Volkswagen has announced it is the lead partner in the German HVBatCycle research consortium, established with the goal of keeping cathode metals, electrolyte and graphite permanently in a closed loop material cycle.

Partners Volkswagen, Taniobis, J. Schmalz and Viscom have already been working together with researchers from RWTH Aachen University, TU Braunschweig and the Fraunhofer Institute for Surface Engineering and Thin Films for the past three years to research and develop the necessary processes. The project is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action.

In order to have to use fewer materials from primary sources such as mines or salt flats, Volkswagen says essential raw materials including electrolyte components and graphite can be recovered not just once, but multiple times.

Furthermore, establishing a local circular economy with strategically important raw materials significantly reduces Europe’s dependence on other regions of the world.

But closing the loop requires complex interdisciplinary processes, the consortium says, requiring “efficient, ecologically and economically sensible recycling”.

The consortium is focusing on mechanical-hydrometallurgical recycling processes, which require less energy and could entail the possibility of a “comparatively” simple decentralisation of the recycling processes around Europe.

Its approach is the largely automated dismantling of declining battery systems down to cell or electrode level, which achieves “an almost loss-free separation of active materials and carrier foils as well as the recovery of graphite and highly volatile electrolyte components.”

Sebastian Wolf, chief operating officer battery cell at Volkswagen, says, “The recycling of batteries and production rejects makes a decisive contribution to securing the supply of raw materials for our planned factories. The HVBatCycle project, is giving us a holistic view of the recycling processes and thereby the implementation of the closed loop of battery materials.”

Michael Kellner, Parliamentary State Secretary with the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action adds, “European battery production can only be successful if it focuses on sustainability in as many areas as possible. Sustainable batteries are crucial for an energy and transport transition that is guided by high environmental and social standards.”