Recycling electric car batteries

Materials World magazine
28 Jan 2020

Audi moves closer to a circular economy for electric car batteries. Ceri Jones takes a look.

More than 90% of the total cobalt and nickel content can be recovered from batteries in Audi’s electric-powered e-tron vehicles.

The high-power batteries are taken from the company’s development vehicle, the A3 e-tron plug-in hybrid cars, with the aim to explore what was achievable in terms of the purity of recovered materials, recycling rates and the economic feasibility of developing a raw materials bank. According to Audi Procurement and IT Board Member, Dr Bernd Martens, creating such a circular economy would position Audi as a pioneer of recycling processes.

Working alongside technology and recycling company Umicore since June 2018, the car manufacturer ran a successful trial of the process last year to confirm how it would work. In January 2020, the partnership launched the second phase to test the concept at production line level in preparation for running a fully closed loop process.

During the project, Umicore will receive spent EV batteries from Audi’s e-tron model line, and remove the cobalt and nickel to stockpile a raw materials bank for future use. In the first stages, the metals will be used to create precursor and cathode elements, which will then form new battery cells.

While Audi could not comment on the recycling technique, the company is aiming to develop the recycling methods further and extend it to other materials to produce new battery cells from 100% recycled resources. The trial also looked at recycling copper content but recovery rates are not yet known.

The project comes after several years of research and development by Audi that focused on end-of-life management and material saving processes to reduce EV battery waste. ‘We save precious resources and reduce CO2 emissions. In this way we come significantly closer to our goal of a sustainable supply chain and reach a milestone on the road to achieving an overall carbon-neutral balance by 2050,’ said Martens.

For Umicore, this is one of a series of battery recycling projects with major industry players, including BMW, Northvolt, Samsung and LG.