Volkswagen’s Multiple Recyclable Battery Components

Volkswagen is hoping to pioneer the multiple recycling of automotive battery components to reduce waste and production CO2 emissions.

With partners from the industrial and scientific communities, it wants to prove that the most valuable components of traction batteries can be recovered and reused several times in succession through recycling. The HVBatCycle research consortium has the goal of keeping cathode metals, electrolyte and graphite permanently in a closed material cycle (closed loop).

Under the steering group of Volkswagen, TANIOBIS, J. Schmalz and Viscom, engineers have been working together with researchers from RWTH Aachen University, TU Braunschweig and the Fraunhofer Institute for Surface Engineering and Thin Films (IST) for three years to research and develop the required processes. The project is funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action.

In a statement explaining the process, Volkswagen said that in order to have to use fewer materials from primary sources such as mines or salt flats, essential raw materials are to be recovered not just once but several times. To this end, battery cells made from recycled material are recycled again, thereby also proving that even multiple recycling runs have no influence on the material quality.
In the hydrometallurgical processing of the “black mass”, which consists of graphite and battery metals, using water and chemical solvents, the focus is on early and selective extraction of the lithium in soluble form as well as leaching, precipitation and refining of contained metals as a mixed hydroxide concentrate. Here, in connection with the renewed material synthesis of cathodic active material, it will be investigated whether the separation of metal compounds is really necessary to produce new, fully high-performance cathode material.

The research work on the processing of the electrolyte and the graphite is intended to show, through the development of suitable processes, that important electrolyte components and the graphite can also be efficiently processed and used again in battery-suitable quality in cell production. All process steps are holistically accompanied by an ecological and economic life cycle analysis.

Sebastian Wolf, chief operating officer battery cell at Volkswagen, explained: “The recycling of batteries and production rejects makes a decisive contribution to securing the supply of raw materials for our planned factories. Through the HVBatCycle project, a holistic view of the recycling processes and thereby the implementation of the closed loop of battery materials is being prepared.”

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in Europe. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

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