Tempers fray over EU NiCad battery study

Manufacturers claim report supporting phase-out "tailored to suit prejudices of environment directorate"

Manufacturers of rechargeable batteries have rubbished a study published by the European Commission's environment directorate yesterday, which concludes that a proposed EU phase-out of nickel-cadmium (NiCad) batteries by 2008 could not only be achieved but could even be brought forward.

"We don't believe it's a professional review of the market or the technology," Jean Pol Wiaux, technical manager of CollectNiCad, told ENDS Daily today. Instead of a ban, the body is proposing a voluntary commitment to finance collection and recycling of 75% of portable and 95% of industrial NiCad batteries by 2003 (ENDS Daily 2 August 1999).

An EU-wide ban on NiCad batteries was first mooted by the Commission's environment directorate over three years ago in a draft revision to the 1991 batteries directive (ENDS Daily 7 July 1997). Pressure from industry and other Commission departments opposed to the move has since halted further progress.

The directorate's new study will relaunch the debate over the future of NiCads. In it, Dag Noréus of Stockholm claims that more environmentally friendly rechargeable battery chemistries such as nickel metal-hydride NiMH have advanced enormously over the last decade, to the point where they could soon take over from NiCads.

NiMH batteries are now standard in small applications such as mobile phones and laptop computers, and will challenge the last major bastion of NiCad batteries - power tools - very soon, Professor Noréus says.

"With this perspective, the proposed ban on the sales of Ni-Cad...from 2008 would seem to offer a very wide margin for the transition to alternatives," he concludes. An earlier date "would probably be more effective," with the exception of NiCad batteries for emergency power systems in hospitals and aircraft.

CollectNiCad's Jean Pol Wiaux hit back, claiming that professor Noréus had only a "limited knowledge of the field" and accusing him of "ignoring totally the reality of the battery industry". The study had been "done very quickly to satisfy the requirements of the environment directorate to ban the NiCad," he said. CollectNiCad is to present a critique of the study to the Commission's enterprise directorate next week.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111, and NiCad study, with an executive summary; CollectNiCad, tel: +32 2 774 9630.

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