The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) singles out accessibility of raw materials as a pressing issue, warning that a prompt solution for the development of batteries is needed to make electric mobility and sustainable transport possible.
The European Union needs to secure permanent access to raw materials as soon as possible in order to develop a strong battery industry for electric vehicles. The alarm was sounded at the debate held in Brussels on 5 February 2020 by the Section for Transport, Energy, Infrastructure and the Information Society (TEN).
Widespread e-mobility, with zero CO₂ emissions, is the next key step towards making sustainable transport and climate neutrality happen. Nevertheless, only by having ongoing access to raw materials for batteries will Europe be able to move away from fossil-based fuels and embrace electrification.
Colin Lustenhouwer, rapporteur for last year's EESC opinion on batteries, pointed out that it was vital to raise awareness of the urgent measures needed and said:
We must take immediate action. The accessibility of raw materials is an ongoing issue in an area where Europe has few resources and would like to guarantee supply. Electrification is the only solution for sustainable fuel and this requires batteries.
Securing independence with regard to raw materials
Car batteries are a crucial issue for Europe's future and should not be taken for granted. They account for 40% of the cost of an electric vehicle, but 96% of them are produced outside Europe.
The raw materials are not available in the EU to the extent needed and have to be imported. Lithium, nickel, manganese and cobalt mainly come from South America and Asia. This means that if the EU does not act, it will become increasingly dependent on third countries such as Brazil and China.
Furthermore, the need to secure the supply of raw materials for batteries is leading to international competition that may well affect the geopolitical balance and cause political tensions in exporting countries. The EU therefore needs to act swiftly to ensure that it has access on the global market and so will not be vulnerable as a result of the imminent race for raw materials.
Promoting the circular economy of batteries
The European strategy for batteries must be comprehensive and allow for their entire lifecycle, from creation to deployment and recycling. All actors have to be involved and pull together, in line with the principles of the value-chain approach which factors in every stage.
Pierre Jean Coulon, president of the TEN section, said that:
For our sustainable future, we need to consider the whole battery lifespan and equip ourselves with the resources needed. European businesses can only become a major player in battery development and deployment in the global market by taking a huge leap forward over the next few years.
The EESC has been monitoring the matter closely
The EESC flagged up the importance of material recycling in its 2019 opinion on batteries, where "urban mining" was promoted as a possible way to build new batteries by recovering elements from used products and waste, such as discarded electric and electronic devices.
In the opinion, the Committee called for a strong European battery industry and supported the Strategic Action Plan presented by the European Commission, emphasising two priorities: on the one hand, heavier investment was needed to achieve the necessary level of technological expertise while on the other, solutions had to be found to secure the supply of raw materials from third countries and EU sources.
Stressing that the EU needed to do more and adopt a structural approach to batteries, the EESC was one of the first institutions to bring together all the social partners to point out that batteries are one of the main challenges for Europe's green and prosperous future.