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Battery recycling at VW: Market is making progress

Photo: Julian Stratenschulte / dpa

In the case of e-cars, the greatest potential for saving climate-damaging emissions is likely to lie in the battery. An analysis gives hope that a lot could happen here in terms of recycling. According to a study by RWTH Aachen University and the management consultancy PwC, the development of battery recycling in the EU will cost around nine billion euros by 2035, but it will be worthwhile.

After a long dry spell, recycling the batteries of electric cars in Europe will be a profitable business before 2035, said PwC industry expert Jörn Neuhausen. "Recycled material could account for up to 2035 percent of the demand for lithium, nickel and cobalt in battery cell production in 30."

The general increase in electrification and increasing battery production for electric cars will drive the recycling market in Europe, said Achim Kampker, professor at RWTH Aachen University. In the next few years, waste from the growing gigafactories in particular will be recycled, and there will still be overcapacity in the recycling plants. From 2030, however, the market is likely to turn around, because then the first larger quantity of e-cars will be taken out of service.

From then on, the recycling market will be fully utilized. However, this requires investments of more than 2.2 billion euros for the annual processing of around 570,000 tons of battery material, according to the study. "In order to be able to process all recyclable materials from 2035 onwards, market participants will have to spend a further seven billion euros on their recycling capacities," said Kampker.

Due to the high investment costs, the current structure of the value chain will develop in the direction of large recycling centers. However, the combination of high material volumes and low recycling costs will create an ideal market environment for the battery industry. "Recycling batteries will be a profitable and sustainable business in Europe before 2035," Neuhausen said.

South Korea and China, with their 2013 targets of recycling about 90 percent of batteries, are considered pioneers in battery recycling. With its revised Battery Regulation, the EU now sets minimum proportions of recovered raw materials such as cobalt, lead and lithium in new batteries.