Why is there a need for new legislation on batteries?
Batteries are a key technology in the transition to a circular economy and climate neutrality. They are also part of our everyday life. The demand for batteries will grow more and more, especially for electric vehicles, as this market becomes more and more strategic on a global level.
In order for the expected mass application of batteries to be in line with the green transition, it is necessary to take steps at the EU level for the sustainable production, application and waste management of all batteries placed on the EU market: portable batteries, car batteries, industrial batteries and batteries for e-vehicles.
Given the strategic importance of batteries and the need to minimize adverse effects on the environment, it is necessary to establish harmonized rules across the Union to ensure that the expected market growth takes place in the most sustainable way possible. The new Regulation establishes a comprehensive framework that covers all types of batteries and covers their entire life cycle from design requirements and producing process to recycling and incorporation of recycled content into new batteries.
What does the Commission want to achieve with the proposed Regulation?
The aim of the proposed Regulation is for batteries placed on the EU market to be sustainable, circular, high performance and safe throughout their life cycle, to be collected, reused and recycled, becoming a source of valuable raw materials.
In very broad terms, this includes ensuring that raw materials are sourced sustainably and responsibly, that products are produced using clean energy, that they contain a low amount of hazardous substances, that they are energy efficient and designed to last, and that they are properly collected, recycled or repurposed. There is a special focus at the end of their life to ensure that no battery is lost to waste, but that the batteries are repurposed or reproduced and that the valuable materials they contain are returned to the economy.
Establishing such requirements will further avoid fragmentation of the internal market due to different approaches used by Member States in aspects of sustainability, such as responsible sourcing of raw materials, recycled content, carbon footprint and labelling.
Establishing sustainability requirements that cover the entire life cycle of batteries ensures that the impact of batteries on the environment is minimized. Adopting a circular approach to this is key, as closing the loop will help keep the valuable materials inside batteries on the market for as long as possible.
What are the main areas of the proposal?
The new Regulation proposes mandatory requirements for:
- sustainability and safety (rules on carbon footprint, minimum recycled content, performance and durability criteria, safety parameters)
- marking and information (storing information on sustainability and data on expected lifetime)
- end-of-life management (extended producer responsibility, collection goals and obligations, recycling efficiency goals and levels of recovered materials)
- obligations of economic entities related to product requirements and analysis programs
- electronic exchange of information
Additionally, the proposal contains provisions on mandatory green public procurement, on facilitating the implementation of rules on products, i.e. rules on conformity assessment, notification of conformity assessment bodies, market surveillance and economic instruments.
How will the new rules improve the protection of human health and the environment?
All steps in the life cycle of batteries, from the extraction of the mineral resources necessary for their production to the collection and processing after use, have a potential impact on the environment and human health. The proposed requirements and provisions aim to reduce these impacts to the greatest extent possible.
The main goal is to avoid the use of toxic substances and ensure the reduction of the risk of poor waste management. That is why the Commission proposes a ban on batteries containing mercury and cadmium, an increase in the obligation to collect waste batteries separately, and a complete ban on the disposal of waste batteries.
Also, the goal is to facilitate the transition to cleaner mobility and enable greater penetration of renewable sources into the EU’s energy mix. Less use of carbon-based fossil fuels will contribute to the reduction of emissions of toxic substances and carbon dioxide, and to the reduction of the impact of the energy production system on health and the quality of the environment.
What are the proposed sustainability and safety criteria for batteries?
The Commission proposes to maintain the existing restrictions on the use of hazardous substances in all types of batteries, especially for mercury and cadmium.
From 1 July 2024, rechargeable batteries of industrial and electric vehicles with internal storage placed on the Union market will have to have a carbon footprint declaration. From January 1, 2026, those batteries will have to carry a carbon intensity efficiency class label, and from July 1, 2027, they will comply with maximum carbon footprint thresholds.
From January 1, 2027, batteries for industrial and electric vehicles with internal storage will have to declare the content of recycled cobalt, lead, lithium and nickel contained in them. From 1 January 2030, these batteries will have to contain minimum levels of recycled content. From January 1, 2035, those minimum levels would be further increased.
The Commission proposes to further develop the existing requirement on the ability to remove batteries, which obliges producers to design devices in such a way that used batteries can be easily removed. It also proposes a new replacement provision requiring devices to continue to function after the batteries are replaced.
The proposal also addresses existing gaps in security measures for stationary energy storage systems. Only successfully tested models will be able to be placed on the EU market.
Will the rules apply to imported batteries? How will it be ensured that the batteries on the market comply with the rules?
The new Battery Regulation establishes sustainability and safety requirements that batteries must meet before being placed on the market. The rules apply to all batteries entering the EU market, regardless of their origin. For batteries produced outside the EU, the battery importer or distributor should ensure the batteries comply with the relevant requirements set out in the Regulation.
For requirements related to carbon footprint, levels of recycled content and responsible sourcing of raw materials, the proposal provides for mandatory third-party verification through notified bodies. Member States’ market surveillance authorities will enforce compliance with these provisions on the EU market.
How is circularity included in the proposal?
Circularity is the essence of the proposal. The impact of batteries on the environment is greater in the early stages of their life cycle, i.e. the extraction of materials and the production process. Greater material efficiency will lead to reduced extraction activities and an overall reduction in environmental impact.
While the EU has a high recycling rate for portable and lead-acid car batteries, much more needs to be done regarding lithium-ion batteries used in electric cars, energy storage systems and industrial activities. Only 10% of the lithium contained in batteries is recycled. Special provisions in the draft Regulation address such challenges.
The commission also proposes actions at different stages of the battery’s life cycle. A key step in closing the loop for the materials contained in batteries is to increase the collection rate of waste batteries. The second step is battery recycling. It is mandatory to ensure that all collected waste batteries are properly recycled. The targets for the efficiency of the recycling process will also be increased, as well as the setting of a specific target for lithium-based batteries.
The Commission also proposes the introduction of significant changes in the provisions related to the return of materials. Mandatory, quantified targets are proposed for cobalt, copper, nickel, lead and lithium and for their recovery processes.
The final step is to make these collected materials available to the battery industry. The Commission proposes that new batteries placed on the market contain certain amounts of recycled content, thereby contributing to closing material loops. Finally, the proposal establishes a clear framework for repurposing industrial and electric vehicle batteries for a second life, e.g. enabling a used electric vehicle battery to be reused for stationary energy storage.
What information will end users and business entities receive about the batteries they acquire or hold?
Batteries will have to be marked in a visible, legible and indelible way, with the information necessary to identify the batteries and their basic characteristics. Lifetime, filling capacity, requirement for separate collection, presence of hazardous substances and safety risks are among the information that should be provided through appropriate labels, such as QR codes. The Commission proposes to make available to battery owners and independent operators working on their behalf a battery management system that stores the information and data necessary to determine the health and expected life of batteries. This should encourage the development of the secondary battery market by facilitating the reuse, repurposing or reproducing of the battery.
How will this proposal strengthen transparency in the battery market?
Several innovations in the proposed Regulation rely on the use of IT technologies, mainly in relation to labelling, internet access to battery information or traceability of large batteries during their life cycle.
The proposal establishes a common electronic exchange system or data space for batteries that will register and provide information on every battery model placed on the EU market. The data space will be connected via a QR code to the digital “Battery Passport” – a new mechanism important for the traceability and management of large batteries. It will enable consumers to make certain decisions after being informed, producers to develop innovative products and services, and national authorities and the Commission a tool for market information.
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