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How to make more electric batteries – and how to make them more sustainable

We need more batteries – or, as today’s piece on the Climate Action website makes clear, the rapid expansion of batteries will be crucial to meet the climate and energy security goals set at COP28:

After their deployment in the power sector more than doubled last year, batteries need to lead a sixfold increase in global energy storage to enable the world to meet 2030 targets. Growth in batteries outpaced almost all other clean energy technologies in 2023 as falling costs, advancing innovation and supportive industrial policies helped drive up demand for a technology that will be critical to delivering the climate and energy targets outlined at the COP28 climate conference in Dubai, according to a new IEA report. 

The brownfield site was home to an ordnance factory for most of the 20th century; to become the new battery factory near Bridgwater

To some extent that is happening with what was announced for the West Country earlier in the year, when Tata confirmed Somerset will host a £4bn battery factory:

And perhaps even more exciting is the push for the recycling of e-batteries, from Birmingham – as Nissan and Ecobat give used EV batteries a second life beyond the car – to Alicante – with Europe´s largest electric car battery recycling plant.

This is because it’s very much about resources. It’s clear that Europe is ‘miles behind’ in the race for raw materials used in electric car batteries – meaning we’re looking at huge supply chain issues as part of the geopolitics of electric car batteries as manufacturers and countries race to secure access to critical minerals.

For example, as of 2020, Chinese-backed companies has owned or had a financial stake in 15 of the 19 cobalt-producing mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in the wake of Indonesia’s various bans on exports of nickel ore between 2009 and 2020, Chinese companies have invested $14.2 billion to construct industrial parks in the country. All this explains Tesla founder Musk visiting China as competitors show off their new electric vehicles – as reported even in the Sidmouth Herald this week.

So, if we are going to have enough battery production not dependent on autocratic governments, we need to be securing local sources of minerals – for example, the latest plans for lithium mining in Cornwall promising the first facility of its kind in Europe.

It is clear though that we need innovation to make the electric vehicle battery more sustainable:

The World Economic Forum’s Global Battery Alliance (GBA) is a public-private collaboration of organizations which argue that a circular battery value chain is a key way of realizing the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C climate goal in the transport and power sectors. The GBA also estimates that batteries could enable 30% of required cuts in carbon emissions in the two industries to reach the 2° goal of the Paris Agreement. They could also provide 600 million people with access to electricity and create 10 million sustainable jobs worldwide – by 2030. Its Battery Passport initiative seeks to create a digital representation of a battery that will provide consumers with a “quality seal” in terms of sustainability.