The lead battery industry has urged the European Commission to use its discretion to grant an Article 58(2) exemption from REACH authorisation for use of lead compounds in battery manufacturing.

Four lead compounds – lead monoxide, lead tetroxide, pentalead tetraoxide sulphate and tetralead trioxide sulphate have been proposed for inclusion on the REACH 7th priority list. The European industry, including EUROBAT, the International Lead Association and supply and value-chain partners has pointed out that all four compounds are essential and irreplaceable in the manufacture of lead-based batteries with no substitutes available.

In its statement the industry also said: “Substitution would also significantly undermine the competitiveness of the European battery industry without delivering any additional benefit in control of risk to human health.”

Lead-based batteries are sealed units that operate in Europe in a closed loop with almost 100% collected and recycled at the end of life. Their submission shows that during the manufacturing phase of lead-based batteries, all four compounds are transformed into other substances with only trace amounts (<0.1%) present in the finished battery.

Furthermore lead-based batteries are also essential for the needs of all current and future generations of vehicles, be it cars, trucks or powered-two wheelers – the current European vehicle park of around 275 million vehicles relies on lead-based battery technology and there are no drop-in alternatives.

In addtion lead-based batteries are essential in a number of areas as a source of back-up power, contributing to the effective functioning of communications, IT, production & distribution of renewable energy, nuclear safety, oil and gas networks and for the storage of data in uninterruptible power supply as well as other industrial systems. They are also widely used in agricultural, construction and lawn & garden machinery.

Requesting the granting of an exemption the industry explained that the use of these lead compounds in battery manufacture meets all the requirements of Article 58(2) exemption from REACH authorisation.

Specific Community legislation imposing minimum requirements relating to the protection of human health or the environment that ensures proper control of the risks is already in place. While existing legislation provides binding and enforceable minimum requirements for the control of risks from the industrial use of lead compounds in battery manufacturing.

For instance, pressure for substitution of the workplace use of lead already exists through the hierarchy of controls in the Chemicals Agents Directive and legislation for the use of lead-based batteries through the provisions aimed at substituting heavy metals in both the Battery Directive and the End-of-Life Vehicles Directive.

In its statement to the Commission the industry stated: “We believe that including a REACH authorisation requirement for the use of lead compounds in the manufacture of lead batteries is not a proportionate regulatory action and would significantly undermine the competitiveness of the European battery industry without delivering any additional benefit in control of risk to human health.”

Key Messages

The importance of automotive and industrial lead-based batteries to the European economy

A study, prepared for the ongoing review of the current exemption for lead-based batteries within the End-of-Life-Vehicles Directive’s wider ban on lead in light-duty vehicles, found that there are at present no alternatives, either technically or economically, to lead-based batteries for the SLI (Starting – Lighting –Ignition) function in vehicles. This means lead-based batteries are essential in virtually all conventional ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles (1For vehicles the application category AC1 applies). Also today’s hybrid vehicles (Mild, micro, plug-in-HEV, PHEV) and full electric vehicles do have a demand for lead-based batteries for important functional requirements. Lead-based batteries also serve as SLI batteries in agricultural, lawn & garden tractors.

