EU scheme to ban lead risks Europe’s battery revolution

27th June 2018
Alex Lynn

A decision has been announced by the European Chemicals Agency to add lead metal to the EU REACH candidate list of substances requiring authorisation flies clashes with the battery action plan unveiled just weeks ago by the EU Commission.

Lead is used in batteries which provide more than 75% of worldwide rechargeable energy storage and is essential in applications including stop/start car engines, computer and emergency back-up power supplies.

The Lead REACH Consortium, a group representing battery makers, lead producers and recyclers claim the move is a backwards step and is out of line with the EU Commission’s mobility and decarbonisation plans.

Lisa Allen of the Lead REACH Consortium said: “Less than a month after the Commission launched a plan to create a competitive and sustainable battery manufacturing industry in Europe, another part of the organisation is moving to ban a key substance in battery manufacturing, one that is already subject to stringent EU legislation governing its use and one that is not accessible to consumers as batteries are sealed units. By doing this the regulators are effectively short-circuiting the Commission’s battery action plan.

“We urgently need a more coherent plan to prevent this kind of disjointed policy-making. It is damaging for industry and its damaging for consumers. It also makes attempts to decarbonise the economy and boost electrification that much more difficult.

“Some member states involved in the decision to add lead metal to the candidate list are rightly questioning whether future REACH authorisation of lead metal is proportionate when considering the plethora of existing and long-standing EU regulation that already exists to control exposure and use of lead. The Commission must urgently find a more appropriate mechanism to address any residual exposure concerns because REACH authorisation is clearly counterproductive.”

In a parallel action the Commission may soon ask the Reach Committee to support adding four lead compounds, which now only have significant use in EU battery manufacture, to the ‘authorisation list’ as part of its attempts to ban toxic materials.

Allen added: “All batteries placed on the market contain or use hazardous substances for their manufacture. If the EU continues on its course preventing industry using these substances we’ll have no battery industry of any sort, let alone the many industries who rely on our battery-making capability. Policymakers must reflect on the full range of potential risk management measures that are available so that those which best balance the EU’s competitiveness with their effectiveness to ensure human health protection and environmental goals.”

The Consortium is calling on the Commission to find a more proportionate way of managing any residual risks resulting from use of lead compounds and lead metal in battery technologies which support the transformation to a decarbonised economy.

Lead batteries are already 99% recycled in Europe, one of the highest recycling rates of any product, and advanced lead batteries are used to store renewable energy generated by wind and solar. Day-to-day lead batteries support emergency back-up power in hospitals, mobile phone networks and computer servers which support the internet.

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