Mercedes has pioneered a new battery recycling facility in Germany, focusing on “closing the loop” and enabling the automaker to source more battery materials sustainably.
Two of the biggest challenges in the electric vehicle industry are the price of battery materials and what happens to batteries when they reach the end of their useful life. Yet more and more manufacturers are discovering that these two problems can help solve each other by using battery recycling. In efforts to source more materials more sustainably and cost-effectively, Mercedes has broken new ground with its first battery recycling facility that will be ramped up slowly to help meet the automaker’s material demand.
Mercedes’ new facility in Kuppenheim, Germany, is targeting a remarkable 96% recovery rate for four key materials; lithium, cobalt, nickel and finally graphite. It will have an annual recycling capacity of 2,500 tons and the goal is to begin processing by the end of this year.
“This foundation symbolizes the decisive step towards closing the material cycle for Mercedes-Benz batteries,” says Jörg Burzer, Member of the Board of Management of Mercedes-Benz. “With a recycling rate of over 96 percent, a ‘mine of tomorrow’ is being created here in Kuppenheim. The innovative technological approach enables us to integrate the valuable raw materials into new Mercedes-EQ vehicles. We are consistently expanding our expertise of the battery value chain and taking an important step in our strategy towards ‘Electric Only’.”
Mercedes also indicates that the new facility will be 100% carbon neutral as part of the German automaker’s ongoing efforts to decarbonise its production facilities over the coming years. This is achieved through a mix of solar energy installed at the facility and green power purchased from the grid.
German regulators were quick to point out that the new facility will also be an essential part of the country’s efforts to mitigate its reliance on rare earth imports, which have been particularly impacted on the European continent due to the COVID pandemic, COVID restrictions in China and the Rissian invasion of Ukraine.
“This is of particular importance given the limited availability of important and highly sought-after raw materials such as lithium, cobalt or nickel,” said Thekla Walker, Minister for Environment, Climate Protection and Energy Sector Baden-Württemberg. “Crises such as the corona pandemic or the ruthless Russian offensive war against Ukraine have clearly demonstrated our dependence on supply chains and primary raw materials. More recycling can help to reduce this dependence on critical raw materials and thus strengthen the resilience of the economy.”
Mercedes joins Tesla, General Motors and many others in building battery recycling capabilities worldwide. Tesla has already announced that it will make recycled materials a larger portion of its production using redwood materials. General Motors has been working closely with Lithion to bring about battery recycling as part of the planned introduction of numerous electric cars in the near future. At the same time, national governments are also pushing many of these projects to help reduce the waste that could become a problem in a fully electrified future.
Late last month, the U.S. Department of Energy granted one of its first-ever lithium battery recycling loans to an Upstate New York battery recycler, LiCycle. And with the growing need for this infrastructure, the agency is expected to continue to invest in the future.
As Mercedes rapidly expands the number of electric vehicles it sells globally in the coming years, battery recycling plants such as this one will be critical to its growth and success. Hopefully it can set an example for other manufacturers to go further and help make EVs more and more sustainable.
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