The electrification of transport and environmental friendliness of batteries is a hot topic amongst car manufacturers and consumers, but Toyota wants to tackle the carbon challenge more holistically. ‘The Batteries Regulation, entering into force in June, is one of the things that affect the car industry’s responsibility trends,’ says Pekka Karvinen from Toyota Auto Finland.
The European Union is adopting a new Batteries Regulation, which will harmonise the regulations on the entire lifecycle of batteries across the EU. The legislation will also finally include requirements on product design, the end users’ role and promotion of recycled raw material markets.
Toyota Auto Finland’s Communications Manager Pekka Karvinen believes that the new Batteries Regulation will help the car industry work towards circular economy and responsibility. The importer’s parent company that represents Toyota and Lexus, Toyota Motor Europe, has taken part in preparing the EU regulation through communities that look after the interests of the industry.
‘Toyota is a big player in Europe, and others tend to listen to it in these sort of matters. We have been paying a lot of attention to the new battery regulation and have looked into various options of adopting a battery passport, for example,’ Karvinen says.
‘When it comes to the work carried out by the Finnish importer and retail network, the new regulation will have the most concrete impact on the handling of faulty and damaged high-voltage batteries. The regulation will provide new guidelines for these instances for repair shops and scrapyards,’ Karvinen continues.
Carbon, not the internal combustion engine, is the enemy
According to the European Commission’s policies, all new cars entering the market must be zero-carbon ones from 2035 onwards. In other words, consumers are directed away from fossil fuels towards vehicles that run on electricity or hydrogen.
‘This is a challenge that the car industry will begin to tackle in the next few years. Toyota has been talking about the electrification of transport since the end of the 1990s, but the current debate seems to focus too heavily on just one part of the problem,’ Karvinen says.
‘None of us is hoping that the zero-carbon legislation will be cancelled, but we are happy to take part in discussing the timeframe and how realistic it is. Even if we manufacturers were able to produce zero-carbon cars, society’s preparedness must also be taken into account,’ Pekka Karvinen concludes.
‘As fully electric cars have become more common, the debate about the natural resources used for their batteries has also heated up. Batteries provide an easy argument on how responsible cars are, because they are so valuable but at the same time harmful to the environment,’ Karvinen says. He explains that different options are considered as a whole at Toyota, not by valuing one over another.
‘Our message is that the enemy is carbon, not the internal combustion engine. Reducing the amount of carbon, for example with biofuels or synthetic alternatives, might have some potential, but developing these alternatives is not viable unless legislation encourages it.’
Lead-acid and small batteries will remain necessary
‘In addition to the starter and traction batteries, cars contain several smaller batteries as well. The most familiar ones for the consumers are the button cell batteries in car keys. They will not disappear anywhere, at least in the near future, even though the technology already exists for getting rid of physical keys,’ Karvinen says.
‘Lead-acid batteries also remain victorious: regardless of the propulsion system, every Toyota and Lexus that leaves the factory has a 12-volt lead-acid battery,’ says Karvinen.
‘Lead-acid batteries offer a lot of benefits: they are inexpensive and reliable. Unless they are specifically banned, they will remain in use for a long time to come.’
Pekka Karvinen says that the current debate emphasises the recyclability of the larger components, but the smaller power supplies are not associated with any major problems either. The small batteries of control units have been designed to last until the end of a car’s lifespan, and the lithium-ion battery of a key is easy to replace at a car dealership.
The Batteries Regulation sets recycling targets for different battery categories, but also the main raw materials used in batteries. This means that the increasing number of batteries entering the market and stricter recycling requirements will lead to a rise in the collected volumes of batteries in the next few years.
‘The customers of Toyota’s Finnish network can trust that the batteries they return to shops will be recycled correctly – the audits required by the manufacturer guarantee this,’ says Karvinen.
‘What is particularly nice about lead-acid batteries is that their collection rate in Finland is in practice 100%. However, in Europe, it will take some effort to raise the recycling rate of low-voltage batteries, and the Batteries Regulation will play an important role in that,’ Karvinen continues.
New battery types expected to be light and recyclable
The development and research work on batteries is yielding battery types that are completely new. Finding increasingly good options is in the interests of all manufacturers that use batteries, but the car industry, in particular, is interested in this development. The car industry has a constant need for recyclable, sustainable and energy-dense batteries that are simultaneously compact in size.
Karvinen gives an example: instructions on a fuel-efficient driving style advise drivers to remove all unnecessary items from the car in order to lessen the load, thereby saving fuel. The batteries in fully electric cars are large, and it takes a significant amount of energy to get them moving. Reducing the battery size would also reduce the amount of power required.
‘New battery types have been designed for years, but some of them are not the most suitable for cars. A solid-state battery could be the next step in that area of development. We at Toyota have been studying this type and will continue to do so going forward,’ Karvinen explains.
In recent years, car manufacturers have begun to realise their environmental responsibilities increasingly well. For example, bumpers use recycled plastic and synthetic alternatives have been adopted for the upholstery. ‘However, for an average consumer, it is the zero local emissions that matter the most, as it usually means low fuel consumption,’ Karvinen says. ‘The debate on the propulsion system options does have merit, but sometimes it seems that people forget that a responsible approach involves multiple elements,’ he says.
‘In an ideal world, 100 per cent of car parts could be recycled, from boot to bonnet. However, we cannot reach this goal if we only focus on the problems of one component,’ Pekka Karvinen concludes.
This article is a part of the joint communications of the battery and accumulator producer organisations Recser Oy and Akkukierrätys Pb Oy concerning the EU Batteries Regulation. You can also subscribe to our newsletter (Mailchimp) to receive the latest news on the subject.