Transition to a circular car battery chain

A mission-driven innovation system analysis

Commissioned by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), Utrecht University, together with partners, has been asked to make an evaluation of the progress of the transition to a circular economy. The current research focuses on the ‘car batteries’ within the mobility sector. These products fall under the Manufacturing Industry Transition Agenda. These products are characterized by the use of high-quality raw materials, rapid product innovation and exponential market growth in recent years. This research has yielded the following instructive insights:

System in initial phase without clear guidance

The innovation system of electric driving and car batteries is still in an early stage of development. The system is not yet rigid, parties enter and leave, there is still no clarity about what a circular chain should look like and there is still a lot of product innovation.

Recycling (institutional) dominant

Recycling is being pitched as a way to keep materials within Europe and as a solution to the increasing waste problem of discarded car batteries.

Lifespan extension controversial due to compliance issues

Together with the initial emergence of car batteries, studies by actors such as the Global Battery Alliance and the World Economic Forum emerged that show that car batteries still have an average of 70%-80% of their original capacity after disposal. This is not enough to power an electric car, but it is for other applications such as energy storage (peak shaving). However, initial experiments with these types of models were hampered by fears of compliance issues; the risks (e.g. fire safety) associated with the use of used car batteries in new applications was/is unknown. Manufacturers and certification organizations did not want malfunctioning products to be identified with their brand or standard. This diminished the legitimacy of this route and the focus began to shift to recycling.

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