This new regulation is only a first base that will be developed in the coming months and will be directly applicable in all European countries from 2024 on, without the need for internal implementation through the legal system of each State. The aim is to ensure uniformity in the application of a regulation that is considered critical to guarantee the development of an industry that is both competitive and sustainable.
This last point is particularly relevant to the new rules, as they seek to contribute to the development of a sector that meets the EU´s climate objectives as well as the principles of the circular economy of the future. Hence, it covers different challenges and activities ranging from the acquisition of raw materials and the production of batteries, to their recycling or subsequent treatment as waste. All this for the different types of batteries on the market, specifying for each of them the requirements that apply in each case.
In this context, one of the key figures that emerges from this new regulation is the so-called "digital battery passport"; an electronic record included in the device that contains information on the entire life of the battery.
Through this identification system, the EU seeks to exercise "control" over the batteries that will circulate in the future in Europe to ensure compliance with the approved regulations.
As a basic rule, it establishes the need for all storage systems to contain a perfectly visible QR code that, through its reading, offers all the information related to the battery: composition, capacity, results in key indicators, durability... In short, all those aspects that determine what the device is like.
Furthermore, and additionally, all batteries exceeding 2kWh (such as those of electric vehicles) must have the digital passport associated with them, which must contain not only technical information on the battery, but also data associated with the environmental performance of the device, indicating key aspects such as its carbon footprint.
Through this system, for example, the aim is to ensure and supervise that batteries comply with one of the new mandates set out in the recently approved regulations, such as the use of a minimum percentage of recycled materials: 16% cobalt, 6% lithium, 6% nickel and, where appropriate, 85% lead.
These obligations will be set gradually. Initially, it will only be necessary to indicate the composition of the batteries and gradually the exact percentage of each of these compositions and the amount from recycling will be required.
But, above all, the EU places special emphasis on the monitoring, through this system, of the carbon footprint associated with each battery manufactured in Europe, establishing, once again, a system that will gradually establish new obligations for producers.
Firstly, the regulation will require the carbon footprint of each battery model to be specified throughout its life cycle, and this figure will have to be included in the digital passport. For its calculation, the European regulator will determine a uniform estimation system to be used by all battery manufacturers.
In the medium term, the European Union will establish categories that will determine the "class" or type of battery according to its carbon footprint levels. With this, and as a final step, maximum carbon footprint levels will be set that will take into account the entire life cycle of the batteries and that in no case may they be exceeded according to their type.
But all this regulation is not only intended for manufacturing or recycling activities. It also includes specific sections aimed at regulating the operations of any entity that trades with batteries or their key components and raw materials.
Thus, a "due diligence policy" is established (in accordance with international standards) that seeks to reduce the social and environmental risks that may occur in the activities of supplying materials, transformation and commercialization of storage systems.
These obligations will include, among other things, verifying that batteries placed on the market comply with the specific documentation or labeling requirements mentioned above. In addition, obligations similar to those of the manufacturers will also apply to those marketers who introduce modifications to the batteries or change their initial intended use.
The above-mentioned regulation is just a highlight of the implications that the new regulations will have on the European sector in the coming years.
As mentioned at the beginning, it should be borne in mind that this first regulation is a "basic law" that will still need to be developed in the future to determine its full impact. However, with these first pillars, some key implications for the EU battery industry can already be determined.
Perhaps the most important is how the battery manufacturing process will need to transform in the coming years. By including the percentage of recycled materials used or the associated carbon footprint as key elements in the passport, it will be necessary to update not only the production process itself, but also the design phase. Approaches such as "designed for recycling" or "eco-design" will be necessary to comply with the European mandate, and this is where methodologies based on LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) will become increasingly strategic.
This type of analysis makes it possible to identify, evaluate and quantify the environmental impacts of a product or process throughout its life cycle in an iterative manner.
Hence, they will be an essential tool in the future for all those companies and agents that want to operate in the battery sector. Not only in the production phase, but also in the rest of the stages, as they are affected to a greater or lesser extent by the new regulatory framework.
A clear example of this is the raw material extraction phase, where the regulation pending development already foresees the need to prove that the materials used for subsequent production have been obtained in an environmentally responsible manner.
But beyond this, there are also voices that identify an impact that goes beyond ensuring the sustainability of the European battery sector. Due to its characteristics and mandates, this regulation is also seen as a "protection path" for the future large European battery industry.
Through its regulation, it also seeks to establish a protective barrier to prevent the entry of products that do not comply with the established requirements, with Asian manufacturers being the most affected if they do not adapt to this new regime. Hence, many analysts also consider it to be an endorsement by the highest European body of the local battery sector, seeking to strengthen its competitiveness and protecting it from other regions that are also fighting to dominate one of the industries of the future.
In conclusion, we are talking about a new regulatory framework that is designed to ensure the success of one of Europe´s great industrial bets for its future competitiveness. Therefore, it is essential to continue developing not only this regulation, but also all those scientific and technological advances that ensure the achievement of these objectives and their fulfillment as soon as possible.
In this sense, from CIC energiGUNE we work to continue contributing to the construction of a strong, competitive, responsible and sustainable battery industry. All this thanks to both our scientific activity and our approaches and methodologies based on life cycle analysis, which allow us to identify and respond to the major challenges faced by companies in the sector.
Author: Andrea Casas Ocampo, expert in Sustainability at CIC energiGUNE.