Battery recycling project to take off with Mercedes in Germany

The German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Protection (BMWK) is funding the development of a holistic recycling approach for lithium-ion batteries with 16.66 million euros. As part of the LiBinfinity project, a recycling pilot plant is being built at the Mercedes-Benz site in Kuppenheim to enable efficient recycling management of battery materials. Specifically, the funding will go to a consortium led by Licular GmbH.

Licular GmbH is a joint venture of Mercedes-Benz Group AG and Daimler Truck Holding AG - the now independently operating parts of the former Daimler AG had announced the foundation of Licular in the spin-off and spin-off report. In addition to Licular's shareholding, Mercedes-Benz and Daimler Truck also have a direct stake in LiBinfinity, while other project partners include Primobius, the SMS Group as well as TU Clausthal, KIT and TU Berlin. Within the framework of the project, a mechanical-hydrometallurgical process is to be developed which, according to the BMWK announcement, completely dispenses with energy-intensive process steps.

In the process, the battery is dismantled and pre-sorted - aluminium such as the battery housing can be reprocessed directly. Materials that cannot be easily separated mechanically are then split back into the original materials with the help of water and chemicals. This applies, for example, to the cathodes and anodes, where not only the active materials have to be separated from the carrier foils, but also the valuable raw materials such as lithium, nickel, cobalt or manganese have to be reprocessed according to type.

With the hydrometallurgical process, much higher recycling rates can be achieved than with the pyrometallurgical process, i.e. the energy-intensive melting of the battery. LiBinfinity, however, is intended to go beyond the mere reprocessing of the material. A fully comprehensive approach is being developed - from the development of logistics concepts to the reintegration of recyclate into the life cycle of the battery.

With the ministry's announcement, further key data on the pilot plant in Kuppenheim are now known: It is to have an annual capacity of 2,500 tonnes. So far, Mercedes had only confirmed rumours that it was planning a pilot recycling plant in Kuppenheim - but had not given any details about the scope. Whether the later factory for recycling on a larger scale will also be built in Kuppenheim remains open.

According to earlier information, it is to be built elsewhere for reasons of space. The project partners want to use recycling not only to increase the sustainability of the batteries, but also to prepare for future targets. According to the BMWK, the targets proposed by the EU Commission as part of the EU battery regulation (which is currently still being voted on in the European trilogue procedure) will "lead to extensive investments in new recycling capacities and technologies".

From 2031, for example, recyclate quotas are to apply to large traction and industrial batteries. This means that a certain minimum amount of recycled cobalt, lithium and nickel must be used in the new production of lithium-ion batteries. "In battery production, closed raw material cycles are our goal: traction batteries should be reused in cars after their first use and recycled at the end of the product.

This increases the ecological benefits of electromobility, reduces Europe's dependence on raw materials and takes account of social concerns in the value chain," says Michael Kellner, Parliamentary State Secretary at the BMWK. "To achieve this, the establishment of recycling capacities and the development of innovative processes for recovering raw materials from lithium-ion batteries are central - and we are promoting both with this project."

With reporting by Sebastian Schaal, Germany. (in German)