Launched in October 2017, the European Battery Alliance has been making rapid progress with its efforts to develop a large-scale battery manufacturing and recycling industry in Europe.
The European Battery Alliance (EBA) is a recently formed cooperation platform made up of key industrial stakeholders, interested Member States and the European Investment Bank.
Explaining the rationale behind the platform at the time of its launch, the EU Commission’s Vice-President for Energy Union, Maroš Šefčovič, said: “Since time is running out, we concluded that we will join our efforts to come up with a strategic plan early next year. This could take the form of a comprehensive roadmap for an EU Battery Alliance… We need to act fast - and collectively - to overcome this competitive disadvantage and capitalise on our leadership in many sectors of the battery value chain, from materials to system integration and recycling.”
To that end, the immediate objective of the initiative was to create a competitive manufacturing value chain in Europe with sustainable battery cells at its core, to prevent a technological dependence on competitors and capitalise on the job, growth and investment potential of batteries.
"Europe is investing in a competitive and sustainable battery manufacturing sector,” explains Commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska. “We want to provide a framework that includes secure access to raw materials, support for technological innovation and consistent rules on battery production. We envisage a strong battery industry that contributes to the circular economy and clean mobility."
Fast forward just a few months and in February 2018 the European Investment Bank (EIB) has approved a loan for the construction and operation of a first-of-a-kind demonstration plant in Västerås, Sweden, for the manufacturing of lithium-ion batteries. The project is being developed by Northvolt, a Swedish sustainable battery technology firm founded in 2016. The company has developed a recycling process which uses hydrometallurgical techniques for high selectivity in metal separation. According to the company, this allows it to process spent lithium-ion batteries as well as production scraps, to minimise the generation of secondary waste streams and to decrease the demand for primary sources.
Northvolt says that it will integrate recycling with chemistry production right into its production line. Thanks to this setup, it’s hoped that the plant will close the battery production loop while providing an effective and sustainable solution to the issue of waste disposal. Vertical integration will allow the firm to plan and manage the end-of-life strategy of its batteries.
Production is expected to start in the second part of 2019 and Northvolt has also obtained the permit to construct a larger scale facility in Skellefteå in Sweden. The objective is to scale up production to 32 GWh in 2023.
“With some 11 million tonnes of batteries expected to be discarded by 2030, this is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss,” comments Emma Nehrenheim, Northvolt’s Chief Environment Officer. “It is therefore key that the EU and the industrial companies involved throughout the value chain work together to create a framework that encourages recycling and recovery efforts in the coming years as European battery production ramps up production.”
Several other projects are also in the pipeline from companies including BASF,
BMW, Siemens and many other major players in the supply chain.
Strategic Action Plan
With momentum building behind the EBA, in May 2018 the Commission agreed a Strategic Action Plan. It combines targeted measures at EU level including in the areas of raw materials, research and innovation, financing/investment, standardisation/regulatory, trade and skills development. These measures aim to make Europe a global leader in sustainable battery production and use, in the context of the circular economy.
With the action plan the Commission says that it has adopted a comprehensive set of concrete measures to develop an innovative, sustainable and competitive battery 'ecosystem' in Europe. The plan aims to:
- Secure access to raw materials for batteries from resource-rich countries outside the EU and facilitate access to European sources of raw materials, as well as access to secondary raw materials by recycling in a circular economy of batteries
- Support scaled European battery cell manufacturing and a full competitive value chain in Europe. The Alliance is bringing key industry players and national authorities together and works in partnership with EU countries and the EIB to support integrated (cross-border) manufacturing projects at scale
- Strengthen industrial leadership through accelerated research and innovation to support advanced (e.g. Lithium-ion) and disruptive (e.g. solid state) technologies
- Develop and strengthen a highly skilled workforce along the whole value chain to close the skills gap.
- Support the sustainability of the EU battery cell manufacturing industry with the lowest environmental footprint possible.
- Ensure consistency with the broader EU regulatory and enabling framework.
The plan includes a total of 49 ‘actions’, of which a number are pertinent to the waste and recycling industry, in particular Action 3a, Define and implement demonstration projects and regulation for recycling and second life of batteries. Its objective is to secure access to sustainably produced raw materials for battery production at a reasonable cost through recycling in a circular economy.
Its predicted that this will benefit the recycling industry through increased collection rates for high value recycling streams as well as providing a clear legal and business framework for a second life for batteries. Collection, dismantling and sorting of batteries is a particular focus, while at a later stage the up-scaling of metallurgical plants to be able to cope with massive volumes of automotive batteries will become increasingly important.
The EBA says that as part of this action it will also define and implement both regulations and demonstration projects for recycling and reuse. There is a need to develop pilot lines for dismantling and sorting processes suitable for large volumes of batteries. Recycling technology needs to be adapted to new materials, ideally enabling the re-use of advanced battery materials, for instance for reclaiming active materials or precursors of active materials. Robust scaling of metallurgical or chemical processes represents an R&I challenges.
The plan also notes that although recycling projects for lithium batteries have been ongoing for several years, lithium battery recycling is not mature. Currently, the cost of recycling Lithium batteries is larger than the value of the metals recovered. However, the EBD says that recycling larger amounts of batteries will significantly lower costs; it also points to a number of EU recycling companies which do have processes for the metallurgical treatment of batteries. Raw materials recovered, such as cobalt, are competing on a free international market with primary materials.
The key performance indicator for this action will be a minimum of three industry-scale recycling plants built by 2025.
Following a comprehensive update of its work to celebrate its first anniversary in October 2018, Šefčovič was full of praise for the rapid progress being made.
"As we mark its first-year anniversary, we can show how the various pieces of puzzle are coming together thanks to our collaborative work with the European Investment Bank, several governments and the industry,” he said at the time. “We are now building a whole competitive value chain in Europe, with sustainable battery manufacturing at its core. And we are doing this at light speed."
Meanwhile, Commissioner for the Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs Elżbieta Bieńkowska said: "This alliance is at the heart of our industrial policy. A strong battery industry is a perfect fit for our ambition to promote clean mobility. E-cars are the standard example, but we're also already thinking about how the battery alliance could be useful for trucks, sea shipping and ferries. If Europe wants to lead and compete with other big industrial players around the world, we need to hurry up."
In February this year, a session at the EU Industry Days conference in Brussels saw a number of EBA leaders, including the CEO of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology Diego Pavia and Paolo Cerruti, co-founder and COO of Northvolt, share their thoughts on the speed of progress. Overwhelmingly the message was: ‘the future is bright, but cross-sector collaboration between manufacturers, recyclers, financiers and regulators will be crucial’ – and time is of the essence.