Closing the E-Mobility Loop: An Unparalleled German USP

It is a strategic imperative that environmental sustainability become a hallmark of European battery manufacturing and European e-mobility.

By Flérida Regueira Cortizo, Anne Bräutigam, Michael Schnabel, Robert Compton 

Germany Trade & Invest

June 2019

The European Waste Directive aims to increase the reuse of scarce resources and avoid hazardous waste. It calls for sustainability to be demonstrated along the entire value chain. The European Commission is therefore planning to set binding standards for cell manufacturing this year from the raw materials and production processes through to cell recycling.

Commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska stated, “we envisage a strong battery industry that contributes to the circular economy and clean mobility.” A strategic action plan including specific measures to develop an innovative, sustainable and competitive battery industry in Europe has already been adopted.  By the middle of the next decade, the European Commission places the market potential for automotive batteries produced in Europe at up to 250 billion euros.

Germany and France at the cutting edge

The two neighbors delivered a joint letter of intent expressing their support for a new battery production consortium  to the EU Commission at the start of May.

The group will bring together the companies Saft, Siemens, Manz, Peugeot-Citroën-Opel (PSA) and Solvay. Together the states want to support the initiative to the tune of 1.2 billion euros. A pilot factory is to be built in France in 2020, with further factories following in Germany and France in 2022 and 2023 respectively. Moreover, Volkswagen has announced that it will set up battery cell production in Germany. To this end, the company intends to invest one billion euros (including subsidies) in its Salzgitter plant. Further, the federal state of Lower Saxony has submitted an application for a battery cell research factory in Salzgitter. The project is set to involve TU Braunschweig, the technical university in the city of Braunschweig. More than 100 industrial companies have made a written commitment to support the project. There is also a lot going on in Lower Saxony concerning battery cell recycling. The Wendeburg-based company Duesenfeld , a spin-off  from TU Braunschweig, the Goslar-based company H.C. Starck, as well as Japanese partners and the Clausthal University of Technology (CUT) are just some examples of this battery cell recycling landscape.

© VW

An unparalleled German USP

By recycling batteries, Germany will play a relevant role in access to secondary raw materials.  Not to mention that Germany’s leadership in the global recycling industry is based on the country’s first mover role in waste management law and a business environment that favors innovation and new technologies, giving the country an unparalleled USP. The National Platform Future of Mobility expects approximately one million electric cars to have been registered in Germany by 2022. By 2025, that number is expected to have risen to 3 million. At the same time, batteries’ lifecycles are limited in automotive applications, ranging from just a few years to over 10 years, depending on the type of battery and the loads involved. In the near future, the number of batteries being retired from automotive applications can be expected to grow. A substantial share of European closed-loop e-mobility value chains will be in Germany.

Facing the challenges together

According to the Fraunhofer Institute for Materials Recycling and Resource Strategies IWKS, several commercial recycling processes are currently being used for traction batteries. However, these still face a number of challenges such as the need to increase the proportions of recycled material returned to production processes and the amount of recycled material used in new batteries. That’s not to mention the need for flexibility when faced with different system designs, cell types and material compositions. Re-use concepts for used battery systems, modules, cells and components also need to be established.

Tackling these challenges and establishing forward-looking recycling processes will require cooperation and joint development, according to Fraunhofer IWKS. Players along the entire value chain – from material manufacturers, cell and system manufacturers, plant constructors, car manufacturers as all the way through to logistics and recycling companies – are welcome to join this circle. AutoBatRec 2020, NewBat and the European Lithium Institute are some examples of national and European co-operations. Under their auspices, researchers are already working on the development of alternative disassembly solutions through innovative shredding technologies, the enrichment of recyclable materials – especially active materials – through innovative separation and sorting processes as well as the recovery and processing of functional materials instead of metallurgical separation.

Financing and incentive instruments

Implementing all these solutions requires the public and private sectors to work hand in hand. This is why strong support is available to enterprises considering investing in battery recycling in Germany.

Enterprises that are planning, for example, to establish a facility in the promising German market can take advantage of a wide range of financing and incentive instruments.

Direct grants and other instruments, such as public promotional loans, public guarantees and equity capital, can reduce investment costs significantly in designated support areas.

Visit www.gtai.de/incentives for a wide range of information on the incentives and funding available.

Research funding for battery recycling is included in the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy’s 7th Energy Research Programme. A prerequisite is that environmental sustainability and profitability must be analyzed and optimized throughout the entire lifecycle.

Support is on hand for new market players

Closing the e-mobility loop in Germany offers innovative foreign companies a range of potential areas for growth. Germany’s economic development agency Germany Trade & Invest (GTAI) offers free support services for companies planning to expand to this promising market. GTAI’s industry experts Flérida Regueira Cortizo (flerida.regueira@gtai.com) and Anne Bräutigam (anne.bräutigam@gtai.com) will happily discuss how you can grow your sustainable business in Germany. Just e-mail them to arrange a call.