Commitment to responsibility obligations can improve the company’s reputation and increase the innovativeness of the battery market while simultaneously reducing the negative environmental impact – these are just some of the positive aspects of the EU’s Batteries Regulation that are mentioned by Managing Director of Celltech Anders Blomqvist.
“By taking care of our responsibility obligations, we increase customer loyalty. This also brings business profits,” says Blomqvist.
Celltech is a designer and manufacturer of battery systems and an importer of standard and special batteries. Celltech is a leading operator in this field in Finland. From its position at the forefront of the industry, the company has long followed the progress of the Batteries Regulation and taken on an active role in communicating the changes to others.
The EU’s Batteries Regulation, which is expected to be officially approved this summer, will introduce new requirements for all phases of the production and use of batteries as well as their recycling and entire lifecycle. The new requirements are based on the European Green Deal. Its aim is to conserve natural resources, prevent severe environmental and human rights issues and improve the service life, quality and safety of products.
For producers, the new legal provisions will introduce new obligations, such as CE markings, QR codes, transparent supply chains and stricter collection and recycling requirements. Compliance with these obligations will bring both challenges and opportunities.
Besides manufacturers and importers, the stricter requirements will also apply to companies that import batteries for their own use or as part of the products they offer. According to Celltech, this may lead to some companies discontinuing the import of batteries to Finland because then they are not required to carry out responsible supply chain monitoring, for example. Nevertheless, Blomqvist believes that the changes will be beneficial in many ways.
“In the future, the regulation will prevent poor-quality batteries from entering the EU, which will also benefit all consumers.”
The goal is to reduce negative environmental impacts
According to Blomqvist, one of the most important positive aspects of the EU’s Batteries Regulation is that it will reduce negative environmental impacts. The Batteries Regulation takes into account the importance of a closed recycling system.
“Through the new Batteries Regulation, the EU seeks to further increase the recycling rate. Both the collection targets and material recovery targets will be increased,” Blomqvist says.
“The aim is to process battery minerals, such as cobalt and lithium, for reuse instead of continuously mining and consuming more virgin raw materials.”
In addition to recycling materials, another purpose of the new rules laid down by the regulation is to promote the reuse and reconditioning of batteries. For example, a battery installed in a personal vehicle that no longer meets the power or performance requirements for its original purpose of use can be utilised in second-life energy storage for a solar panel system.
The changes will boost technological development
As the Eldorado of the battery industry, Finland boasts a high level of general expertise in minerals and their processing. Finland increasingly emphasises the need for efficient recycling, and several companies are actively researching methods to implement it. One superb example mentioned by Blomqvist is the Finnish company Tracegrow Oy, which manufactures fertilisers from old, crushed alkaline batteries.
Although research and development is continuously being carried out to develop more sustainable and recyclable batteries, a fully renewable battery material is not yet available – not in Finland or anywhere else in the world.
“It’s apparent that even though we are seeking new, alternative battery technologies, traditional lithium-ion batteries will continue to dominate as an energy storage solution for a long time to come,” Blomqvist predicts.
Preparations are also being made for social risks
The procurement of the materials required for lithium-ion batteries involves its own challenges, however. For example, human rights violations, such as the use of child labour, have been identified in cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“According to EU authorities, we must all identify the specific mine, enrichment plant and smelting plant from which the battery minerals used in our products originate. This poses a major challenge, as it takes time and resources, but it’s also necessary to promote the wellbeing of humanity,” says Blomqvist.
With the entry into force of the new regulation, distributors will also become obligated to conduct an ethical assessment of their entire raw material production chain. The purpose of this is to ensure that each of the parties involved in the market take due account of human rights.
In the future, the obligations concerning the responsible production chain will also apply to smaller batteries instead of being limited solely to large industrial batteries or energy storage for electric vehicles. However, the legal provisions will not be applied to importers with an annual turnover below EUR 40 million.
“We hope that all operators, regardless of their due diligence responsibility, recognise the importance of ethical conduct and make well-thought-out decisions when concluding international agreements,” says Blomqvist.
“We believe that informed customers will buy batteries from responsible suppliers in the future.”
It is also important to note that the significance of the origin of minerals has been highlighted in public procurements. The winner is no longer solely the tenderer that offers the lowest price but the tenderer that takes its environmental and social obligations seriously.
Growing role of producer organizations
In light of the EU’s new regulation, Blomqvist emphasises the growing role of producer organisations, as it may be difficult for individual battery importers to meet the requirements imposed on them alone.
“To ensure the success of our business, I believe that it’s now more important than ever to have a functional producer organisation that builds the collection network and takes care of recycling on our behalf,” says Blomqvist.
“Producer responsibility has covered industrial batteries for a long time. However, we’ve been able to conclude a separate agreement with the customer regarding the costs of their recycling when the matter has become relevant. In the future, we’ll be required to provide this price tag in advance.”
Blomqvist hopes that the EU’s upcoming Batteries Regulation will serve as an incentive for the development of the existing recycling methods for batteries. For the time being, there are no recycling services available in Europe for batteries such as low-cobalt lithium iron phosphate batteries, which are becoming more common in large modes of transport and energy storage.