Interview: Co-chair of the Global Battery Alliance on the Battery Passport

Earlier this year (January 2020) at the World Economic Forum in Geneva, the Global Battery Alliance (GBA) launched the Battery Passport concept.

The aim of the Passport is to ensure that the demand for electric vehicles is met responsibly and is powered by sustainable batteries.

With demand expected to skyrocket in the coming years, and batteries expected to be a major driver in reducing global carbon footprints, the GBA has said it is essential to ensure a responsible and sustainable battery value chain. 

Air Quality News got in touch with Benedikt Sobotka, co-chair of the Global Battery Alliance and CEO of Eurasian Resources Group to find out more. 

How exactly will the battery passport work? 

The battery passport is aimed at unlocking the full environmental and socio-economic potential of batteries by 2030.

Sourced sustainably, batteries can help reduce global power and transport sector emissions by 30% by the end of the decade.

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.

The tool will aim 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. Other priority areas include assisting with reducing GHG emissions and supporting stronger battery recycling.

One of the aims of the battery passport is to strengthen traceability and transparency along the value chain.

What are some of the main environmental issues with the mining of metals used in batteries? How will the battery passport help to resolve these issues?

Demand for batteries is expected to increase 19 times by the end of the decade.

This amounts to one of the highest purchase orders the mining industry has seen to date and it is particularly relevant for key battery metals including cobalt, of which the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) holds over half of the world’s reserves.

Mining can be a high-impact activity and it is important that the increased expected demand does not come at the expense of local communities, environments and ecosystems.

This is why the GBA supports the formalisation of the small-scale mining sector (ASM) in the DRC and has welcomed commitments from the government of the country to address this.

Why do you think it’s so important to be looking at the whole lifecycle of a product?

Only by looking at the whole lifecycle of a product and attending to the entire battery value chain can we begin to grasp the scale of the extensive, collaborative effort that is required in order to drive important collective sustainability goals including the Paris Agreement.

The lifecycle of a battery maps onto different parts of the value chain and every part, player and entity has to be involved in this concerted effort. Without taking well thought out and coordinated steps in this regard, our collective ‘carbon budget’ may be used up by 2035.

One broad aim includes the creation of a circular value chain.

Doing so can improve both the environmental and the economic footprint of batteries by reaping more of the potential of batteries both while in use and harvesting their end-of-life value.

The GBA is doing work to establish blueprints to accelerate recycling, and improve end of life management in developing countries, with a view to increase energy access. 

Addressing the whole lifecycle and value chain also prompts interest into the communities and countries that rely on key battery metals including the DRC.

In order to facilitate a just energy transition, it is important to ensure that cobalt is produced responsibly and that efforts to tackle challenges associated with poor working conditions and human rights issues, including forced and child labour, continue to be heightened until 2030.

This is precisely the aim of ERG’s longstanding partnership with the Good Shepherd International Foundation as part of which, in 2019, over 2,200 children safely transitioned out of mining and were provided with an education and protection.

How exactly will the battery passport encourage the recycling of batteries?

By the end of the decade, an estimated 11 million tonnes of batteries are expected to reach the end of their service lives. It is important that this is managed appropriately and in good time.

Right now there is no uniform global policy about how to manage battery waste despite the enormous numbers of batteries contained in electronics that are just around people’s homes.

In order to either re-purpose or recycle the large batteries that power EVs, it is imperative to know the exact makeup of the battery, its usage and the way it was manufactured.

The Battery Passport aims to improve the sharing of data along the battery value chain by labelling and creating a database of battery information.

Sharing of battery data may reduce the costs of battery repurposing whilst also increasing the value proposition of reusing batteries. At the moment, the commercial viability of battery recycling and reuse is a key stumbling block to delivering a circular economy for batteries.

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