#65 - 29 January 2021

Let the Airbus of batteries take off

Is Europe going to become the new Eldorado of electric battery production? In any case, this is the goal set by the European Commission through its new €2.9 billion public aid plan. The new plan aims to coordinate the efforts of European countries in the area of innovation in the production of new-generation batteries, and is a follow-up to a previous European project launched in December 2019, which aimed at providing Europe with its first gigafactories (large battery production units). These two aid plans should enable the Old Continent to host a competitive European battery market in the future.

The development of a European battery production strategy is at the crossroads of several issues. The economic, strategic, and geopolitical interest of such a strategy is undeniable. Yet the approach adopted by Europe leaves one wondering about the environmental issue. Indeed, the entire battery production value chain, from the extraction of materials to the recycling of batteries, is both energy-intensive and greenhouse-gas-emitting. For example, the production of battery cells alone currently accounts for 75% of the energy consumption of the entire value chain. Battery recycling, meanwhile, accounts for around 12% of CO2 emissions over the entire life cycle of batteries in Europe today. However, out of the 42 projects that will benefit from European public aid, more than half are located in some of the most carbon-intensive countries on the continent (Germany, Poland, Greece). Moreover, if the tree is the European strategic plan, which aims to increase European battery production to 6 million units by 2025, the forest is the Chinese, Korean, and American companies that are the largest battery producers today and whose choice of manufacturing plants, particularly in Germany and Poland, will be a burden on European efforts to maintain the carbon-neutral trajectory it has set itself under the Green Pact for Europe.

No matter how generous it is, public aid alone cannot guarantee the decarbonization of battery production throughout the value chain. The choices of geographical location and the energy supply of gigafactories are central criteria. In this context, Europe must strive to promote the emergence of a European electric battery market that is competitive and as decarbonated as possible. To achieve this, two lines of action appear. On the one hand, from a technical point of view,  the first line of action would be to encourage countries hosting production units to decarbonize their energy mix or to promote the establishment of gigafactories in the least emissive Member States (Sweden, France, etc.). On the other hand, from a regulatory point of view, the second line of action would consist in making decarbonization the central criterion of the European battery production model. This is indeed the intention set by Europe; European Commissioner for Industry, Thierry Breton recently stated that the Commission intends to impose environmental criteria on the entire battery life chain and to ban models that do not comply with these criteria. Thus, Europe is calling on battery producers worldwide to comply with specifications it has set. – Camille Combe, Project Manager


No time to read? La Fabrique de la Cité has got you covered.

REDUCING INEQUALITIES – As a result of the pandemic, socio-spatial inequalities are increasing sharply. Using the case of Chicago as a starting point, the journalist Tatiana Walk-Morris shows that the fight against these inequalities is beneficial to all: the regional gross domestic product could grow by $8 billion. Several courses of action have been identified, from affordable housing to economic development, with a plan: accessibility rather than proximity. – Chloë Voisin-Bormuth, Director of Studies and Research

The co-living company Common just announced the five cities that will host “Remote Work Hubs”, complexes composed of apartments and offices: New Orleans, Bentonville (Arkansas), Ogden (Utah), Rocky Mount (North Carolina), and Rochester (New York). Anticipating the arrival of teleworkers and betting on cities’ policies to attract individuals rather than firms, will these workers actually “be toting their laptops from Silicon Valley to new sites”? – Sarah Cosatto, Research Officer

→ Related: our ongoing research project about medium-sized cities.

The Centre for Liveable Cities has just published a report dedicated to the urban “new normal”, created by the health crisis. This document, consisting of interviews, essays, and focuses on select metropolises (Tokyo, Paris, Singapore...), deals with issues such as the funding of green infrastructure, the development of new mobilities, the role of technology in managing the pandemic... These angles can be used to lay the foundations for debate, anticipate future crises, and make cities more resilient. – Sarah Cosatto

→ Related: our work on resilience, a new urban imperative.

DECARBONIZING SUPPLY CHAINS – According to the latest World Economic Forum and Boston Consulting Group report, decarbonizing supply chains could have a tremendous impact on climate change, as the supply chains of eight industries make up for 50% of global emissions. However, taking action is not that easy: collecting useful data and setting clear standards may prove difficult in an “often-fragmented supplier landscape”. – Sarah Cosatto

“TREAT THE CITY AS A GLOBAL OBJECT OF DESIRE” – Even before the pandemic, the cores of some superstar cities like Paris, Tokyo, or Sydney had seen their population stall or decline. But is it enough to “formulate a Unified Theory of Anti-Metropolitanism”? It is not, as these variations are due to different local dynamics and as the pandemic has made solid population data difficult to collect. The ebb and flow of cities is tricky to predict but they are still objects of desire for all the “intangibles of urban life” they offer. – Sarah Cosatto

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