dirk windmuller andreas salewsky
From left: Council Chairman Dirk Windmüller and Andreas Salewsky, plant manager for Volkswagen Group Components Salzgitter, at the plant startup.
Photo courtesy of Volkswagen

Volkswagen opens EV battery recycling pilot plant

The automaker says it wants to achieve a closed-loop process for recovering raw materials from lithium-ion batteries.

February 2, 2021

Volkswagen Group Components opened its first plant for recycling electric car batteries in Salzgitter, Germany, Feb. 1. The goal of the pilot plant is to industrialize the recovery of raw materials, including lithium, nickel, manganese and cobalt, in a closed loop together with aluminum, copper and plastics, according to a news release from the company. Volkswagen says it plans to achieve a recycling rate of more than 90 percent over the long term.

The Salzgitter plant only recycles batteries that cannot be used for other purposes. An analysis determines whether the battery is still powerful enough to be given a second life in mobile energy storage systems, such as in flexible rapid charging stations or mobile charging robots.

The company says larger volumes of battery returns are not expected until the late 2020s at the earliest. Therefore, the plant has been designed to initially recycle up to 3,600 battery systems per year during the pilot phase, or approximately 1,500 metric tons. The system can be scaled up to handle larger quantities as the process is consistently optimized, according to Volkswagen.

Volkswagen Group Components has achieved a further step in its sustainable end-to-end responsibility for the battery as a key component of electric mobility,” says Thomas Schmall, a member of the board of management of Volkswagen AG, Technical Division, and chairman of the board of management of Volkswagen Group Components. “We are implementing the sustainable recyclable materials cycle—and [are] play[ing] a pioneering role in the industry for a future-oriented issue with great potential for climate protection and raw material supply.”

The company says the recycling process it's employing at the facility does not require energy-intensive melting in a blast furnace. The used battery systems are delivered, deep discharged and dismantled before the individual parts are ground into granules via a shredder and then dried.

In addition to aluminum, copper and plastics, the process also yields “black powder” that contains the 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 are carried out by specialized partners, Volkswagen says.

“As a consequence, essential components of old battery cells can be used to produce new cathode material,” says Mark Möller, head of the business unit Technical Development & E-Mobility at Volkswagen. “From research, we know that recycled battery raw materials are just as efficient as new ones. In future, we intend to support our battery cell production with the material we recover. 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.”

The carbon dioxide savings from using cathodes made from recycled material and green electricity total approximately 1.3 million tons per 62 kilowatt hours, according to the company.