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As Europe races ahead with electric vehicles, UN Framework helps manage critical raw materials for batteries

Published: 18 April 2019

Country after country in Europe is racing to put more and more electric cars on the road as Europe strives to position itself as a world leader in electric vehicle innovation, digitization and decarbonization. If electric vehicles are going to feature so prominently in a connected and automated future, at its heart lies something critical – batteries. Batteries are not just the drivers of the power systems that push the wheels, they also power connectivity, automation, heating and cooling. Batteries are the power engines of the next industrial revolution.

Producing batteries at the scale needed for an electric car revolution is easier said than done. Efficient and fast-charging batteries require essential materials such as lithium, cobalt, nickel, graphite, germanium, rare earths and others. The current demand for these materials is relatively limited so only small amounts are produced. However, if production of electric vehicles grows as strongly as forecast these critical materials will be required in massive volumes. Sourcing them sustainably will be the new challenge. Europe has understood this, and early actions have been taken to source these essential materials in a sustainable manner.

Some of these materials are not easy to obtain and require complex purification before they can be used. Mining and transformation into the high quality required are intensive processes that need to be sustainable if the environmental gains anticipated with electric vehicles are to be confirmed.

The European Commission has established a carefully calibrated Raw Materials Initiative for securing sustainable supplies. Sourcing supplies from Europe, boosting recycling and reuse, and ensuring global access are crucial elements of the initiative.

“The first major issue is the availability of reliable information necessary for making informed decisions about the supply of raw materials for the battery value chains in the EU,” said Peter Handley, Head of Unit, Resource Efficiency and Raw Materials, European Commission. “Much of the relevant knowledge is either unavailable, unreliable, scattered, or confidential”.

Data on raw materials in the EU are reported under a variety of standards, which makes their comparison and integration very difficult. The European Commission therefore is using the United Nations Framework Classification for Resources (UNFC), developed at UNECE, to compare and consolidate information in a European battery raw materials inventory. Many of the raw materials needed for batteries are present in polymetallic deposits identified within Europe, but the data are not reported in UNFC.

“UNFC is an existing universal standard that can facilitate policy and strategy formulation, government resources management, industry business processes and capital allocation,” said Milan Grohol, Policy Officer, European Commission. “Once operational and adopted by a sufficient number of countries and EU Member States, it will allow comprehensive integration of the data.”

“The application of UNFC does not just stop with primary resources”, said Scott Foster, Director, Sustainable Energy Division, UNECE. “Sustainable production and use also requires recycling used materials. UNFC is fully equipped to deal with such secondary resources”.

The European Commission’s recent experience in integrating EU-wide data on key battery raw materials according to UNFC will be presented at the UNECE Resource Management Week 2019, 29 April – 3 May, Palais des Nations, Geneva.

For more information on UNFC visit: https://www.unece.org/energy/se/reserves.html


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