Electric cars do not have emissions, but that is just a part of the environmental footprint. It is also important to pay attention to the ways cars are made and rėcycled. Now Volkswagen went ahead and opened its first battery recycling plant in Salzgitter.
One of the biggest automakers is hoping to turn 90 % of batteries into raw materials. But how does it work?
Interestingly, this new battery recycling process, called LithoRec, was developed back in 2009-2011 together with the Technical University (TU) of Braunschweig. Back then Volkswagen was not a prominent producer of electric vehicles. But it is now and it does have to pay attention to the entire lifecycle of the car. And that is why it is now investing into a battery recycling plant.
At first, batteries are tested to make sure that they are not good for anything. If the battery still holds any kind of useful capacity of energy, it can be put to use in other devices, such as mobile charging stations or some kind of energy storage solutions. Spent batteries are then disassembled. At this stage of the LithoRec process aluminium casings, copper wires and some plastic can already be retrieved and put back into production lines.
Then batteries are crushed in a controlled environment. Due to a liquid electrolyte, the resulting mass is wet and has to be dried. Then it is sorted using sieves and magnets. At the end there is black powder, containing graphite as well as lithium, manganese, cobalt, and nickel. Volkswagen’s partners then use their hydrometallurgical process to separate these metals. At the end, recycled metals can be used to make new cathodes for the batteries, which are as good as brand new cathodes. Making cathodes from recycled materials save more than one ton of CO2 per vehicle.
In this way Volkswagen is reducing its production CO2 emissions and save valuable raw materials. In other recycling processes batteries are usually burned, which is not very efficient. Thomas Tiedje, Head of Technical Planning at Volkswagen Component, said: “Our goal is to create our own circular process in which more than 90 percent of each of our batteries is recycled. We don’t want to hand the process over at any point but prefer to train our employees and thus make them fit for the future.”
Batteries wear out over time. As good as they can be, they become older and their capacity shrinks. They can also break or be damaged in traffic accidents. It is important to recycle those batteries because they contain highly valuable materials. This will also cut down on CO2 emissions and save some money for the manufacturers.