Volkswagen is just starting to ramp up production of electric cars based on its MEB platform, but the automaker is already thinking of how to recycle battery packs once those vehicles have reached the end of their lifecycles.
VW announced on Tuesday that it will scale up a process for recovering raw materials from used EV batteries. The automaker opened what it calls a pilot battery-recycling plant in Salzgitter, Germany, earlier this year, and hopes to open similar plants around the world.
The Salzgitter plant can recover up to 95% of raw materials from a battery pack for potential reuse, including lithium, nickel, cobalt, and manganese, VW said in a press release. Current recycling methods, which essentially involve melting down batteries in a furnace, can only recover 60% of raw materials, the automaker said.
VW’s method involves disassembling used battery packs, retaining any usable cells, and shredding the rest. This results in a sludge of metals and the liquid electrolyte, which is then drained away. The remaining dry granules of material are then sifted and sorted.
VW said the Salzgitter plant can handle up to 3,600 battery packs a year. The automaker has said before that it plans to establish such facilities around the world—and, seeing that the release originated with Volkswagen of America, for the United States, too.
Volkswagen battery recycling
That’s in keeping with VW’s plan to keep vehicle and battery production localized, with modern factories around the world, including in Tennessee. That factory is scheduled to start building electric cars in 2022, and will do some engineering work related to battery packs as well.
VW isn’t the only automaker working to recover raw materials from battery packs. Tesla set up battery recycling at its Nevada Gigafactory in 2019.
Nissan and Sumitomo opened a recycling plant for Nissan Leaf batteries in Japan in 2018. So far Nissan hasn’t announced a cohesive plan for U.S. Leaf batteries, although Tesla co-founder JB Straubel’s Redwood Materials has reportedly reached an agreement with the packs’ manufacturer, Envision AESC.
BMW is working with Swedish battery supplier Northvolt and Belgian materials-processing company Umicore, with the goal of disassembling used battery packs and putting the raw materials straight back into new cells manufactured by Northvolt.
In addition to plans for recycling, Audi is putting some of its batteries to work in factory tugs, where their diminished capacity doesn’t matter so much.