Lecture 13: Sustainability Management

One goal in mind: sustainable battery cells for a green future

In today's competitive market, it's not enough to just focus on innovation potential and customer needs. It's equally important to set clear goals that go beyond pure economic success. That's where sustainability management comes in, as it integrates socially and environmentally compatible objectives into the corporate strategy. In the thirteenth blog post of "skill & scale up", we take a closer look at battery cell production from a sustainability manager's perspective. We explore the weak points and challenges within the industry, as well as the potential solutions offered by battery research. Lastly, we also discuss the significance of battery cells in creating a more environmentally friendly future.

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There are two main approaches to reducing greenhouse gas emissions: electrification of transportation and expansion of renewable energies. Batteries are a crucial technology for both areas, as they provide mobile energy for electric motors and can store the time-variable energy generated by wind and solar power plants. However, batteries pose environmental challenges in terms of materials extraction causing environmental damage and high energy consumption during cell production. At Fraunhofer FFB, our sustainability management research aims to reduce the emissions and environmental impact of batteries, their manufacturing process, and the production environment. We assess every aspect of the battery value chain and manufacturing process to achieve this goal, considering environmental, social, and corporate governance responsibility (ESG). This article focuses on two central topics of sustainability management for batteries: battery materials and the new EU Battery Regulation.

Battery raw material - an environmental issue?

In the value chain of lithium-ion battery cells (LIB), both critical raw materials such as lithium and cobalt and raw materials with high availability such as iron or carbon (graphite) are required. Critical raw materials are not only referred to as 'critical' because they are rare and therefore run out more quickly, but also because their extraction is critical from an ESG perspective for other reasons. The following section outlines which points are particularly relevant depending on the raw material.

Ein Bild, das ein Periodensystem zeigt
© Fraunhofer FFB
Battery materials are divided into critical and abundant raw materials in terms of their availability.
© Fraunhofer FFB


Lithium is a soft, silvery-white light metal and the lightest of all solid chemical elements at room temperature. It has the highest melting and boiling points among alkali metals, as well as the highest specific heat capacity. Lithium is very reactive and forms compounds with many elements. Its low electrode potential (-3.04 V compared to SHE) makes it particularly interesting for batteries, allowing for high cell voltages and a high specific capacity (3.86 Ah/kg) due to its low weight. With the increasing demand for lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) in recent years, the demand for lithium has also increased. 67 percent of the 130 kilotons of alkali metal mined annually is required for battery production.

The largest lithium deposits are located in the lithium triangle between Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile in South America. Lithium carbonate is extracted from saltwater lakes (e.g. in Argentina or at the Atacama Salt Lake in Chile) using two main processes: evaporation and pumping. In the first process, saltwater containing lithium is evaporated in basins and the lithium in the concentrate obtained is precipitated as carbonate using chemicals. In the second process, the lithium is extracted by pumping the water through a processing plant. However, both methods have environmental impacts. Evaporation produces water which cannot be used for drinking or agriculture, and fresh water flowing into the salt pans causes desertification in regions already experiencing water scarcity. Additionally, the process poses health risks for workers and the population due to the toxic nature of lithium in high doses.

In hard rock, lithium is mainly found in Australia in combination with waste rock. The lithium content must be enriched by separating the waste rock. However, this multi-stage process creates a lot of waste and requires large quantities of fossil fuels and chemicals, which have negative environmental impacts. In 2020, Australia extracted around 39,700 tons of lithium from mines, almost half of annual mine production.


Pure cobalt is a shiny, silver-grey metal that is known for its hardness, toughness, and strength. Its unique properties make it useful in many different areas, such as being a component of cathode raw materials. Between 2013 and 2018, the demand for cobalt increased by around 16% per year. Cobalt is mainly produced as a by-product of nickel and copper production.

Canada, Morocco, the USA, Russia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are the countries with the largest cobalt deposits. In 2020, almost two-thirds of all mined cobalt production, at just under 76,000 tons, came from these countries. However, some mining is done under critical and dangerous working conditions in small-scale mines. About 15% of cobalt is still mined by hand. In addition to the high level of physical stress caused by toxic chemicals, there are also human rights violations such as child labor and unfair pay that are increasingly occurring.

