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Volkswagen reveals end-to-end process for car batteries

Volkswagen has opened its first car battery recycling plant, which was built in Salzgitter, Germany.

The pilot operation will process used car batteries that can no longer serve other applications. Volkswagen says it hopes to industrialise the closed loop recovery of valuable metals like lithium, nickel, manganese and cobalt, aluminium, copper as well as plastics. The company wants to achieve a recycling rate of more than 90% over the long term.

Before the batteries are processed, an analysis will determine whether they are still powerful enough to be given a second life in mobile energy storage systems such as the flexible rapid charging station or the mobile charging robot.

Volkswagen doesn’t expect larger volumes of battery returns until the late 2020s at the earliest. Therefore, the new plant has been designed to initially recycle up to 3600 battery systems per year during the pilot phase. This represents some 1500 tonnes of material. The system will be scaled up and ‘consistently optimised’ in the next few years so it will be able to handle larger quantities.

New cathode material

The innovative and CO2-saving recycling process does not require energy-intensive melting in a blast furnace. The discarded batteries are collected, deep discharged, and dismantled. The individual parts are then ground into granules in the shredder and dried.

In addition to aluminium, copper and plastics, the process also yields valuable “black powder”, which contains the important raw materials for batteries such as lithium, nickel, manganese, and cobalt, as well as graphite. The separation and processing of the individual substances by hydrometallurgical processes ‒ using water and chemical agents ‒ is subsequently carried out by specialised partners.

‘As a consequence, essential components of old battery cells can be used to produce new cathode material,’ explains Mark Möller, head of the business unit Technical Development & E-Mobility. ‘From research, we know that recycled battery raw materials are just as efficient as new ones. In future, we intend to support our battery cell production with the material we recover. 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.’

Sustainable end-to-end solution

The CO2 savings are calculated at approximately 1.3 tonnes per 62 kWh battery manufactured using cathodes made from recycled material and using green electricity.

‘Volkswagen has achieved a further step in its sustainable end-to-end responsibility for the battery as a key component of electric mobility,’ comments Thomas Schmall, chairman of the board of management of Volkswagen Group Components. ‘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.’

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