Volkswagen is piloting an EV battery recycle process at a plant in Salzgitter, Germany that can recover as much as 95 percent of the lithium, nickel, manganese, cobalt, aluminum, copper, and plastics contained in depleted battery packs.
Wisely, the plant tests the recovered packs to identify the functional cells remaining inside so that they can be reused in non-automotive applications such as mobile charging stations or home backup energy supplies.
Of course, with relatively few EVs on roads today, there aren’t many battery packs that need recycling, but VW is determined to build the necessary capabilities now, so that by the late 2020s when large volumes of spent batteries will be retired from service, the company will be ready for them. The Salzgitter plant can currently handle 3,600 battery systems per year and it has the ability to scale up over time as its processes are optimized.
“We know from many years of research that recycled battery raw materials are just as efficient as new ones,” said Mark Möller, Head of Technical Development & E-Mobility Business Unit at Volkswagen Group Components. “We plan to support our cell production in the future with the material we have recovered. We really want to use every possible gram of recovered material as the demand for batteries rises sharply.”
Salzgitter’s recycling process does not use an energy-intensive blast furnace to melt old batteries. The used battery systems are delivered, deep discharged, and dismantled. Then the individual parts are ground into granules in the shredder and then dried. After recovering aluminum, copper, and plastic, Volkswagen leaves the processing of the remaining “black powder” containing lithium, nickel, manganese, cobalt, and graphite to specialist contractors.
“As a consequence, essential components of old battery cells can be used to produce new cathode material,” explained Möller. “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.”