What do we do with all of these batteries?

Workers in the EV battery recycling plant in Germany remove the lid of an EV battery pack.

Transforming the world to run on electric vehicles will take millions of batteries. So, what will we do with all of the batteries when their useful lives are at an end? And where will we get the materials to build new batteries?

The Volkswagen Group has an answer to these questions. Earlier this year, VW opened its first EV battery recycling plant in Salzgitter, Germany, the result of more than a decade of research. Designed to be more energy efficient than current battery recycling techniques, the pilot plant has a goal of being able to recapture 95% of the materials in an EV battery pack for potential reuse — including rare metals that store electricity.

“We know from many years of research that recycled battery raw materials are just as efficient as new ones,” said Mark Moller, head of technical development and e-mobility business unit at Volkswagen Group Components. “We plan to support our cell production in the future with the material we have recovered. We really want to use every possible gram of recovered material as the demand for batteries rises sharply.”

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Since EV batteries have a mix of materials, the current battery recycling methods require essentially melting them down in a furnace, which only recovers 60% of the materials. VW’s recycling pilot plant uses several mechanical steps designed to recover up to 95%. In an 880-lb. battery pack, the plant can recover about 220 pounds of key electrode minerals like lithium, nickel, cobalt and manganese, which will help reduce the need for mining raw materials.

Currently, the pilot plant can handle about 3,600 battery packs a year. As Volkswagen gains more practice with the process, it expects to expand the system to handle the first wave of retired EV battery packs in the 2020s, supplying materials for new batteries in a sustainable, closed-loop system.

Volkswagen Group of America has a manufacturing facility in Chattanooga, Tennessee, employing approximately 3,800 workers, who currently make the Passat and Atlas, but will begin making ID.4 electric vehicles in 2022. This month, the ID.4 made its debut in dealerships across the United States.

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