June 18, 2020: Frans Timmermans, executive vice-president of the European Commission — the most powerful legislative force in Europe — gave the keynote speech at EUROBAT’s June 5 webinar with an implicit warning to the lead battery industry that its future was limited.
Amid the usual welcoming noises about how important innovation was to the circular economy, he suggested the Commission’s view was that lead batteries were verging on obsolete at best, although he did not specifically mention lead by name.
“We have to assess which technologies have reached a maturity that will not allow more innovation, we shouldn’t be throwing money at those,” he said. “We look at things that have a future rather than things that have had a great past” —implying that the Commission was eager only to advance lithium batteries over lead ones.
“We are more reluctant [to invest] when a technology doesn’t seem to have much potential for development and has a huge negative impact on the environment … we’re technology agnostic but we’re not stupid.”
One industry commentator said: “I was dumbstruck when he said this … phrases like a ‘technology’ ie a battery chemistry with no potential for development but a great past and having a huge negative impact on the environment and the like. There was no doubt he was mentioning lead batteries — what else could he possibly have been talking about?”
Putting this into the framework of his earlier remarks on European legislation over technology and the environment, there was also the implication that other EU regulatory controls damaging to the lead battery industry — the End of Life Directive, the Battery Directive and REACH — would in the end come fully into play.
Timmermans, who is well regarded in business and political circles as a pragmatist and realist, said he saw one role of Europe was in setting the best environmental and technical standards and that these would eventually be accepted globally.
“Every time Europe wants to create higher standards the critique is you’re going to put us at a competitive disadvantage,” he said. “But the experience is that [us as] the standard setter for a market of nearly 500 million consumers is a standard for the world. Everybody wants to be in that market.”
The industry commentator said: “He may clearly be right here about some aspects of standard setting but his other opinions should act as a wake-up call to us all. If he is airing the views of the prevailing thinking about lead at the most senior levels of decision-making, as second in command of the European Commission, it’s a cause for concern.
“It goes to show the huge perception gap that industry associations and companies face in communicating the realities of the enormous potential that lead batteries have in helping achieve the EU’s aims for the future.”
Timmermans’ remarks were just part of a webinar that replaced part of EUROBAT’s annual June meeting. The webinar, which was attended by some 300 people, was also to launch the organization’s Battery Innovation Roadmap 2030.
Although roadmaps of various descriptions have become de rigueur in battery circles of late, the presentations around the roadmap were solid, realistic and argued eloquently the case for lead, lithium and nickel batteries and their suitability for a variety of applications. (See upcoming issue of Batteries International for fuller details of the road map and associated presentations.)
Marc Zoellner, president of EUROBAT and also CEO of the Hoppecke Group, said: “We need an industrial policy that recognizes all battery technologies and the jobs they create in the EU, which has to be taken into account by the EU Commission and European Parliament when finalizing the new Batteries Regulation.”
A EUROBAT official said: “the roadmap demonstrates the strong innovation potential of all battery technologies over the next years to cater for the specific requirements of a multitude of applications. As an essential technology contributing to decarbonization across a number of sectors, including transport, energy, logistics, production and telecommunications, batteries will play a crucial role in supporting the European Green Deal and enabling the ‘green recovery’ from the Covid pandemic.
“All battery technologies, with their specific features and significant development potential, are required to harness the full potential of the European battery industry to contribute to achieving Europe’s 2050 climate-neutrality goals and power the specific requirements of different applications.”