According to a paper prepared by EU leaders obtained by Reuters, the EU could become as dependent on China for lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries and fuel cells by 2030 as it was on Russia for energy before the start of the war in Ukraine, unless it changes course.

The paper was prepared by the Spanish presidency of the EU for a meeting in Granada, Spain, on 5 October where leaders are set to discuss how the EU can pivot towards stronger ties with Latin America and Africa to reduce reliance on China.

In February 2023, Li- Bridge, a public-private alliance, said that global demand for lithium batteries will surge more than fivefold by 2030. This is because intermittent renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power require batteries for storage. In June, new registrations of battery-electric cars increased by 66.2% in the EU, leading to a market share of 15.1% for electric vehicles (EVs), up from 10.7% in June 2022. Li-ion batteries are an important component of EVs.

“This will skyrocket our demand for lithium-ion batteries, fuel cells and electrolysers, which is expected to multiply between 10 and 30 times in the coming years,” the paper said. Despite the EU having a global market share of more than 50% in the intermediate and assembly phases of making electrolysers, it still relies on China for fuel cells and Li-ion batteries.

Before the paper was sourced, the EU parliament agreed on Thursday to ensure that by 2030 it does not rely on a single country for more than 65% of its supply of any strategic raw material. To meet such targets, the proposal calls for the EU to build capacity by 2030 to extract enough materials to fulfil at least 10% of its demand, with a clause for up to 20% of new processing capacity to come from partnerships with emerging markets.

Nevertheless, despite fears of over-reliance on China, a report by campaign group Transport and Environment in January 2023 found that two-thirds of Europe’s demand for battery components could be met domestically by 2027. Furthermore, more than 50% of Europe’s refined lithium demand could come from European projects by 2030.

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