Emily Burlinghaus is an affiliate scholar at the Research Institute for Sustainability, Helmholtz Centre Potsdam, and a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council Global Energy Center in Washington, D.C.
On Jan. 18, the Global Battery Alliance, or GBA, launched its pilot “Battery Passport” in coordination with Tesla and Audi at the World Economic Forum. The passport operates as a digital twin of a physical battery, holding relevant data – such as provenance, composition, material flows and manufacturing history – and storing it in a QR code.
The launch is a huge step forward for tracking thorny issues with electric vehicle production, such as child labor and carbon footprint. As the U.S. allocates historic levels of funding to secure raw materials and build out manufacturing capabilities, such a tracking mechanism could facilitate a new level of supply chain transparency central to ESG standards. It is also a crucial tool in boosting long-term U.S. competitiveness, given its ability to enable more efficient production of batteries from recycled content, which will be the primary feedstock for later generations of EV batteries and grid storage.
While the GBA expects its Battery Passport will one day track a wide variety of sustainability metrics, including water usage, biodiversity impact, and circularity, the group started by focusing on two key factors: human rights and greenhouse gas emissions. Working groups developed a human rights index to track 57 operations indicators and 45 supply chain indicators and a child labor index laying out six “core expectations” and 43 “additional expectations.” They also published a comprehensive Greenhouse Gas Rulebook that helps battery supply chain operators calculate emissions at key steps in the production process, including mining and refining, materials production, and cell and vehicle production.
Automakers and battery manufacturers have pushed for such a solution in recent years. For one, it helps them transparently track carbon footprint in alignment with voluntary reporting standards like the Science Based Targets Initiative and Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures. It also enables compliance with upcoming legal requirements in key battery-producing jurisdictions.
The European Union – currently the world leader in regulatory approaches to battery sustainability – recently announced a provisional agreement on the EU Batteries Regulation, which imposes strict due diligence, recycled content and escalating carbon footprint requirements for battery production. In 2026, all industrial and EV batteries over a 2 kWh capacity will be required to have a scannable QR code – or Battery Passport – with information about sustainability, state of health, and composition for use by the public, recyclers and remanufacturers. China and Australia have also launched battery traceability initiatives, and companies in Korea and Japan have begun commercializing blockchain solutions for battery circularity, recycling and performance.
Some U.S. automakers have already begun partnering with companies to track and trace sustainability indicators in their supply chains. In addition to Tesla’s partnership with the GBA, Ford has partnered with Everledger to pilot a digital identifier program for EV batteries. But absent any federal effort to develop or standardize a technical solution akin to the Battery Passport, foreign companies are dominating the market for transparency and traceability, and only major companies are leveraging the resources and requisite investor pressure to pursue such solutions.
A federal requirement for — or at the very least, effort to develop — a domestic battery passport would support the overall ability of the U.S. EV industry to not only achieve ESG goals but also comply with the Inflation Reduction Act passed last year. In fact, some iteration of a digital identifier that tracks the movement of raw materials in a battery’s supply chain may be a necessity to prove compliance with the IRA EV tax credit’s requirement that 40% (80% by 2026) of minerals in an EV battery be mined, processed or recycled in the U.S. or a free trade partner country.
Given the passage of the IRA and pressure to address issues like battery transport, disposal and recycling, some state and federal policymakers have begun considering battery traceability solutions. Last year, California’s Lithium-ion Car Battery Recycling Advisory Group published a report detailing high levels of support for a physical labeling requirement and digital identifier for EV batteries. After the passage of the IRA, Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., wrote an open letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen hoping that she, “in coordination with . . . the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency, [would] investigate the possibility of creating or adopting a digital battery identifier for use in the U.S. market.”
As sustainability becomes an increasing metric on which corporate production processes are judged – not only by consumers and investors but soon regulatory agencies – a standardized means by which to track key indicators along supply chains can help the U.S. stay competitive in the race towards decarbonization while helping companies comply with new regulations.