Laying foundations for a green battery industry in Europe

As the industrial landscape of Europe shifts with the rising tide of electrification, fresh policy is on the horizon. Expected from the European Commission late 2020, a new regulatory framework will position Europe to set the global standard for sustainability in battery industries. It’s a welcome development – solidifying the direction that Europe’s new battery industry must take if it is to seize the once in a lifetime opportunity we face.

Setting the stage for sustainable batteries

Later this year, the European Commission is set to present a first draft of the New Regulatory Framework for Sustainable Batteries

This development – which traces its beginnings back to the launch of the European Battery Alliance in 2017 to spearhead an agenda for the then fledgling battery industry – represents the first tangible step towards promoting market conditions which will accelerate the roll out of more sustainable batteries within the EU.

Broadly, the new framework outlines regulations across three key areas:

  • First, the framework establishes new product standards for new batteries. 
  • Second, the framework will set sustainability and transparency requirements for batteries. These requirements relate, amongst several aspects, to the carbon footprint of manufacturing and ethical sourcing of raw materials. 
  • Third, the framework will set collection rates and recycling targets for end-of-life batteries within the EU. To support these targets, the new policy also outlines measures to improve the collection and recycling of all batteries, ensure the recovery of valuable materials they contain and provide guidance to consumers on this front.

That the policy is one of the first deliverables of the EU flagship climate framework, the European Green Deal, is a welcome reminder of the Commission’s recognition of the significance of batteries in Europe’s future – not least in their providing a fundamental bedrock to the future of clean transportation and electricity supply.

In setting this direction for the new industry, Northvolt shares in the aspirations of the European Commission to see Europe establish battery manufacturing capacity which is, above all, sustainable and competitive. 

Producing the world’s greenest batteries in Europe

As a European supplier of battery cells and systems, Northvolt was founded to enable the transition to a decarbonized future through delivery of the world’s greenest lithium-ion battery.

To Northvolt, a green battery is one that is environmentally and socially sustainable. Not least, that means a minimal carbon footprint and ethical sourcing of raw materials. It also means a battery which is recyclable. These are fundamental aspects to the Northvolt blueprint for manufacturing.

While sustainability has been in the DNA of Northvolt’s mission since the beginning, its vision can nevertheless be supported through policy. Policy, after all, can be used to ensure that responsibilities to the environment are embedded into wider aspects of this new industry from its earliest days.

What’s more, legislating sustainability into the core of the European battery industry will provide it with a unique competitive edge – one which sets it apart from incumbent battery manufacturers.

As such, Northvolt welcomes the proposed framework as one which not only outlines an economically and industrially logical direction to take, but which also favors the environment.

Legislating that batteries produced in the EU are transparent regarding their carbon footprint provides a critical foundation from which to build towards Europe setting the global standard for sustainable batteries. Here, there remains important work to be done. Importantly, effective methodologies must be established for battery carbon footprint accounting to ensure that transparency is both accurate and meaningful.

While a battery’s carbon footprint is not the only metric which must be the subject of effective policy, it is, nevertheless, a key one. The carbon footprint attributed directly to battery production represents by far the largest share of a battery’s total carbon footprint, to the point of delivery to market. This measure therefore acts as a major differentiator between batteries and battery manufacturers.

In terms of environmental load, there is a night and day difference between batteries produced with clean, emission free electricity and those that are not. According to calculations made by the IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute, lithium ion batteries produced using conventional thermal generated power may result in 146 kg CO2 per kWh of batteries, compared to 61 kg per kWh if emission free electricity is used in production. With additional measures, including use of recycled material in cell production, this figure can be reduced further still.

The electric vehicle revolution requires huge volumes of batteries. For this transition to be the true success it can be, it must therefore seek out the greatest possible use of low carbon batteries.  

Moreover, by facilitating transparency on carbon footprints and other environmental impact indicators, we can empower consumers to exercise their right to make informed decisions over the products they choose.

Utilizing a well-calculated carbon footprint is key for another reason too. By placing value on batteries with lower carbon footprints we can expect producers to be motivated to act across other levels associated with sustainability.

Alongside the use of less carbon intensive energy through production, notable proactive efforts which would contribute to lowering the overall carbon footprint for batteries include: designing for increased recyclability and longer product lifetimes; incorporating higher proportions of recycled material content and reducing resource use in general; and embracing more sustainable logistics operations.

Considering the fuller context of the now emergent European battery industry, there are further significant gains to be had in pursuing an agenda for sustainable batteries.

Establishing domestic European battery manufacturing capacity is valuable in its own rights – creating a major new economy and contributing to security of supply of what is rapidly becoming a critical product for society and industry alike.

However, establishing this in such a manner that prioritizes sustainability brings about the twofold advantage of both stimulating new markets for European renewable energy and creating tens of thousands of additional new jobs associated with battery recycling.

For more insight on Northvolt’s approach to green batteries see 'Securing a robust European ecosystem for Li-ion battery recycling'.