The auto industry's big push into electric vehicles will lead to a big problem down the road: What to do with all those lithium ion batteries once they've lost their oomph?
It's the central question behind a pilot recycling project that Volkswagen Group plans to launch at a factory in Salzgitter, Germany, about 30 miles from its global headquarters in Wolfsburg. Beginning in 2020, the plant will accept about 1,200 tons of used automotive lithium ion battery packs a year—the equivalent of what's in about 3,000 EVs today.
The battery packs will be analyzed and sorted; those with some life left will be given a second use, such as mobile vehicle charging stations similar to the way a power pack can be used to recharge a cellphone. Batteries that are spent will be shredded and ground to a fine powder, Volkswagen says, so their valuable and rare raw materials—including lithium, cobalt, manganese and nickel—can be extracted and sorted for use in new battery packs.
Volkswagen believes that, within 10 years, it will be able to recycle up to 97 percent of all the raw materials used in the battery packs driving its upcoming EVs. It expects the pilot project to help it reach 72 percent, up from 53 percent today.
Thomas Tiedje, Volkswagen's head of technical planning, said the auto maker has spent 10 years researching how best to recapture the valuable minerals used to make modern batteries.
"We already have sustainable battery expertise in the Group and are developing this further," Tiedje said in a statement.