Safe-and-sustainable-by-design in battery technology: Scoping sustainability aspects


Safe-and-sustainable-by-design in battery technology: Scoping sustainability aspects

Wed, 19/01/2022 - 13:30 to 14:30


Lya Soeteman-Hernandez
Senior Scientific Advisor, Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, RIVM, The Netherlands

Title: Safe-and-sustainable-by-design in battery technology: Scoping sustainability aspects

Safe-and-sustainable-by-design (SSbD) is a crucial element in the recently proposed EU Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability and supports the Green Deal ambition for a toxic-free environment, ensuring that chemicals are produced and used in a way that maximises their contribution to society while avoiding harm to our planet and to future generations.

The SSbD concept takes a systems approach by integrating safety, circularity and functionality of advanced materials, products and processes throughout their lifecycle. This concept can be defined as a pre-market approach that focuses on providing a function (or service), while avoiding properties that may be harmful to human health or the environment from a lifecycle perspective. SSbD recommends industry to integrate safety and sustainability considerations as early as possible in the innovation and product development process.

Moving towards SSbD for battery technology demands a holistic life cycle thinking approach to first identify the social, environmental and economic hotspots and then assess the impacts of some next generation battery technologies. Due to many challenges in current battery technology, the focus of innovation and application of SSbD is in next generation batteries because most of the recent advances in lithium-ion energy density have come from manipulating the relative quantities of cobalt, manganese and nickel in the cathode. Batteries are expected to contain cobalt in some capacity in the coming years. For instance, in a lithium, cobalt, nickel, manganese oxide dominated battery scenario, demand is estimated to increase by factors of 18–20 for lithium, 17–19 for cobalt, 28–31 for nickel, and 15–20 for most other materials from 2020 to 2050, requiring a drastic expansion of lithium, cobalt, and nickel supply chains and likely additional resource discovery. A holistic life cycle thinking approach integrating social, environmental and economic aspects is needed to support the application of SSbD in batteries given that batteries currently account for nearly 90% of all patenting activity in the area of electricity storage. A scoping analysis of sustainability aspects for battery technology will be presented along side first ideas on how to develop a holistic life cycle thinking approach.


Dr. Soeteman-Hernandez is a senior risk assessor, toxicologist and scientific advisor with vast experience in the development of system approaches and translating them into operational tools. She is one of the main developers of the Safe Innovation Approach which contains the concept of Regulatory Preparedness, Safe-by-Design and Trusted Environment. These concepts originate from the awareness that new technologies like nanotechnology have uncovered the limits of present regulatory systems and demand more agile governance systems.

Dr. Soeteman-Hernandez is co-chair and Leading Expert at the OECD Working Party on Manufactured Nanomaterials Safe Innovation Approach Steering Group, where she assesses how the international community apply innovative ideas/approaches in the context of regulatory frameworks. Here, we gather experiences and insights on which factors and actions are pivotal in international regulatory frameworks to move away from the traditional checklist mentality and towards pro-active, co-creative and inclusive approaches to improve nano risk governance.