary, said German MEP Ismail Ertug.
“I’m optimistic that the Commission understood well that we don’t have time to lose and president von der Leyen, but also vice-president Frans Timmermans said they will go on this,” the socialist lawmaker said
Stakeholders, but also the co-legislators, have high hopes for the current Commission’s efforts to screen existing EU legislation on batteries to detect flaws and to come up with an enhanced battery strategy.
The European Parliament as well is ready to address the issue, said Ertug, as group coordinators in all relevant parliamentary committees to the overhaul of the battery strategy are already preparing initial reports.
In the past legislative mandate, Ertug led the Friends of the Battery intergroup aimed to develop a competitive and sustainable battery manufacturing sector, aligned with the key elements of circular economy and clean mobility.
Asked if there is a plan to revive the group in the current legislature, he said that it is completely up to the lawmakers and that only the very busy year with EU elections and Commission’s approval has delayed his commitment to the cause.
State of art
Finland is one of the only EU countries that can boast a full battery value chain from raw materials to recycling and reuse, through cell production and application.
“We are convinced that Finland will have a role in building a sustainable value chain in Europe and we want to have a complete EU ecosystem,” said Sampsa Nissinen deputy director-general at Finland’s Ministry of Economic Affairs.
However, the contribution of the battery sector to Finland’s economy is not that big yet, although growing, with a business turnover of around a billion euros and 1,500 to 2,000 people employed.
“We see that these numbers will grow in the future, as more companies are making investments particularly in the area of application and recycling,” he said.
For Nissinen, the EU is in the phase of catching up with Asian companies that have been actively involved in the sector for years, and this huge challenge requires commitment and cooperation.
“But we need to be realistic when it comes to the goal of providing breakthrough technology to the industry across the whole value chain,” said Professor Kristina Edstrom, a researcher from Uppsala University.
She cited that nine out of ten top universities dealing with batteries are from China, and just one is from Europe.
“The EU should accelerate the research as the speed now is like in the pharmaceutical industry,” she said. At the moment, special interfaces in batches are being studied to last longer, reducing prices and the environmental footprint.
Another promising field for the battery value chain is in reuse and recycle. Jean-Denis Curt, Circular Economy Unit Manager at Renault, mentioned the example of the French car manufacturer.
Renault retains ownership of the battery as it is leased to customers together with the vehicle itself, which makes it more affordable. But the leasing gives also more control on the optimisation process for its second life.
“Most of the operations in recycling and reusing like removing the battery are not complex and we also consider automation,” he said, adding that logistics persist as the main problem and a favourable legal framework in this regard is needed.
The circular economy represents a net material opportunity of €340 to 630 billion in cost-saving for the battery sector.
*first published in: www.euractiv.com