The new generation of electric vehicles will bring a massive increase in the number of batteries on the road and this has brought some concerns about how lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries will be recycled after 10 or 15 years of use.
In the United States, 99% of all lead-acid automotive batteries are either shredded or melted down before reusing the raw materials.
Hence, the German carmaking giant is already working on how to develop a robust second life for these Li-ion batteries.
An automotive Li-ion battery is one of the most expensive parts in a car requiring rare metals - cobalt and manganese, coupled with a complex manufacturing process.
Thus, digging out those metals from discarded batteries may be a cheaper alternative than digging them out of the Earth while helping itself to reduce its carbon footprint.
To tackle the challenges, the company is now working towards two approaches - Portable rechargers and energy-efficient recycling.
An automotive lithium-ion battery that’s been used for over a decade may not be suitable for powering a vehicle anymore, but it could still have a sizable energy capacity.
In real terms, the 35.8kWh battery fitted in the upcoming e-Golf can store more energy than a typical American household uses in a day.
Additionally, an electric vehicle (EV) will need to be charged at some point in time - sometimes in a place where a plug point is absent.
This is why the company plans to produce a portable quick-charging station that can hold up to 360kWh of energy, which can charge up to four vehicles at a time, with a maximum quick-charge output of 100kW.
Akin to a power bank, the company's charger can be used until it has been depleted or connected to a power source to keep itself recharged while remaining compact enough to be deployed in 'hard-to-charge' locations.
The charger has been designed to use the same battery pack like the one in the MEB electric vehicle chassis so that once the battery reaches the end of their useful life, it gets a second one as a recharge station.
The first of the company's portable quick chargers is anticipated to be installed in Germany next year with full production to begin in 2020.
But at some point, such batteries will lose its ability to hold a charge, which is where the company's component plant in Salzgitter, Germany comes into play.
The plant will be the new home of the company's first centre for electric vehicle battery recycling.
In 2020, the centre plans to have an initial capacity to recycle roughly 1,200 tonnes of electric vehicle (EV) batteries per annum, which roughly equates to about 3,000 EVs.
With a special shredder, the battery's parts can be ground up, the liquid electrolyte cleaned off, and the components separated into “black powder.”
This contains the valuable raw materials of cobalt, lithium, manganese, and nickel – which, while requiring further physical separation, are then ready for reuse in new batteries.
In the long term, the company looks hopes to recycle about 97% of all raw materials in the battery packs.
Today, it’s roughly 53% and the plant in Salzgitter expects to raise it to a further 72% with the hopes that other private recycling plants will follow.