A group of German automakers, chemical concerns, and battery producers have announced the joint development of a “battery passport” designed to help government regulators trace the history of the cells. The consortium is funded by the German government and is supposed to work in tandem with new battery regulations that are being prepared by the European Union.
According to the German economic ministry, officially the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action, the overarching plan is for the EU to mandate traceable hardware be installed in all batteries used in the continent by 2026. Those intended for use in electric vehicles are up first, with the passport scheme also serving to chronicle everything from the vehicle’s repair history to where the power cell’s raw materials were sourced.
This is part of a global initiative to advance the concept of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) scores for businesses in order to get preferential treatment from financial institutions and the government. But it also serves as a way for larger entities to exert new controls over entire industries.
ESG scores have been heavily criticized for effectively advantaging existing monopolies while giving government regulators unprecedented levels of control. Additional criticisms typically boil down to unfavorable comparisons of China’s social credit scoring scheme, which has been expanded to individual citizens, and the likelihood of adding bureaucratic red tape and thereby heightened cost to consumers. However, there’s no shortage of government officials or top-ranking executives willing to endorse ESG inanities as essential for progress — making it a kind of strange marriage between business and the state.
According to Reuters, the consortium is eleven members strong and includes brands like BASF, BMW, and Umicore. Thus far, the German government has issued 8.2 million euros ($8.78 million USD) to the group to develop a common classification and standards for gathering and disclosing data on the batteries, which could soon become mandatory. The resulting system is assumed to have serialized batteries and some integration with today’s connected vehicle technologies.
A European Commission proposal due to be discussed later this year states that rechargeable electric vehicles, light transport and industrial batteries sold in Europe must disclose their carbon footprint from 2024 and comply with a CO2 emissions limit from 2027.
They must also disclose the content of recycled raw materials in those batteries from 2027, followed by requirements to use a minimum share of recycled cobalt, lithium, nickel and lead from 2030.
The German consortium is the first project in Europe to attempt to design a digital product to meet these regulations, Germany’s economy ministry said.
Batteries could carry a QR code linking to an online database where EV owners, businesses or regulators could access information on the battery’s composition.
U.K.-based supply chain traceability company Circulor has reportedly been tasked with implementing the project’s digital passport technology. Germany said that the passport scheme would aid in battery recycling while also providing a comprehensive history of the battery throughout its lifespan. This is supposed to include the portion preceding its construction. But it’s not abundantly clear how that aspect of the plan actually works. Do we just take the manufacturer’s word for it?
I’m also a little concerned that this could eventually end up as another arrow in the quiver of industries that are trying to hoard ownership rights on products they’ve already sold to the consumers.
As vehicles and other products have become perpetually connected to the internet (beaming out your private data FYI), manufacturers have begun trying to put up roadblocks for anyone hoping to fix their own vehicle or utilize an independently owned repair shop. Despite the right-to-repair movement doing its utmost to prevent this, it’s fighting on too many fronts and is going against well-funded corporate lobbyists possessing longstanding relationships with government legislators. Meanwhile, the European Union seems far more interested in exerting new regulatory controls under the auspices of environmentalism and safety than backing a grass-roots movement comprised of people who still want to fix things.
Though we don’t know for certain exactly how the passports will be utilized, there’s clearly room for real altruism in the plan. Such a system would arguably allow for better monitoring of supply chains and make the industry more adaptable. It’s just not historically been the case that heightened government involvement always works out as better for the environment. We need only point to Europe’s previous incentivizing of diesel-powered vehicles, which lasted for decades before new data revealed that the initiative probably produced more air pollution — not less.
The bottom line is that Germany has effectively asked some of the biggest companies how to police themselves while handing over a wad of cash. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to be a little suspect of the resulting plan, especially since the EU seems poised to run with it before it even knows for sure what the resulting battery passports will entail. We’ll be curious to see how the groundwork for this is presented because it could have major ramifications for numerous industries.
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