EV Battery Recycling Set to Become Big Business in Germany

September 2021

The numbers of electric vehicles on the road in Germany and around the world are increasing exponentially. This means that millions of EV batteries will need to be recycled in the future, as those vehicles gradually come off highways and streets. Experts like Kim Kreisköther of RWTH Aachen University says that these batteries will still have considerable value.

“A lithium-ion battery still has around 80 percent of its performance capacity when it’s disassembled from a vehicle,” she told business magazine Wirtschaftswoche. “You would never throw away a household appliance that was functioning at 80 percent.”

The German Environment Agency says that more than 12,000 tons of lithium-ion batteries were in use in Germany in 2019 – a figure that will be increasing dramatically year for year. That has companies, big and small, thinking about how to find a role in recycling.

Perhaps most prominent is automotive giant Volkswagen, which is planning a pilot recycling facility for its new battery production factory in the central German town of Salzgitter.

© VW

In the western city of Düsseldorf, metals supplier SMS Group, which traces its history back two centuries, is also getting in the act. Together with Australian company Neometals, SMS has formed a joint venture, Primobius, with aim of extracting and reusing cobalt, nickel, lithium, copper, iron, aluminum and carbon. It’s just completed construction on a pilot recycling plant of its own, which now enters the trial phase.

“The demonstration plant trial will provide an opportunity for car, consumer electronics and battery manufacturers to verify Primobius’ capability to safely, sustainably and ethically dispose of hazardous LIBs (lithium-ion batteries) to comply with all regulatory obligations,” Primobius CEO Horst Krenn said in a statement.

Not all recycling ideas focus on breaking down batteries into their metallic components. In Aachen, near Germany’s border with Belgium and the Netherlands, the start-up Voltfang wants to give batteries a “second life” as power reservoirs and sources for commercial and domestic uses. Its executives point out that using second-hand batteries, with 80 percent of their capacity intact, is far more economical than buying new ones.

“We’ve seen that we can offer our batteries around 50 percent more cheaply by employing used batteries,” Voltfang Head of Investor Relations Frederik Bennemann told the podcast Elektroauto News. “If you order a new battery for your car, for example an ID3, it will cost around 10,000 euros whereas we can buy them second-hand on websites for 4000 to 5000 euros.”

Voltfang has already teamed up with a Norwegian partner to exploit Norway’s status as a world leading in many respects in electro-mobility. Wirtschaftswoche reports that a standby electrical set made from second-hand batteries is already in use at the stadium of Norwegian soccer club Lyn Oslo.