Interactive databases of the battery value chain

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Data from October 2023

A relevant component of sustainable battery production is the closing of the value-added cycle through recycling. This enables the recovery of raw materials, which can then be used again for battery production. The materials that are recycled can come from production waste or from batteries that have reached the end of their life and must then be collected and reprocessed. In the tool window, the capacity of the announced recycling plants is made up of so-called Spoke plants. A further explanation can be found under the tool window.

In addition to the capacities of recycling plants, the tool window shows both the quantity of batteries to be recycled and the quantities of raw materials that can be recovered from recycling.

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If, for example, batteries are no longer suitable for the originally intended application due to capacity losses, they can first be used in so-called second life applications, such as stationary storage (in which only lower energy densities are required), as a life extension measure. This ensures optimized use and, at the same time, improvements in the life cycle assessment.

The recycling process in larger commercial plants is usually divided into two parts. Whole batteries for recycling must first be pre-sorted and discharged as completely as possible, then they are crushed. After that, aluminum and copper can be removed. This first step takes place in the Spoke facilities (those capacities are indicated above in the tool). The remaining material, the so-called black mass, can be processed in different ways. Two main options are available for this purpose. In the pyrometallurgical process, the mass is heated and then manganese, cobalt and nickel are recovered from it. In the hydrometallurgical process, the black mass is dissolved in liquid and chemically separated. Nickel, cobalt and lithium can be recovered in this way. It is also possible to combine both processes. These steps take place in the so-called Hubs.

Larger recycling volumes only occur when large volumes of used batteries are returned from electromobility. For this reason, the ramp-up of recycling sites is delayed to the ramp-up of cell production (see cell tool window). Today, there are established manufacturers mainly in Asia. There are already larger amounts of production waste there today. In addition, American suppliers already have waste batteries for recycling due to the early market entry of Tesla or early sold Toyota hybrid models.

By 2030, it is estimated that 1.5 to 2 Mt of spent batteries per year can be returned to recycling. However, even greater growth in recycling volumes will occur after 2030. In Europe, plants totaling over 300 kt recycling capacity have already been announced.

Recycling represents an opportunity for Europe to gain alternative access to missing primary raw materials for European cell production. However, due to the losses during recycling as well as the growing market, primary raw materials cannot be completely dispensed with. Cobalt is an exception. Due to declining quantities in the cathode material, the quantities recovered through recycling may be sufficient for the production of new batteries in the future.