VW Opens First EV Battery Recycling Plant

Volkswagen has opened its first ‘pilot’ electric car battery recycling facility in a bid to secure localized and greener battery processing for future products.

The plant in Salzgitter is part of the automaker’s strategy towards sustainable end-to-end responsibility for the entire value chain of the EV battery. The aim is the industrialized recovery of valuable raw materials, such as lithium, nickel, manganese and cobalt, in a closed loop together with aluminum, copper and plastics, hoping to reverse the current 95% total loss of lithium-ion batteries’ materials that end up in landfill.

VW says the unique feature of the Salzgitter plant is that it only recycles batteries that can no longer be used for other purposes. Before the battery is recycled, an analysis determines whether the battery is 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, for example.

Naturally, larger volumes of battery returns are not expected until the late 2020s at the earliest owing to the continuing slow take-up of BEVs by consumers unhappy with current battery range, the lack of infrastructure and the large price penalty compared to ICE alternatives. However, the automaker is betting on the expected European regulators’ bans of new ICE powertrains over the next two decades to see volumes of spent batteries rise.

For now the pilot plant has been designed to recycle up to 3,600 battery systems per year – equivalent to approximately 1,500 tons. In future, the system can be scaled up to handle larger quantities as the process is consistently developed to handle greater volume. Used battery systems are delivered, deep discharged and dismantled. The individual parts are ground into granules in the shredder and then dried. In addition to aluminum, 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 specialized partners.

Thomas Schmall, member of the board of management of Volkswagen, technical division and chairman of the board of management of Volkswagen Group Components, said: “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.”

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

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