To combat climate change, we’re going to need batteries—lots of batteries—to power the road. These are batteries that recharge electric engines, put electric vehicles on the road and store the green energy produced by solar panels and wind turbines.
But manufacturing all those batteries would pose a whole new set of environmental risks, including greenhouse gas pollution from the energy it takes to make and distribute them. Meanwhile, regulation of the battery supply chain is fraught: some of the mining operations for raw materials such as cobalt are notorious for human rights violations, including child labor.
Inga Petersen frames the problem squarely. “How can we scale this industry in a way that it meets the targets of the green transition, but at the same time doesn’t cause collateral damage that will ultimately offset what we’re trying to achieve?” she tells Quartz.
Petersen is the executive director of the Global Battery Alliance (GBA), a collaborative effort of NGOs, businesses, government agencies and others focused on ensuring that the growing battery industry is both environmentally sustainable and socially responsible. To do this, they are pioneering the battery passport—a digital record that documents where each part of a battery comes from and evaluates its environmental and social impact.
It is not as easy as it may sound. Individual battery components can be manufactured in a variety of different countries, using raw materials from a variety of other countries, and detailed records of each part’s origin are often difficult to obtain. What’s more, assessing the environmental and social costs of this supply chain requires extensive information about each step in its production—say, if any of the mines exploited child labor, or how much fossil fuel was used to produce each part around the world. ship.
In January, the GBA released the Battery Passport’s first proof of concept to demonstrate how to begin filling these knowledge gaps. For now, they have focused on evaluating greenhouse gas emissions, human rights and child labor. Under Petersen, they are working quickly to include other issues as well, such as biodiversity and indigenous people’s rights.
The idea of a battery passport is gaining momentum. By 2027, every EV battery and many industrial batteries sold in the European Union will need A QR code that links to details about its composition, origin and carbon footprint. By showing that it can be done with batteries, Petersen says, this kind of supply chain transparency and accountability can catch on elsewhere. For example, the US Department of Labor has identified a variety of products from around the world—including clothing, electronics, and food—that are believed to have been produced with child or forced labor.
“What’s interesting about the battery passport,” says Petersen, “is that it creates a case study that other industries and other products might want to follow.”
This story is part of Quartz’s Innovators List 2023a series that highlights the people who are deploying bold technologies and reimagining the way we do business for good around the world. Get the full list here.