Will Belgium become a materials mine for electric batteries?
Combustion engines, petrol and diesel, are rapidly giving way to electric engines in the European car industry. Developing a fully fledged electrical battery business will be a major strategic challenge. Belgium can play a major role in this.
For the moment, Asia is the undisputed leader in batteries, the most important and most expensive component of the car of tomorrow. Of course, Asia is trying to maintain that competitive advantage. But things are also moving fast in Europe. It already has 27 sites that could produce cells for 500 gigawatt hours in this decade. The European Commission even hopes that Europe will be able to meet 90% of the demand for batteries by 2030. With 1.3 million electric cars sold in 2020, Europe is leaving China behind in the car market, so the potential is significant.
Where is Belgium positioning itself in this respect? We do not manufacture battery cells, but we do assemble them. Nonetheless, by leveraging its strengths, this country can contribute to the value chain in the future. Belgian companies are already very active in downstream activities, sustainable recycling of end-of-life batteries, as well as in the manufacturing of certain components and the development of technologies. We already have the know-how to extract metals such as cobalt, nickel, copper and lithium from end-of-life batteries and recycle them into cathode materials for the manufacture of new rechargeable batteries. The Hoboken recycling site of the Belgian company Umicore is already in the running.