Governments and businesses across the world are increasingly committing to net zero and sustainability strategies. Lithium-ion batteries, harnessed appropriately, are a strong vehicle to support these endeavours, an assessment that is backed by a growing body of evidence and knowledge, writes Benedikt Sobotka, CEO of Eurasian Resources Group and co-chair of the Global Battery Alliance.
According to research by the Global Battery Alliance, a global public-private collaboration platform, batteries are expected to reduce power and transport sector emissions by 30% by the end of the decade. Sourced sustainably, batteries may also help put the world back on track to achieve the Paris Agreement goals and support a range of UN SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals).
It is therefore important to ensure that this potential is realised but this can only be done through far-reaching collaboration that goes beyond the confines of individual sectors and countries, benefits the whole value chain and avoids negative impacts. Innovation is central to these efforts and lies at the heart of the Global Battery Alliance’s collaborative vision to use batteries to power a transition to a sustainable world.
In this vein, ERG was among the world’s leading organisations to endorse the ‘Battery Passport’, a concept that was introduced by the Global Battery Alliance at this year’s 50th anniversary of the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos. The first of its kind, the Passport will lay the foundation for what is expected to be an unprecedented ramp-up of batteries. Demand for batteries, the aforementioned report found, is set to increase by 19 times by 2030.
‘Battery Passport’ – a verification tool
The Passport will work as a type of quality seal on a global digital lifecycle platform for sharing value chain data of batteries, much like the energy efficiency ratings of white appliances or certification by the Responsible Jewellery Council. This innovative tool aims to enable the user to verify the battery’s material provenance (as well as battery chemistry and identity) and measure the sustainability and environmental impact of the battery. Priority areas include ensuring material provenance, assisting with reducing GHG emissions and supporting stronger battery recycling.
Doing so will also help address a number of challenges facing the global battery sector and bring forward the 2030 vision of the Global Battery Alliance, a private-public multi-stakeholder collaborative platform of around 70 organisations ranging from industry-leaders, governments, NGOs, academic institutions and civil society entities, hosted by the World Economic Forum. This vision is captured in the Ten Guiding Principles that the Alliance introduced alongside the Passport, the two initiatives being mutually complementary. The Principles will guide the development of the Passport from concept to solution.
A gradual, collaborative process of knowledge exchange will help evolve the project over time, while building upon existing solutions and a growing body of evidence. In China, for example, OEMs have been obliged to share EV and battery data on a governmental platform since 2018. A similar focus can be seen across a range of other regulatory initiatives including from the EU, New Zealand and California.
In the private sector, we are increasingly seeing moves to address cross-industry challenges. Consider the Mining and Metals Blockchain Initiative. The project, founded by seven leading mining businesses including Eurasian Resources Group (ERG), Glencore, Anglo American, Tata Steel Limited, and supported by World Economic Forum, explores the building of a blockchain-based platform in tracking and tracing materials, reporting on carbon emissions and increasing efficiency.
Importantly, the Passport aims to ensure that the transition to a ‘sustainable world’ – the theme of Davos this year – does not come at the expense of vulnerable regions and communities. Nowhere is this more relevant perhaps than the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo), one of the world’s poorest countries, which accounts for over two-thirds of the world’s cobalt supply. Some 40,000 children are thought to be caught up in child labour (source: UNICEF) in the DRC while almost a third of the cobalt supply in the country originates from artisanal and small-scale mining. It is therefore important that cobalt, a key battery metal, is sourced responsibly. This is something that the Passport will be in a position to ascertain, providing further reassurance that at no point was the end-product connected with issues such as child labour or environmentally unsound practices.
In addition to helping eradicate child labour across the value chain, the Passport will also support the increasing need for more effective and efficient battery recycling. Recent data suggests that 11 million metric tons of batteries are expected to reach the end of their service lives between now and 2030, according to industry analysts. This pressing issue was highlighted in a study by the University of Birmingham that urges governments and industry to act now to prevent unsustainable battery waste arising in the future. Strengthening circularity in the value chain is one of the collaborative pillars that guide the Global Battery Alliance’s vision.
Connecting transport and power sectors
Moving from a linear to a circular value chain can not only improve the environmental and economic footprint of batteries but can also serve to quickly connect the transport and power sectors – through smart charging and vehicle-to-grid, for example – which were jointly responsible for around 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions at the beginning of the year.
The Passport is especially poised to support the electric vehicle (EV) revolution. The demand for EVs is growing exponentially. Forecasts suggest that automotive manufacturers are launching more than 300 EV models in the next five years (source: Global Battery Alliance), while Bloomberg predicts that by 2040, over 500 million passenger EVs will be on the road. It is therefore critical that this demand is met sustainably, and net zero programmes are pursued with potentially negative impacts on vulnerable regions being prevented.
The Battery Passport, working synergistically with other initiatives by the Global Battery Alliance and its members, will pave the way to the scenario of mass adoption and help maximise the sustainability potential of batteries. Left to its own devices, the current battery value chain will not be able to deliver those important benefits and pre-empt negative outcomes by the end of the decade. To do so, extensive collaborative actions are needed – as well as innovation that is well thought-out and grounded in evidence to ensure benefits extend right across the value chain.
Originally published on our sister publication, Smart Energy International