25 Nov 2022
MAN has committed to far-reaching climate targets. One key building block is the circular economy. Nicole Rostock from Customer Service Product Management takes care of battery recycling and explains what the aims are.
NICOLE ROSTOCK: Yes, absolutely. If we look at the entire life cycle of a battery, we talk about its first and second life as well as about recycling. The first life is the regular use of the battery in a vehicle. Depending on what capacity remains after it has been used in a vehicle – known as the battery “state of health” – it can be reconditioned for a second life, for example as battery storage for solar systems or elsewhere. After that, the high-voltage battery is recycled. That’s the area that I take care of here at MAN. We follow the requirements of the new EU battery regulation.
NICOLE ROSTOCK: Currently, around 70 per cent of a battery is recycled. These are primarily the peripheral parts – that is, the copper cables or aluminium frames – and of course also the valuable active materials inside the battery such as manganese, cobalt or nickel. These are valuable raw materials that could be reused for the production of new batteries, for example. In light of the background of rapidly rising raw material prices, recycling is becoming increasingly important. In theory, a battery is up to 100 per cent recyclable, but it is also necessary to guarantee that there is a demand and a market for all recycled products for recycling to be economical. This is not yet the case for all of the recyclable raw materials from a battery.
NICOLE ROSTOCK: First of all, the battery must be fully discharged. It is then disassembled into components and sorted according to materials, such as cables or the casing. After that, the modules are shredded. MAN prefers to use a mechanical process, which generates significantly less CO2 than melting it down. The shredder breaks down the battery into its individual parts. In the next stages of the process, plastics and magnetic metals are separated from the valuable raw materials. The intermediate product is known as black mass, which is then subjected to a chemical hydrometallurgical process to extract the valuable raw materials. The recycled materials are already being used in new products today, such as catalytic converters and fuel cells. The by-product from the pyrometallurgical process, known as slag, is used in road construction. In the long term, of course, as much as possible will flow back into the manufacture of new battery cells and modules. There are also efforts to produce batteries in such a way that they are easier to recycle in the future – including recyclability in the initial design process. This would reduce recycling costs and make it easier to extract the valuable raw materials for reuse.
NICOLE ROSTOCK: That’s right. MAN is striving for a circular economy in more and more areas. We talk here about the challenge of the “closed loop” or “cradle to cradle”. In an ideal case, 100 per cent of high-voltage batteries would also continue to circulate in this system, generating no waste at all.
NICOLE ROSTOCK: This is hard to predict, because there is simply a lack of empirical data on how long the batteries will remain in the vehicles. However, I’m currently in the process of establishing a network of recyclers for our service outlets. In concrete terms, I am travelling with my Scania colleague to visit our current recycling service providers for all Germany and Europe at present to learn how the processes are actually implemented in real life and to see for myself how these companies work.
NICOLE ROSTOCK: With the Lion’s City E, MAN has been mass producing an electric city bus since 2020, while mass production of the eTruck is due for 2024. As a result, we are estimating a significant quantity of high-voltage batteries for recycling in perhaps 10 to 15 years. That’s when the current batteries will have been through their first and second lives and will have to be recycled.
NICOLE ROSTOCK: In concrete terms, since the beginning of 2022. However, I wouldn’t describe it as a “project”, for battery recycling will certainly be a firm and long-term part of the process chain. By the way – we’re also working closely with colleagues from Scania and VW to exchange experiences and identify synergies. That’s very important, because things can change very quickly in this industry and in the legislation as well. Moreover, it is a new subject for all. On top of that, MAN is already part of the Volkswagen Group recycling network.
Text: Claudius Lüder
Photos: MAN / Getty Images