Cleaning up battery supply chains

A new alliance aims to ensure that the booming demand for batteries supports sustainable development. Areas of focus include safeguarding workers, banning child labour, eradicating pollution, promoting re-use and recycling, and unlocking innovation for green energy storage.

The challenge

"It is almost certain that your smartphone or electric vehicle contains cobalt that comes from child workers in artisanal mines."
Benedikt Sobotka, Chief Executive Officer, Eurasian Resources Group

Mobile technology and a low-carbon future are impossible without batteries. A twelvefold increase in battery capacity is estimated necessary to meet the demand for electric vehicles and renewable energy storage by 2025, when the global battery market will be worth $100 billion.

The costs, however, are enormous.

First, the extraction of the raw materials needed for batteries has a high human and environmental toll. This includes child labour, environmental damage and health and safety hazards in cobalt mining, and pollution, water shortages and other challenges linked to lithium, graphite and nickel extraction.

Second, a recycling challenge looms over the 11 million tonnes of spent lithium-ion batteries forecast to be discarded by 2030. There is little infrastructure in place to enable recycling and battery reuse across industries. Inappropriate lead-acid battery recycling poses a severe health risk to 1 million people globally.

Finally, significant innovation potential remains unexploited along the value chain.

The strategy

The World Economic Forum has launched the Global Battery Alliance, which brings together leading businesses from the entire battery value chain, along with governments, international organizations and NGOs. This global platform drives country-specific action in three areas:

Responsible sourcing
New multistakeholder partnerships will work towards responsible management of the supply of key raw materials for batteries.

Circular economy for batteries
The alliance will seek to accelerate progress towards a circular economy for batteries, initially by supporting the development of standards, guidelines and partnerships.

Unlocking innovation along the value chain
The alliance will help develop a smart, transparent value chain by exploring the application of innovative technologies for enhancing supply chain transparency and identifying ways to harness battery use and recycling for sustainable development.

The Global Battery Alliance is guided by three Forum System Initiatives:

System Initiative
Shaping the Future of
Economic Progress

The System Initiative on Economic Progress aims to inform and drive economic progress so that it benefits more of society. It does this by identifying new solutions, creating partnerships and promoting economic growth models that deliver inclusive and sustained economic progress.

More about the initiative
System Initiative
Shaping the Future of
Energy

The System Initiative on Shaping the Future of Energy aims to accelerate development of the policies, private-sector action and public-private cooperation required to achieve a sustainable, affordable, secure and inclusive energy future, which is essential for economic and social development.

More about the initiative
System Initiative
Shaping the Future of
Environment and Natural Resource Security

The System Initiative on Shaping the Future of Environment and Natural Resource Security aims to find new ways to protect and value the global environmental commons. It does this by convening leading experts, innovators, investors, businesses, policy makers and civil society to support interventions that flip existing norms to create systemic change that reverses negative environmental trends.

More about the initiative

The impact

Launched at the Sustainable Development Impact Summit in New York in September 2017, the alliance has already formed a coalition including technology, mining, chemical, manufacturing, electronics, automotive and energy businesses, the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF), the African Development Bank, other international organizations, NGOs and academia.

Together, these stakeholders are developing an action plan to achieve the inclusive and innovative battery value chain needed to power sustainable development in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.