One of the great success stories in recycling may lie under the hood of your car. In the United States, 99 percent of all lead-acid automotive batteries are recycled, making them among one of the most-recycled goods you can buy. When your battery wears out, you can easily turn it in when buying a new one; that old battery can then be shredded or melted down, and its raw materials reused.
The new generation of electric vehicles will bring a massive increase in the number of batteries on the road – and already there are some concerns about how those advanced lithium-ion batteries will be recycled after their 10 or 15 years of use.
More importantly: Helping reduce the carbon impact of transportation – not just from the vehicles when they are driven, but over their entire lifespan, from raw material to junkyard – requires tight control over how batteries are recycled. To tackle the challenge, Volkswagen is working towards two approaches: Portable rechargers, and energy-efficient recycling.
Charging when you need it
An older lithium-ion battery that’s been on the road a decade or more may not be suitable for powering a vehicle, but it could still have a sizable energy capacity. (The battery pack in the 2019 Volkswagen e-Golf can store as much energy as the typical American household uses in a day, and then some.) And electric vehicles may need charging in many places where there may not be chargers or even power outlets available.
Those two problems have the same solution. Volkswagen Group plans to produce this portable quick-charging station.
At some point, all batteries lose the ability to hold energy. That’s where a new project at the Volkswagen Group’s component plant in Salzgitter comes into play.
Salzgitter is expected to be the home of Volkswagen’s first center for electric vehicle battery recycling. Next year, the center plans to have an initial capacity to recycle roughly 1,200 tons of EV batteries per year, equal to the batteries from about 3,000 vehicles.
Using a special shredder, the individual battery parts can be ground up, the liquid electrolyte can be cleaned off, and the components separated into “black powder.” This contains the valuable raw materials cobalt, lithium, manganese, and nickel – which, while requiring further physical separation, are then ready for reuse in new batteries.