The auto industry’s big push into electric vehicles will lead to a big problem down the road: What to do with all those spent lithium ion batteries? It is 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 is in about 3,000 EVs today.
The battery packs will be analysed 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 mobile phone. 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 per cent of all the raw materials used in the battery packs driving its upcoming EVs. It expects the pilot project to help it reach 72 per cent, up from 53 per cent today.