Climate-related figures in Europe are still terrifying, but change is imminent. How can the new EU action plan help our planet, and where does Slovakia stand?
We extract, produce, consume, and throw away — this is our current, mostly linear, way of life. Why do we keep repeating this cycle, even though we’ve learned that it’s harming our planet? Have we failed to realise that natural resources are limited, and that we’re bound to run out of them one day? Have we not been bothered by the fact that our fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions are polluting the environment? I think, in the past, we didn’t fully appreciate the impact of our actions — until our planet started screaming for help. Thankfully, help is finally on its way, and I’m very glad that it’s being led by an EU initiative, with Slovakia included as a key player. What am I talking about?
THE EUROPEAN FIGURES ARE TERRIFYING, THE EU ACTION PLAN WAS NECESSARY
Consider this: today, an average European citizen consumes up to 16 tonnes of materials per year — 6 tonnes of these turn into waste, and half of this waste ends up in landfills. Global consumption of resources has grown tenfold since 1900, and the continuing growth of the global economy means that, by 2050, our demand for food and other basic resources will increase by a further 70%. What awaits us, if we continue down this path? We would need more than 2 planets to satisfy our current needs. However, EU member states are aware of the fact that our planet needs help. This is evidenced by initiatives and legislation, addressing the sustainability of our resources and products. In particular, I’d like to point out the new action plan for a circular economy, which was brought up by the European Commission last year, and which concerns itself with the lifecycle of products.
THANKFULLY, THE EU WANTS TO REMAIN COMPETITIVE
Let’s move on to the aforementioned EU action plan, which deserves our attention. Because the EU recognises its position in the global economy and wants to remain competitive, it has come up with this plan, through which it aims to accomplish several important goals: to improve the longevity of products, promote their reuse, increase the amount of recycled materials in new products, reduce the carbon footprint, limit single-use products, and ban the disposal of unsold durable products. Furthermore, the action plan includes a full chapter focused on electric vehicles and their batteries. This is great news! Finally, there will be quotas introduced on the content of recycled materials in new batteries, and battery and car manufacturers will have to ensure that, at the end of their life, batteries will be collected and recycled. Over time, non-rechargeable batteries will be replaced by rechargeable ones, we will reduce the carbon footprint tied to their production, and the sourcing of manufacturing materials will become transparent and ethical. Slovakia is ready for these changes, and we’ll soon be able to call it the Mecca of e-vehicle battery manufacturing.
TIMES ARE CHANGING, AND SO IS THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY
Yes, today, fossil fuels provide us with the heat in our homes, the electricity to power our appliances, our means of transport, and the products of our daily consumption, through the extraction and transformation of raw materials. All of these elements contribute to considerable greenhouse gas emissions. How can we mitigate them? The solution lies in the circular economy model, focused on the recycling of resources and their reuse, which would greatly reduce the emissions from traditional waste management practices. More importantly, however, recycling would reduce the amount of energy needed in industrial production, where primary raw materials are transformed into the final products.
ELECTRIC VEHICLES CAN FINALLY FULFILL THEIR MISSION
The biggest step forward in terms of greenhouse gas elimination should happen in the areas of freight and passenger transport. However, there’s a catch. Replacing fossil fueled cars with battery-powered EVs certainly won’t be enough. The biggest change must happen in battery manufacturing. There’s no point in driving eco-friendly vehicles if their batteries are not produced in an eco-friendly manner. Thankfully, changes have occured in this area, too, and I think we can safely say that the old way of battery manufacturing will soon be just a memory.
BATTERIES CAN BE ECONOMICALLY AND ECOLOGICALLY BENEFICIAL
The demand for electric vehicles is growing extremely fast — due to strong political incentives in many countries, as well as continuously decreasing battery costs. At the same time, the rising demand raises concerns about a possible shortage of cobalt, nickel, and lithium. Here, I’d like to present you with some figures. Did you know that…
- by 2030, more than 300 million electric vehicles are expected to be produced?
- by 2025, the demand for electric vehicle batteries will reach 735 GWh, and will further rise to 1890 GWh by 2030 — which will represent more than 80% of the overall demand for batteries?
- the global value of lithium is currently estimated at approx. 3 billion USD, cobalt at 1.5 billion USD, and nickel at 0.5 billion USD?
- to satisfy the demand for batteries, at current market prices, the combined value of these materials will reach 46 billion USD by 2025, and 134 billion dollars by 2030?
Although we’re looking at enormous figures, I see them as positive. Why? Because they’ve finally forced us to act and put us on a path towards an equally enormous, eco-friendly change. It won’t just be the price of batteries that’ll get reduced, but also the negative impact we’re having on our planet. This change can happen in two ways: by developing and manufacturing lithium batteries less dependent on cobalt, or through recycling. The latter, specifically, is where Slovakia is already setting new trends — through InoBat Auto, where batteries like these will get manufactured, and also recycled! That’s what I call a win-win situation: reduced manufacturing costs and batteries becoming a part of the circular economy.
SLOVAKIA IS MOVING FORWARD: BETTER DURABILITY, PERFORMANCE, SAFETY AND A LONGER BATTERY RANGE
Slovakia puts most emphasis on the research and development of lithium batteries. The aim of the Slovak InoBat Auto is to offer carmakers competitive batteries that will be faster than those of traditional manufacturers — and we have already managed to produce our first samples, at the end of last year. Why do I consider them to be groundbreaking? Our batteries are tailored to car manufacturers’ needs, and in the research and development process, we focus on improving the anode and cathode properties, their energy density, and also improving the construction of the electrolyte and electrodes. Amazingly, by doing this, we can ensure the desired durability, performance and safety of our batteries, and also increase their range by up to 20%. Moreover, we are manufacturing these batteries through a combination of High Throughput technology (HTP) and artificial intelligence, and they will be manufactured from renewable materials.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO USED BATTERIES? WE’LL GIVE THEM A NEW LIFE
Even though Slovakia has been, compared to other countries, a little behind in terms of electromobility, we are a few steps ahead where innovation is concerned. Through InoBat Auto, we’ll be the ones to provide battery recycling solutions, so that used batteries can get “revived” at the end of their service life. That’s something to be proud of! This way, we’ll close the circle and contribute to the elimination of non-renewable source extraction. The recycling project will be realised in 2 phases. This year, we’ll start constructing the line for the physical scrapping of batteries, which we’ll withdraw from the market at the end of their service life and, subsequently, recycle. In short, the discharged batteries will get disassembled into modules, placed on the shredding line, crushed into sand-sized particles, and passed into the drying phase, where the dark matter will get separated from unwanted particles in a gas-tight chamber. In this process, the fire and explosion hazards are eliminated. It also meets the emission quotas, and we’re planning to use the treated gas itself in InoBat, to generate heat for the factory. In the second phase, which we’d like to start in two years’ time, we will build a hydrometallurgical line where the dark matter will get processed. The result? 95% metal recovery rate, 35% reduction in manufacturing costs, and 20% reduction in CO2 production.
I care deeply about the environment and I want a cleaner, safer planet for future generations. That’s why I’m glad that I can be a part of InoBat Auto, which proudly contributes to the circular economy. Through this model, we can become successful creators and implementers of the “cradle to cradle” business strategy. Furthermore, we’ll manufacture and recycle batteries, and by constructing our recycling line, we’ll be able to reuse materials in the production of brand new batteries.
Senior Project Manager, Board Member of InoBat Recycling