Battery production can become more sustainable through a circular value chain.
Batteries have come to occupy central roles in our lives, not least by powering our smartphones and other devices. Improved battery capacity will also be key in the spread of renewables such as solar and wind. Yet batteries can be both roadblocks to sustainability and enablers of renewable transition.
A new report titled “A Vision for a Sustainable Battery Value Chain in 2030” by the World Economic Forum suggests we can leverage the power of batteries to meet Paris targets and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The report looks into how battery production can become more sustainable through the transformation of its whole value chain towards a circular one, which could help achieve 30% of the required emission reductions in the power and transport sectors.
Battery production can also help create 10 million new jobs and provide 600 million people with access to electricity, reducing the global electricity access gap by 70%, the authors say. They put particular emphasis on the potential of batteries to accelerate the transition to clean energy and sustainable transport. With as many as 300 new electric vehicle models to be launched in the next five years, batteries will be crucial for enhancing their reliability and boosting consumer trust.
However, increasing investment into charging infrastructure and renewables will also be required. Without the proper scaling-up of renewables, batteries will only act as an add-on to an ultimately unsustainable system.
In addition, considering the vast impact of batteries on the environment, the report outlines five levers to make batteries environmentally viable. These include shared use of EVs, the spread of smart charging technologies, better refurbishment and repair, as well as repurposing and recycling of used batteries. Treading this path will require reducing GHG emissions from battery production, along with lowering social and environmental risks from sourcing raw materials.
The authors highlight the need to focus on human rights, emphasizing the importance of safe working conditions at mining and battery production facilities. For example, the environmentally sound management of lead-acid batteries will be crucial, considering that energy storage is the only sector where lead currently can not be eliminated.
By 2030 we can achieve a 19- time increase in battery demand and If all proper levers are put into play, the report suggests that this increase would be paired with a 45% reduction in the greenhouse gas-intensity of the battery value chain while also extending batteries’ life cycle.