Design Engineering

Recycling electric vehicle batteries on an industrial scale

By DE Staff   

Sustainability Electronics Materials Automotive Energy batteries Electric Vehicles lasers TRUMPF

Cutting open used or faulty batteries using laser technology enables battery recycling to be scaled up. (Credit: TRUMPF)

Battery manufacturers can reuse valuable raw materials and comply with recycling quotas.

Automakers and battery manufacturers can now recycle used or defective batteries from electric vehicles on an industrial scale using laser technology. TRUMPF recently announced it has developed laser systems that cut used batteries safely and remove the valuable raw materials from the battery foil.

“Recycling batteries makes ecological sense and, thanks to laser technology, can now also be implemented economically,” says Hagen Zimer, CEO of Laser Technology at TRUMPF. “We’ve been working with all leading car and battery manufacturers for years and we have incorporated this experience into the development of the new processes.”

Without valuable raw materials such as cobalt, lithium or nickel, there are currently no electric car batteries. But the extraction of these raw materials is expensive and not always sustainable. Manufacturers must also accept long and uncertain supply chains. In addition, the EU requires a recycling rate of up to 90 per cent for batteries.

“The industry therefore has to recycle on a large scale. The market for laser processes for recycling batteries, which is currently emerging, is huge,” says Alexander Sauer, head of the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA. In Europe alone, the industry will have to recycle 570,000 tons of battery material annually from 2030.



Lasers ensure high recycling rates

The electrodes for new battery cells are created as foil strips coated with valuable materials such as cobalt and nickel. In a future recycling plant, laser processes can remove the wafer-thin layer from the foil. Manufacturers can collect the precious dust and process it for new coatings. Until now, it was not uncommon for miles of coated foils to end up as waste in the garbage.

In the future, laser technology could also be used to recycle battery packs. TRUMPF says laser technology is “the only way to ensure efficient and automated dismantling, for example, to remove the covers from batteries or to cut off cables.” The raw materials can then be sorted and the battery cells that are still usable can be separated and reused directly. Until now, dismantling electric car batteries has been a manual process.

“The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that electric vehicle (EV) sales have quadrupled and predicts a rising demand for EVs will increase the lithium battery market by five- to ten-fold by 2030,” TRUMPF automotive industry manager Pierson Cheng says. “Considering these statistics, new technologies, such as laser systems from TRUMPF, will be of critical importance to recycling the materials from these batteries at the end of their lifecycles.”


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