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EU placates Apple on smartphone battery regulations

Business news |
By Nick Flaherty


After a bruising battle over a single charger format for smartphones, the European Union appears to be placating Apple in its latest regulations for sustainable design.

The EU is  introducing two draft sets of regulations for energy efficiency and replaceable batteries at the IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin next week that will come into force in 2024.

One covers replaceable batteries and the right to repair as well as providing state of health (SoH) data for the battery cells, while the other will see the EU energy efficiency label familiar from household appliances introduced for smartphones, IT and communications devices. 

Rather than insisting on removeable batteries in all cases, the draft regulation allows for cells to be fixed if they have a lifetime of at least 1000 cycles and the devices designed to be watertight to the IP67 standard. 

The minimum standard for battery life is set at 500 charging cycles, which all devices are now expected to achieve, and these cells would have to be removeable. The regulations also include the requirement to provide data on whether deteriorating battery life is indeed due to aging. Reliable information about the hardware’s state should even be available when buying used or refurbished devices.

The proposals were developed from the EU Ecodesign Directive 2009/125/EC and the EU Energy Labelling Regulation (EU) 2017/1369 and will also require transparency about the use of critical raw materials such as lithium and cobalt used in the battery cells. 

The other draft regulation is for a new energy label for smartphones and tablets that will display the familiar energy efficiency labels as well as the repairability ratings and more information about reliability. This will have to include details about how long the battery can be expected to last and how the device would fare when exposed to dust, submerged in water, or accidentally dropped.

Test procedure used to determine the devices’ energy efficiency rating was developed by SmartViser and will also be demonstrated at IFA next week.

The new regulations are partly based on the research by Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration (IZM) over the last two years.  That work was grounded in a detailed study of the technical feasibility and the ecological and commercial consequences of the proposals. The end result was a set of regulatory options that was now further refined and formalized in the draft regulations.

“We cannot expect big leaps from smartphones in terms of energy savings, but greater energy efficiency also means that batteries do not have to be recharged as often. And since each charging cycle ages the battery, it follows that greater energy efficiency means longer-lasting devices – and that is the key lever for the energy efficiency rating,” said Karsten Schischke, ecodesign expert at Fraunhofer IZM.

If the current draft of the regulations comes into force, it will also cover the requirement that operating system updates should be made available for a minimum of three years and security updates for five years or more from the last date the model in question is placed on the market. Manufacturers will also be required to ensure that updates do not mean a drop in performance of older devices.

The new regulations are expected to be signed into law in early 2023 and to come into force after a comparatively short transition period of twelve months.

ec.europa.eu/info/law/better-regulation/have-your-say/initiatives/12797-Designing-mobile-phones-and-tablets-to-be-sustainable-ecodesign_en

ec.europa.eu/info/law/better-regulation/have-your-say/initiatives/12798-Energy-labelling-of-mobile-phones-and-tablets-informing-consumers-about-environmental-impact_en

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