Mercedes-Benz is to build a pilot battery recycling factory in Kuppenheim, southern Germany, in a move, it says, to make the company more independent of raw material supplies and gather circular economy know-how.

The pilot will make use of new recycling technology based on an innovative mechanical and hydrometallurgical process which potentially dispenses with unsustainable, energy-intensive and material-consuming, pyrometallurgical processes.

The direct integration of hydrometallurgy into the overall concept of a recycling plant is a first in Europe, says Mercedes, and acts as “a key element in the realisation of sustainable battery recycling in the sense of a true circular economy”.

The project will be undertaken by a new wholly owned subsidiary LICULAR, working in collaboration with technology partner Primobius – a joint venture of the German mechanical engineering company SMS group and the Australian project developer Neometals. Scientific support is through the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and the Technical Universities of Clausthal and Berlin.

Mercedes is investing a “double-digit million euro” amount in research and development, as well as in the construction of the CO₂-neutral facility at its Kuppenheim site. The project has received the prospect of funding under the Battery Innovation Support Program of the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection.

The project covers the entire process chain of battery recycling, meaning if all runs to plan, the Kuppenheim plant could cover all stages from dismantling to module level, shredding and drying and subsequent processing of battery-grade material flows.

The pilot plant is expected to have an annual capacity of 2,500 tonnes, sufficient to produce more than 50,000 battery modules for new Mercedes-EQ models. The hope is production volumes could be scaled up in the medium to long term.