Urgent action needed on black mass, European Commission told 

Eurometaux, Recharge, Transport & Environment and WWF say standards needed quickly for the recovery of metals in recycled batteries 

‘Europe is in the midst of a global raw materials race,’ begins a robust open letter by four leading industry bodies to the Executive Vice President, Commissioners and Directors-General of the European Commission. It’s signed by Eurometaux (the European Association of Metals), Recharge (the Advanced Rechargeable & Lithium Batteries Association), the NGO Transport & Environment and the World Wildlife Fund. 

green and white illustration

Store of electric batteries, photo by Henry & Co.

At the crux of the matter is so-called ‘black mass’, the shredded remains of old lithium-ion batteries that contain metals such as copper and lithium vitally needed in producing new batteries. Such batteries power everything from electric vehicles (EVs) to mobile phones and laptops, and we’re increasingly reliant on them. 

As the letter says, China and the US are leading efforts to secure natural resources of these critical metals. China is also forging ahead with large-scale recycling of lithium-ion batteries and has banned all exports of black mass. There are currently no such restrictions in Europe. The signatories of the letter see this as a huge impediment to European efforts to transition to greener energy and transport. 

Given this, the letter calls for the European Commission to take direct and swift action in the following ways: 

  • As soon as possible, include waste codes for lithium-ion batteries and intermediate waste streams – black masses – under the European List of Waste  
  • By the end of 2023, designate such intermediate waste streams as ‘hazardous waste’ for the purposes of export outside the EU 
  • As soon as possible, close loopholes, mandate the Joint Research Centre (JRC) to assess the conditions under which black mass has a status as waste or end-of-waste, and clarify rules for recovery of metals named under the Battery Regulation via secondary acts 
  • Amend annexes to the EU Waste Shipment Regulation currently under negotiation to ensure streamlined, easy transport of end-of-life batteries within the EU so as to accelerate and scale-up the single market for battery recycling 

Whatever the European Commission decides will, of course, have a sizeable impact on the European EV market – which will in turn impact the sector in the UK. will keep a close eye on developments. 

In related news:

Government rolls backs on commitments to reaching net zero 

‘Gigahub’ for electric vehicles at NEC Birmingham 

Opinion: Six key trends in the battery recycling market in 2023


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