We’ve seen a number of automakers take steps to give their electric vehicle batteries a second life in highway charging stations or storage systems for the home, but at some point these deteriorating devices do reach the end of the road. Volkswagen has just opened a recycling plant for this very scenario, where it hopes to recover the raw materials from its fully depleted batteries, which can then be used to build brand new ones.
Volvo, Nissan and Renault are a few of companies that are repurposing their batteries in different ways. These devices typically last eight to 10 years during their initial use before declining to the point where they can no longer power electric vehicles, but can still offer enough performance for other energy storage applications, be it for the home or elsewhere.
But Volkswagen is taking aim at batteries that can no longer serve these purposes either. Its first car battery recycling plant, opened in Salzgitter, Germany, over the weekend, is dedicated to recycling batteries that are not powerful enough to be given a second life.
Its machinery and workers will instead deep discharge the batteries and dismantle them completely, with the individual components to be ground down into granules and dried. Volkswagen expects this process to yield the raw materials needed for new battery production, such as copper, aluminum, lithium, manganese, cobalt and graphite.
“From research, we know that recycled battery raw materials are just as efficient as new ones,” says Mark Möller, Head of the Business Unit Technical Development & E-Mobility. “In the 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.”
Volkswagen anticipates that it won’t see a large number of batteries returned from its electric vehicles until later in the decade, so the Salzgitter plant will start out as a pilot project with means to recycle 3,600 battery systems each year, and will be scaled up from there.