  • Lead-based batteries are also widely used in industrial motive and standby applications due to their proven safety and excellent performance; for example in forklift trucks and electric wheelchairs, and as back-up power for any type of power plants, hospitals or IT applications. They can be found in distribution and storage systems for renewable energy as well as in railway applications – both to supply energy on board of a train and to back up safety systems. They are also used as the main source of power for electrically driven equipment and are essential component of combustion-engine powered equipment with electric starting. In common with automotive batteries, the use of lead monoxide is essential in industrial lead-based batteries, cannot be substituted in the manufacturing process and is not present in the final article placed on the market.
  • Lead-based batteries play a significant role in achieving EU carbon emission reduction targets, through start-stop functionality in vehicles and regenerative braking in micro hybrid vehicles, and for renewable energy storage and grid stabilisation in on- and off-grid electricity systems.
  • The EU automotive and industrial battery sector directly employs around 30,000 workers with an annual turnover of €6.5 billion – 83% of the sector (€5 billion turnover) is lead-based batteries which employs more than 20,000 workers. The main EU countries for lead-based battery manufacture are Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and UK.
  • The EU battery manufacturing industry collectively spent €740 million on research & development and innovation-related investments (e.g. infrastructure) over the last five years, with an additional€105 million for R&D&I related expenses (e.g. material costs) and manufacturing-related investments (e.g. pilot lines) of € 915 million.
  • Users of lead-based batteries include the automobile industry which employs 12.9 million people representing 5.3% of the EU employed population. The suppliers of the battery industry include the producers of lead that represents a market close to €3 billion.
  • The battery industry (and its ownership) is global in nature. If the lead compounds were included in Annex XIV (and battery manufacturing not exempted under REACH Article 58(2)), only European manufacturers would be impacted. This would undoubtedly result in a change in the competitive position and increase perceived business risk of these manufacturing sites compared to non-EU counterparts as importation of finished batteries into the EU would not be affected by authorisation requirements as articles are not in scope of this title of the REACH Regulation.


Notes to editors

Why lead-based battery use should be exempt from REACH Authorisation

The European battery industry believes that the use of lead monoxide, lead tetroxide, pentalead tetraoxide sulphate and tetralead trioxide sulphate for production of lead-based batteries should be granted a REACH Article 58 (2) exemption on the following grounds:

  • The use is restricted to manufacturing of lead-based batteries as all four compounds are transformed into other substances during the manufacturing process such that only trace amounts (<0.1%) are present in the finished battery.
  • Potential exposure to general public to lead and lead compounds during the article use phase is prevented by the fact that lead-based batteries are sealed units.
    At the end-of-life lead-based batteries operate in a closed loop with close to 100% being collected and recycled with approximately 85% of a new battery being made from recycled material.
    Existing “lead-specific“ EU workplace legislation already addresses the REACH use categories to be exempted. This existing workplace legislation provides binding and enforceable requirements for the control of risks from industrial use of lead and lead compounds in battery manufacturing. In having a binding occupational exposure and biological limit for lead and lead compounds, supported by additional measures such as mandatory health surveillance of employees, Council Directive 98/24/EC ensures that harmonised EU wide standards operate that constitute minimum requirements relating to the protection of health.
  • Employee health surveillance (in the form of routine blood lead measurements) demonstrates the effectiveness of the measures already in place under the existing EU workplace legislation in controlling the risk to human health from the use of the substances arising from their intrinsic properties as specified in Annex XI. Moreover legislative requirements are supported by comprehensive sector voluntary blood lead reduction programmes that go beyond what is required by law.
  • Risks of exposure of the general public to lead emissions from battery recycling operations via the environment are also managed through existing lead specific EU legislation that imposes minimum requirements in the form of binding emission limits stipulated in the Industrial Emissions Directive BREF, and binding limits for lead in ambient air, drinking water and food.
  • The General Court Vecco ruling (T-360/13) supports the observation that for an industrial use the Chemicals Agents Directive (98/24) includes a provision that drives substitution through its hierarchy of controls that requires replacement of dangerous substances by less hazardous ones (Article 6).
  • Provisions already exist in both the EU End-of-Life-Vehicles Directive (Art.. 4) and Battery Directives (Art. 5) to encourage substitution of heavy metals (including lead) in batteries where technically feasible.

About the industry partners

EUROBAT is the association for the European manufacturers automotive, industrial and energy storage batteries. EUROBAT has 52 members from across the continent comprising more than 90% of the battery industry in Europe. The members and staff work with all stakeholders, such as battery users, governmental organisations and media, to develop new battery solutions in areas of hybrid and electro-mobility as well as grid flexibility, renewable energy storage and demand response services

International Lead Association (ILA) is a membership body that supports companies involved in the mining, smelting, refining and recycling of lead. The ILA represents the producers of about 3 million tons of lead. ILA’s work has a broad focus, covering all aspects of the industry’s safe production, use and recycling of lead. The organisation manages the Lead REACH Consortium and supports the work of the Advanced Lead Acid Battery Consortium.