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The Global Battery Alliance: driving towards electric mobility

Benedikt Sobotka, Co-Chair of WEF’s Global Battery Alliance (GBA), tells Intelligent Transport how the multi-stakeholder initiative aims to create a sustainable battery sector, and how transport players can leverage the Alliance’s vision and contribute to achieving a low carbon economy.

The Global Battery Alliance: driving towards electric mobility

What is the Global Battery Alliance, and what was the reason for its creation?

The Global Battery Alliance (GBA) is a multi-stakeholder private-public initiative with the aim of creating a responsible and sustainable battery sector that is critical to achieving a low carbon economy. Since its launch in 2017, which has been highlighted as one of the Top Ten achievements of the World Economic Forum in Davos that year, the GBA has seen its membership steadily grow. A genuine umbrella partnership, it now consists of over 70 world-leading organisations spanning the entire value chain including Google, Microsoft, BMW, Audi, Glencore, Honda and Leaseplan through to not for profit organisations such as UNICEF, Transport and Environment, IEA and the World Bank and alongside governments such as the Environment Ministry of Japan and the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ).

A key driver behind the GBA’s creation is the urgent need for collaboration across the value chain in order to access batteries’ full socioeconomic and environmental potential by 2030. This would help lay the foundation for a 19-fold increase in battery demand by the end of the decade (GBA). While significant for a range of industries including transport, this figure amounts to the largest purchase order for the mining sector, which supplies key battery metals including cobalt and copper. Extensive collaborative action, coordinated by the GBA, is already well under way to ensure that industries and public entities contribute to this endeavour to the fullest extent possible.

How can ensuring a sustainable battery sector help cities and transport operators meet goals, such as those outlined in the Paris Agreement?

Urban centres and transport operators have an opportunity to be an integral part of the GBA’s efforts. Cities only occupy two percent of the world’s landmass, but they have an enormous environmental footprint accounting for over two-thirds of the world’s energy and over 70 per cent of global CO2 emissions (C40 Cities). Both cities and transport operators stand to gain a great deal by supporting electric mobility and electric vehicles and attendant efforts to maximise the sustainability of the batteries on which they rely.

A key driver behind the GBA’s creation is the urgent need for collaboration across the value chain in order to access batteries’ full socioeconomic and environmental potential by 2030

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the sharpest decline in GHG emissions to date. According to Carbon Brief, GHG emissions this year will fall by four to eight per cent, somewhere between two and three billion tonnes of the warming gas. Equally, the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that the world will use six per cent less energy this year – equivalent to removing the entire energy demand of India.

It is important that this momentum is preserved in the aftermath of the pandemic and batteries can be a major driver in this regard. When sourced sustainably, batteries can reduce global transport and power sector emissions by 30 per cent by the end of the decade, according to a landmark GBA report. These sectors are among the highest contributors to GHG emissions, accounting for up to 40 per cent of global emissions at the beginning of 2020. Ensuring a sustainable battery sector – one that is underpinned by circularity, strong ESG practices, and is completely free of child labour – can help cities and transport operators drive the Paris Agreement goals. 

What are the obstacles? Why are all vehicles not already electric?

The drive towards electric mobility has been relentless over the past couple of years. Even now, while the auto sector is gravely affected by the pandemic, EVs are weathering the storm much more resiliently than internal combustion energy vehicles. Tellingly, penetration rates are increasing across a number of EU countries and China, the largest EVs market where the China Automobile Dealers Association found in a recent survey that 90 per cent of car-dealers have reopened.

Governments also appear to be affirming their commitments to e-mobility and tackling challenges including addressing the charging infrastructure gap. China’s State Grid, for example, recently announced the construction of 78,000 new charging points in 2020, and analysts estimate that about 200,000 public charging points and 400,000 private charging points could be constructed across China this year, with a total investment of U.S. $1.4 billion.

When sourced sustainably, batteries can reduce global transport and power sector emissions by 30 per cent by the end of the decade

Efforts are also underway in the UK, which intends to ban the sale of new petrol, diesel or hybrid cars by 2035, with extensive residential broadband networks being made available for use as charging points. Despite the significant collapse in sales in April, the top two cars in sales terms in the UK were electric models.

