Volkswagen jumps into battery recycling
Already opened first lithium-ion recycling plant in Germany Metal Tech News – February 3, 2021
Last updated 2/4/2021 at 5:58am
Though Volkswagen does not expect any appreciable quantities of spent lithium-ion batteries for at least another decade, the German automaker has already constructed its first plant to recover more than 90% of the raw materials from these cells.
Operated by Volkswagen Group Components, an independent entity formed by Volkswagen in 2019, this pilot plant that recently opened in Salzgitter, Germany aims to recycle more than 90% of the battery raw materials such as lithium, nickel, manganese, cobalt, graphite, aluminum, copper, and plastics over the long term.
"We are implementing the sustainable recyclable materials cycle-and play a pioneering role in the industry for a future-oriented issue with great potential for climate protection and raw material supply," said Volkswagen Group Components Chairman Thomas Schmall.
Before being broken down to their basic elements, all batteries entering the Salzgitter plant will be tested to see if is still powerful enough to be given a second life in some of the EV charging systems being advanced by Volkswagen. One such initiative is flexible rapid charging stations, which would reuse lithium-ion batteries to charge EVs with DC current. These batteries would offer a buffer between the AC power grid slowly recharging these stationary batteries and the electric vehicles getting a rapid charge with DC current.
The batteries without enough storage capacity left for reuse will be deep discharged, dismantled, and recycled.
The Salzgitter recycling process does not use an energy-intensive blast furnace to melt down the battery metals for recycling. Instead, the individual parts of dismantled batteries are ground into granules and dried. In addition to aluminum, copper and plastics, this process yields valuable "black powder", which also contains the lithium, nickel, manganese, cobalt, and graphite. These valuable battery materials are separated into individual metals and minerals with hydrometallurgical processes-using water and chemical agents-by Volkswagen partners that specialize in metal separation.
"As a consequence, essential components of old battery cells can be used to produce new cathode material," said Mark Möller, head of technical development & E-mobility at Volkswagen. "From research, we know that recycled battery raw materials are just as efficient as new ones. In the future, we intend to support our battery cell production with the material we recover."
With Volkswagen not expecting large numbers of battery returns until at least the late 2020s, the Salzgitter plant has been designed to initially recycle up to 3,600 battery systems per year, or roughly 10 per day during the pilot phase. This early start will provide Volkswagen Group Components the opportunity to optimize the reuse and recycling system ahead of scaling up to handle larger quantities as more batteries become available.
Once the cycle is fully underway, explosive growth in demand for the burgeoning battery recycling side of the EV circular economy is expected.
Roughly 3 million fully electric and hybrid vehicles sold during 2020, and lithium-ion battery analyst Benchmark Mineral Intelligence forecasts EV sales to climb to 12 million units per year by 2025, before rocketing to 30 million by 2030 and 82 million by 2040.
Volkswagen alone delivered 231,600 all-electric vehicles during 2020 and intends to deliver more than 1 million electric cars per year by 2025.
This rapid transition to electric mobility is expected to drive enormous demand for battery metals and minerals.
More information on the forecast growth of electric vehicles manufacturing and demand for battery materials can be read at Electric mobility metals inflection point in the January 20 edition of Metal Tech News.
"Given that the demand for batteries and the corresponding raw materials will increase drastically, we can put every gram of recycled material to good use," said Möller.