In 2020, the EU added lithium to its list of critical raw materials amid increased demand for lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicle (EV) production and high import resilience from China. Last winter’s energy crisis demonstrated the green transition’s ability to not only respond to the climate emergency but also strategically bolster energy security. As Europe seeks strategic autonomy in lithium supply, the green transition’s circular economy model may once again provide the EU with the strategic tools it needs.
Assessing the legislative landscape
On the legislative front, 2023 has been a breakthrough year for implementing circular solutions for Europe’s EV industry. In August, the first piece of EU legislation (EU Battery Directive) with a full life-cycle approach to sourcing, manufacturing, use and recycling of lithium-ion enshrined in a single law entered into force. In less than two years, the new legislation is set to introduce minimum requirements for recycling efficiency, material recovery and recycled content in EVs, light means of transport and rechargeable industrial batteries.
The directive is an “encouraging step” towards the creation of a domestic circular supply chain, says Dr Christian Marston, COO of Altilium, a UK-based EV battery company, with a regional presence in Bulgaria.
“The introduction of minimum requirements will result in lower carbon emissions for EVs produced in Europe and less reliance on international supply chains,” he tells CEENERGYNEWS.
“We expect this will lead to a ‘green premium’ for recycled battery materials, especially as the market is likely to struggle to meet some of these targets for recycled content,” Altilium’s COO notes. “Targets for recycling efficiency are also an important development for the industry, especially for lithium. Achieving the lithium recovery target will require significant investment in hydrometallurgical processes, such as those being developed by Altilium, as opposed to the pyrometallurgical recycling currently employed by most European recyclers.”
The hydrometallurgical processes involve metal recovery by combining water, oxygen and other chemical reagents with or without the use of a pressurised environment. “There is a range of activities ongoing that can support new battery recycling technologies, including hydrometallurgical processes, to support our goals in the area of EV recycling,” a European Commission official tells us about the bloc’s policy in this area.
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