Also encouraging is the EU’s Green Deal which, as part of a wider recovery and sustainability plan, entails a doubling of EU investment on electric car recharging infrastructure, with the aim of reaching two million public charging and alternative refuelling stations by 2025.

This would echo China’s measures where NEV subsidies and a sales tax exemption have, reassuringly, been extended by two years to end-2022 offering a strong, positive market signal.

The country is also an undisputed frontrunner in pushing for electric mobility in other vehicles including buses. According to a recent report by BloombergNEF, out of almost 425,000 e-buses worldwide at the end of last year, some 421,000 were in China whose e-bus fleet is projected to rise to more than 600,000 by 2025. However, other regions and cities are following suit, with California requiring all new buses to be zero-emission starting in 2029, and the EU planning to make similar commitments by 2025.

How does the GBA look to overcome these obstacles?

Electric vehicles are the future of urban mobility – and offer a compelling value proposition for cities aiming to reduce environmental footprints, strengthen their appeal as destination, and establish themselves as sustainability champions. The same applies for transport and bus fleet operators which stand to gain much more traction as prospective options among commuters and travellers.

One of the GBA’s objectives is to ensure that EVs are powered by sustainable batteries. Doing so can further strengthen the case for e-mobility among transport operators and cities. Through the GBA’s efforts, it is envisaged that the battery value chain would become more circular, socially inclusive and socioeconomically beneficial. Up to 10 million safe, sustainable jobs can be created by 2030, as a result, over half of which would fall within emerging markets, according to research by the GBA.

Extensive collaboration, within the GBA and across the value chain, will be key to drive toward unlocking those outcomes, and contributions from relevant entities and businesses are widely encouraged and valued. Public bodies, associations, governments can engage with the platform and may wish to relay their input or feedback and explore potential synergies.

What is the ‘Battery Passport’ and how can this be leveraged in the urban mobility space?

The ‘Battery Passport’ is an innovative concept introduced by the GBA at this year’s 50th anniversary of the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos. 

The first of its kind, the Passport will work as a type of quality seal on a global digital lifecycle platform for sharing value chain data of batteries. The tool will enable end-users and customers to verify the battery’s material provenance (as well as battery chemistry and identity) and measure the sustainability and environmental impact of the battery. Other priorities include assisting with reducing GHG emissions and supporting stronger battery recycling. This is a pressing issue with an estimated 11 million tonnes of batteries expected to reach their end of service lives by 2030, according to industry analysts.

In the same vein, a recent study by the University of Birmingham urges governments and industry to act now to prevent unsustainable battery waste. This has significant, potential benefits for the urban mobility space with cities and countries becoming increasingly climate conscious and loth to simply pass on or ‘export’ waste and environmental burdens to other areas.

Electric vehicles are the future of urban mobility – and offer a compelling value proposition for cities aiming to reduce environmental footprints, strengthen their appeal as destination, and establish themselves as sustainability champions

The Passport will also help prevent the EVs revolution from coming at the expense of vulnerable communities and countries including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which supplies over two-thirds of the world’s cobalt, a key battery metal. As many as one million children, according to estimates (GBA), are affected by mining activities in the country while the artisanal and small-scale mining sector accounts for around a third of cobalt supply. The Passport will be able to ascertain that the end-product was responsibly sourced and at no point connected with child labour.

The development of the Passport is underpinned by the GBA’s Ten Guiding Principles, which were also announced at the 50th Anniversary of the World Economic Forum, and will serve as a roadmap for the GBA to pursue its 2030 vision and unlock batteries’ full potential. The Battery Passport demonstration product will be announced at the end of this year, with a view to launching its first stage of operationalisation in 2021.

Biography

Benedikt Sobotka is the CEO of Eurasian Resources Group (ERG), a leading natural resources group which has a presence in 15 countries and is one of the largest employers in the industry. Benedikt was born in Germany and has extensive experience in advisory/management in the mining and energy sectors. At BCG, he advised leading companies and held various management positions.

Sobotka is a co-chair of the Global Battery Alliance. He also serves as Honorary Consul of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Benedikt is highly experienced in the high-tech startup industry through investments and leadership roles; he founded Minerals Values Service (MVS), among others, which was sold to Platts/Dow Jones in 2015. He holds a degree in management, studied in Europe, Russia and China, and co-authored “China Champions”, a Financial Times publication. He is particularly interested in international, CIS and East Asian geopolitical relations.

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