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Multiple battery recycling to reduce raw material use

27.6.2022
Multiple battery recycling to reduce raw material use

The Volkswagen Group leads the HVBatCycle research Consortium, which involves partners from industry and the scientific community and has the goal of developing a closed loop of the most valuable raw materials of batteries, enabling multiple recycling.

Recover, recycle and reuse the most valuable materials in electric vehicle batteries multiple times to make them even more sustainable. This is the goal of the Volkswagen Group-led HVBatCycle research Consortium, in which specialized suppliers such as TANIOBIS GmbH, J. Schmalz GmbH and Viscom AG and researchers from the Technical University of Aachen (RWTH), the Technical University of Braunschweig and the Fraunhofer Institute for Surface Engineering and Thin Films (IST) are participating.

The consortium's research project, which is funded by the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Action, will last three years and will focus on cathode metals, electrolyte and graphite, with the aim of developing the processes needed to put and keep them permanently in a closed loop.

Sustainable supplies for raw materials

"European battery production can only be successful if it focuses on sustainability in as many areas as possible. Sustainable batteries are crucial for an energy and transport transition that is guided by high environmental and social standards", Michael Kellner, Parliamentary State Secretary, said about this project. Sebastian Wolf, Chief Operating Officer Battery Cell at Volkswagen Group, explained: "The recycling of batteries and production rejects makes a decisive contribution to securing the supply of raw materials for our planned factories. Through the HVBatCycle project we will work on holistic ecosystem of recycling processes, and thereby on the implementation of a closed loop of battery materials."

Multiple recycling of batteries

In order to use fewer and fewer materials from primary sources such as mines or salt flats, essential raw materials are to be recovered not once, but several times. To this end, battery cells made from recycled materials are recycled again, demonstrating how even multiple recycling cycles have no influence on the material quality.

Achieving this requires complex interdisciplinary processes that must be perfectly coordinated with each other to produce secondary materials of high quality and meeting the highest safety requirements. Scalability and economic efficiency of the processes are also key aspects.

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Secondary materials

Specifically, the Consortium's project focuses on mechanical-hydrometallurgical recycling, which is characterized by low energy requirements and the possibility of distributing certain recycling processes across Europe in a decentralized and relatively simple manner. This would favor a local circular economy, while securing strategically important raw materials and significantly reducing Europe's dependence on other regions of the world.

In other words, the HVBatCycle project aims to identify efficient processes and innovative solutions to create an end-to-end value chain that has high economic efficiency and minimizes environmental impact.

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Battery dismantling

Among these processes, a key step is the dismantling of batteries (down to the cell or electrode level) from used electric vehicles. A procedure that needs to be largely automated, directly linked to demand, and cost-effective. This also includes separation of the active material and carrier foils almost without loss, as well as the recovery of graphite and highly volatile electrolyte components.

Also important is the following hydrometallurgical processing of the so-called "black mass" - consisting of graphite, lithium, manganese, cobalt, and nickel - for which water and chemical solvents are used; early and selective extraction of lithium in soluble form is essential at this stage, as well as processing the metals as mixed hydroxide concentrate.

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In this process, it will be investigated whether separation of metal compounds is really necessary to produce new, fully high-performance cathode material. The research on electrolyte and graphite processing aims to demonstrate, through the development of appropriate processes, that these components can be efficiently processed and reused many times for the production of new cells.

SourceVolkswagen AG

VGI | Responsible OU: VP | Creation date: article date | Class 9.1

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