Europe wants to switch to clean energy and is focusing on using batteries for electric vehicles and storing renewable energy. But the essential metals required for battery production along with used lithium-ion batteries from electric vehicles, e-bikes, and electronics contain valuable lithium, cobalt, nickel, and other important components remains a matter of concern. The EU brings new battery recycling and mineral acquisition rules on August 17, 2023, to address these challenges. New regulation could revolutionize battery recycling and help reduce the environmental impact and decrease the need for mining valuable resources.
In order to successfully transition to clean energy, a substantial number of batteries will be essential. They will primarily be used to fuel electric vehicles and store renewable energy, which can then be readily supplied to the electric grid as needed. Policymakers in the European Union are increasingly worried about the source of the necessary metals needed for battery construction within the bloc. Dead lithium-ion batteries from electric vehicles, e-bikes, and consumer electronics are a valuable source of lithium, cobalt, nickel, and other essential components used in the production of new batteries.
The New Batteries Regulation came into force on August 17, and applies regardless of the source of the batteries, or the raw materials used. It also applies to Economic Operators, that include all manufacturers, producers, importers, and distributors of every type of battery that is placed within the EU market.
The new regulations apply to all types of batteries that are sold in the EU and apply to batteries that power vehicles and machinery, as well as batteries for light means of transport such as electric bikes, e-mopeds, and e-scooters. This includes:
- Portable batteries
- Ready-to-use battery modules
- Industrial batteries
- Electric vehicle batteries
- SLI batteries
The recent implementation of new rules could contribute to bringing about a positive transformation in that regard. The battery recycling rules by EU could greatly increase battery recycling, something that has never been done on such a large scale outside of China. Experts in the battery industry affirm that the policy has the capacity to significantly boost the recycling of lithium-ion batteries throughout the bloc.
The Commission will conduct an assessment by the end of 2023 to determine the feasibility and potential advantages of implementing deposit return systems specifically for commonly used portable batteries.
Implementations of New Regulations
The new battery regulation not only requires efficient recycling, but also aims to guarantee the incorporation of recycled materials into new batteries. The EU’s new battery recycling and mineral acquisition rules are to be implemented and applicable as follows:
- Batteries, especially lithium-ion ones, are important in society. The EU wants to make sure they are sustainable from manufacturing to disposal.
- Manufacturers must collect and recycle waste lithium-ion batteries according to the regulation. Also, they need to incorporate recycled materials into new batteries for electric vehicles (EVs), e-bikes, and energy storage.
- Manufacturers in the EV and energy storage sectors are obligated to retrieve all batteries for recycling purposes.
- Recyclers, on the other hand, must adhere to rigorous targets for metal recovery. By 2031, they are expected to achieve an impressive 80 percent retrieval of lithium from batteries, along with a remarkable 95 percent retrieval of cobalt, copper, nickel, and lead.
- The Regulation strengthens the strict prohibition on disposing batteries in landfills.
- They are required to collect all types of waste batteries, such as LMT, EV, SLI, and industrial batteries, completely free of charge for end-users. This obligation applies to waste batteries of any nature, chemical composition, condition, brand, or origin.
- End-users must ensure that they dispose-off waste batteries in a separate and designated collection point, established by the producer, distinct from other waste streams.
- To enhance usability, the Regulation mandates that users have the capability to easily remove and replace all portable batteries from the respective appliances they are utilized in.
- LMT batteries should be easily replaceable by a qualified professional. They need 42 months from when the regulation starts to make changes to their product designs to meet this new requirement.
- From 2031 onwards, the EU will mandate that new electric vehicle (EV) and storage batteries must have a minimum of 6% recycled lithium and nickel, 16% recycled cobalt, and 85% recycled lead.
- By 2036, the percentages of recycled lithium, nickel, and cobalt will increase to 12%, 15%, and 26% respectively. This update will also include batteries used in light means of transport.
By December 31, 2030, the Commission will conduct an evaluation to determine whether a complete discontinuation of disposable portable batteries should be implemented.
Importance of Battery Recycling
It is frequently portrayed as a more environmentally friendly approach to alleviate the stress on long-term supplies. The metals required to produce new batteries can be found abundantly in spent EV batteries, as well as the smaller batteries used in e-bikes, power tools, smartphones, and other devices.
Recycling battery metals can reduce environmentally harmful mining and electronic waste. However, the lithium-ion battery recycling industry in Europe is still at an early stage of development. According to Circular Energy Storage, a data analysis firm for the battery industry, manufacturers supplied an impressive 700,000 tons of lithium-ion batteries to the European market last year. However, it is concerning that recyclers were only equipped to process a mere 17,000 tons of battery waste.
Experts warn that the recycled content standards, although intended to promote the reuse of critical resources, may have unintended consequences. The recycled content standards will depend on getting back heavy EV batteries that are rich in minerals. However, these batteries have a long lifespan and are frequently repurposed for secondary use, such as grid storage. As a result, it may take several years before a significant number of them are available for recycling.
Despite the uncertainties, there is a sense of optimism within the industry regarding the potential impact of the new EU regulation on battery recycling. Many believe that this regulation has the potential to propel battery recycling to new heights, ultimately alleviating the mounting pressure on future mining activities.