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Volkwagen’s battery recycling process.
Volkwagen’s battery recycling process.
Photo: 12

The Volkswagen Group is offering e-mobility for all – from e-vehicle concepts, through production, sales and operations, and on to recycling. To this end, Volkswagen Group Components is currently setting up its first pilot plant for battery recycling at its existing battery production facility in Salzgitter, Germany.

The aim is to return valuable raw materials to the manufacturing process chain. “For ten years now, we in the Volkswagen Group have been researching how we can recuperate valuable raw materials. These include, above all, nickel, manganese, cobalt and lithium,” explained Thomas Tiedje, Head of Technical Planning, Volkswagen Group Components, E-mobility division.

Another reason why multiple use of these four raw materials in particular is so important is that their extraction and use is crucial for a company’s carbon footprint.

The pilot plant is scheduled to go into operation in 2020 and will initially recycle 1,200 tons of batteries per year. This corresponds to 3,000 vehicle batteries.

A further increase in capacity is envisaged for subsequent years. However, large quantities of battery returns are not expected until the end of the 2020s. That is when the first large proportion of e-vehicles (which will be sold in greater volumes starting in 2020) will have reached the end of their working life.

How the recycling process works?

According to the company, the returns will be analyzed according to specially defined testing criteria. After that, there are two paths: either the battery is given a so-called “second life” or it is recycled.

One possible second life for batteries is as a component for flexible charging stations. These are quick charging stations which can be operated autonomously, for example at festivals or large-scale events. They work according to the principle of a power bank, which is familiar to most people from cell phones.

Alternatively, the quick charging stations are equipped with power connections and thus provide e-drivers with a quick charging option on long trips along freeways and national highways. Batteries in a “second life” are ideally suited to all such applications.

Batteries that are not given a second life will be recycled by the staff at Salzgitter. In this process, the individual battery parts will first be shredded, then the material will be dried and sieved, allowing the staff to extract the so-called “black powder”. This contains the valuable raw materials of nickel, manganese, cobalt and lithium. These materials then just have to be separated individually, after which they are immediately available again for the production of new batteries.

Ambitious goal: To recycle 97% of all raw materials

In the long term, the Volkswagen Group has set itself a very ambitious goal: to recycle 97% of all raw materials. Today, it is 53%, and the pilot plant in Salzgitter will bring this figure up to 72%.

“There is still some way to go before reaching the grand target of 97%. Even if a lot of small steps are necessary, it all serves an overarching agenda,” the company said.

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