Eastern Europe countries have a big potential to become major players in the Li-ion battery value chain. EV manufacturing facilities of Volkswagen, Kia, Citroën, Peugeot and other global auto players can be found across Eastern Europe. Moreover, the rapid ongoing expansion of EV manufacturing is closely tied to projections that Slovakia, Hungary and Czech Republic may have some of the EU’s highest EV production capacities on a per capita basis .
The prognosis for international investments in the region also reflects promising EV battery production capacity in the future. Some early signs of development can already be observed, such as the US battery R&D and manufacturing facility Wildcat Discovery Technologies, which has partnered with Slovakian R&D company Inobat. The company announced that it expects to finish the construction of a 100 MWh battery cell manufacturing plant by the summer of 2020, with plans to upgrade the line to 10 GWh by the end of 2021 . South Korean manufacturer SK Innovation started the construction of a Li-ion battery manufacturing facility in Komárom, Hungary, announcing an initial capacity of 7.5 GWh/year by 2022 with the possibility to expand up to 15 GWh/year. In 2017, Japanese battery manufacturer GS Yuasa established operations in Hungary to achieve a production of 16 GWh/year once it’s operational. Toray Industries Inc, another Japanese company, announced a 200 million euro investment in a new factory in Hungary. The facility will produce battery separator films (BSF) in Hungary to be used in lithium-ion batteries and is expected to launch in June of 2021 .
For countries in the south-east of Europe, such as Bulgaria, Croatia and Greece, the availability of the stationary battery storage systems is crucial for the penetration of intermittent renewable energy sources (RES) in their electricity mix. Coupling RES with Li-ion batteries improves the grid’s reliability, especially for places and industries with significant variations and seasonality of electricity demand, such as tourism. There are several ongoing projects combining the deployment of solar PV system with battery storage, such as the centralized ESS planned to be installed in Albena, Bulgaria to supply power to a resort area .
According to data from Eurostat, Eastern European countries have the highest share of old cars. For example, the share of cars older than 10 years is 62% in Czechia, 52% in Slovenia, 70% in Hungary, 64% in Croatia, and 67% in Romania; in comparison to 22% in Luxemburg, 26% in Ireland, 33% in France . These numbers indicate that Eastern Europe is a relevant market for used cars. Moreover, projections for a 16-year total cost of ownership (TCO) of a medium-size car purchased in 2020 shows that second and third hand EVs will have the lower costs compared to gasoline and diesel ICEs and even plug-in hybrids. An expected decrease in electricity costs and the development of charging infrastructure will help make EVs more attractive in Eastern Europe  . Hence, given current trends, a significant share of used EVs, and consequently their Li-ion batteries is expected to enter Eastern Europe, opening opportunities for the region to develop a local industry for EoL batteries and gain prominence in the EU battery supply chain network.
In conclusion, the regulation of all Eastern European countries is harmonized with the EU 2006 EU/66/EC Battery Directive, including the categorization and definition of Li-ion batteries. Thus, Li-ion batteries are considered to be both in the category ‘automotive battery or accumulator’ (i.e. 48 volt Li-ion batteries for starting and lighting, present in only 0.001% of vehicles) and ‘industrial battery or accumulator’ (ie. EVs). National regulations determine that batteries producers “shall not refuse to take back waste industrial batteries and accumulators from end-users.” However, end-users are free to sell EoL battery to any recycling facility or take them elsewhere. It is reported that collection rates of EoL industrial batteries is high due to the economic value of their materials. There is a common practice among car manufacturers in some countries to delegate the collection and recycling services to third parties: Czech Republic (not-for-profit organisation Ecobat), Romania (Association Sistemul Național de Reciclare a Bateriilor), Slovakia (ASEKOL SK, non-profit company).
Though the recycling efficiency for Li-ion batteries is determined as 50% of the average weight of waste batteries and accumulators, there is no clear definition regarding the content of valuable elements (Li, Co, Ni) in recycled mass. Since recycling is not covered by any specific policy instrument in the countries of the region, the recyclers are considered to be somewhat lagging in relation to other stakeholders in the battery value chain.
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