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Turning old into new

New recycling plant for e-car batteries in Hamburg

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Germany plans to have 15 million electric cars on the road by 2023, but the batteries are polluting the environment. In Hamburg-Billbrock, Northvolt recycles batteries in a sustainable way with EMR. Meanwhile, the new EU battery regulation calls for higher recycling rates.

Four jars with batteries and nickel, manganese and cobalt as extracted raw materials.

The recycling steps of battery cells (symbol image) © Northvolt

In order to significantly reduce traffic emissions, the German government forecasts that there will be 15 million electric cars on German roads by 2030. The number of newly registered electric cars already reached a record level in 2022. However, the raw materials needed for e-car batteries are often extracted under conditions that harm the environment and workers in countries such as Australia, Chile and China. In addition, the production and transport of the batteries cause high emissions. This makes the issue of climate-friendly and resource-conserving recycling of spent but still functional batteries as electricity storage systems all the more relevant.

Rebirth of batteries: Innovative recycling plant in Hamburg

Since the end of August 2023, worn-out batteries from electric cars have been dismantled in Hamburg-Billbrock so that the raw materials they contain, such as lithium, cobalt and nickel, can be used to make new batteries again in the longer term. For this purpose, the Swedish battery manufacturer Northvolt, in cooperation with the British metal recycler European Metal Recycling (EMR), has commissioned an industrial plant on an area of 12,000 square meters. There, the delivered battery packs are discharged and then dismantled - but only down to the level of the battery modules. According to the company, 10,000 battery blocks can pass through Billbrook each year. Afterwards, the remaining modules are delivered to Northvolt's production sites, including those in Norway and Sweden, for recycling.

Specifically, Northvolt employees crush the modules, recovering plastics and copper. The remaining material, also known as black mass, is then transported further and processed at the "Revolt Ett" recycling plant in northern Sweden using a hydrometallurgical process. Only in this step are the battery materials such as lithium, nickel, manganese and cobalt recovered. These can then be used to produce new cathodes, which are integrated into new batteries at the neighboring cell factory in Skellefteå.

The new EU battery regulation has been in force since mid-August. It obliges battery manufacturers to achieve higher recycling rates. In the EU, capacities for the first steps of LIB recycling will increase to 160,000 tons per year by the end of 2023, distributed across 37 sites. Compared to 2020, capacities have increased by more than 100,000 tpy with the commissioning of 13 larger recycling facilities. A further 16 plants are planned.