© Fraunhofer FFB
© Fraunhofer FFB


The metal nickel is magnetic, malleable, and ductile. It is commonly used in the production of alloys and stainless steel. Nickel is also used as a cathode material in batteries. The top nickel-producing countries are Indonesia, the Philippines, Russia, New Caledonia, Canada, Australia, and China.

Nickel is extracted through various methods, mainly through mining. As it can be toxic in high doses, special safety measures are required in the extraction process. However, these measures are not always followed, leading to contamination of drinking water. To process nickel and cobalt, several steps including separation, smelting, roasting, and slagging are necessary. These processes also emit large amounts of SO2 and CO2 from ores that contain sulfur.


Manganese is a gray-white, hard, and very brittle transition metal, almost 90 percent of which is used in the steel industry. However, it is also becoming increasingly important as a cathode material in electromobility - currently, only 0.2 percent of the manganese mined worldwide is used for the production of LIBs.  It is mainly mined in open-cast or underground mines in Gabon, South Africa, Australia, and China. The main problem with open-cast mining is the destruction of the landscape, and the chemical processing of manganese requires a lot of energy and chemicals, especially acid to form soluble manganese salts. Manganese compounds are considered highly toxic to the environment. As the waste is often not disposed of properly, this results in high levels of pollution for flora and fauna.

© Fraunhofer FFB
© Fraunhofer FFB


As an allotropic form of carbon, graphite is produced both as mined graphite ore and synthetically from carbonaceous raw materials. It is traditionally used in the foundry and steel industry, but is playing an increasingly important role in battery production due to the growing demand for LIBs. The largest graphite deposits are located in China, where graphite is extracted from open-cast mines.

Graphite is a light material. This means that miners are exposed to health risks from fine dust in both open-cast and underground mines. When the graphite is extracted from the rock, acidic waste is produced, which has been released into the environment in the past. As China controls more than 90 percent of the global graphite market and restricts the export of the resource to protect its domestic economy, Western countries are trying to establish their own graphite mines in order to become independent. Synthetic graphite from green carbon sources is being researched as an alternative - so far, natural graphite is much more environmentally friendly due to its lower carbon footprint.

The EU Battery Regulation and the Battery Passport

In addition to a company's intrinsic desire to become more environmentally friendly, political regulations set the direction for sustainability management. At both European and national level, there are more and more guidelines and laws that oblige companies to act sustainably. For example, companies that employ more than 500 people and are listed on the stock exchange must prepare sustainability reports. There are also regulations in the battery industry that anchor ESG goals in the corporate strategy.

In order to strengthen the internal market and promote the circular economy for batteries, the European Commission has issued a Battery Regulation, which came into force in August 2023. It replaces the previous Battery Directive, which did not contain any regulations on the performance, service life, emissions or origin of battery cells. The new regulation is a cornerstone of the European Green Deal, which aims to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent.

The regulation sets minimum content levels for recycled materials in batteries, which will increase over the years to promote battery recycling and the circular economy in Europe. In addition, a due diligence system has been introduced to improve the traceability of the supply and value chains. Minimum performance and durability requirements are intended to improve quality and thus the life cycle.

The Battery Passport is a core element of the EU Battery Regulation. It is intended to enable complete documentation of the battery life cycle from production to use and recycling. This creates a framework for benchmarking and minimum standards. Basic information, including technical data, is recorded in the battery passport. Data on sustainability and responsibility in the supply chain, such as greenhouse gas emissions, working conditions during raw material extraction [1], battery condition determination, repair and recyclability are essential. This information is digitally standardized and can then be accessed and updated via an infrastructure. The aim is to make the battery passport mandatory at the beginning of 2027.

[1] However, this only applies to a limited extent: companies in the supply chain must provide evidence of a due diligence policy and plans for identifying and eliminating social and environmental risks in the supply chain.

Examples and Offers ofSustainability Management at Fraunhofer FFB

Climate City Münster

Participation in the Climate City Week

We cooperate with the city of Münster and our local partners to achieve local sustainability goals.

Our vision

Batteries for a defossilized, mobile society


press release / 28.9.2023

Study published in the journal "Nature Energy"

New study analyzes the energy consumption of gigafactories.


Core competence

Material cycles and sustainability

We research innovations that lead to more sustainable battery cell production - from the value chain to production and cell chemistry.