German car manufacturer Audi and its partner, materials expert Umicore, have been able to recover more than 90 percent of the cobalt and nickel in the high-voltage batteries of Audi’s e-tron vehicle.
The companies are now collaborating on developing a closed loop for cobalt and nickel. The recovered materials will be used in new battery cells.
Umicore will receive cell modules from the Audi e-tron model, which will initially be taken from development vehicles. From those cells, the materials technology expert will recover cobalt and nickel, and process them into precursor and cathode materials.
New battery cells containing recycled cobalt and nickel can be produced from this precursor.
“A closed loop for battery raw materials is a big leap technologically. We save precious resources and reduce CO2 emissions,” said Dr. Bernd Martens, member of the board of management for procurement and IT at Audi.
“In this way we come significantly closer to our goal of a sustainable supply chain and reach a milestone on the road to achieving an overall carbon-neutral balance by 2050. It is our aim to think sustainability holistically. This includes dealing with the remaining ‘end of life’ as well as resource-saving development of our products.”
“Umicore is committed to enabling the transition to electrified mobility,” said Marc Grynberg, CEO of Umicore.
“Innovative technologies, responsible sourcing and closing the materials loop will lead the drive towards clean mobility. This project with Audi is at the forefront of the development of a sustainable value chain for electrified transport.”
Audi is testing factory vehicles powered by used lithium-ion batteries at its main plant in Ingolstadt, Germany.
Like all automobile manufacturers, Audi is obliged by law to take back energy carriers after they have been used in cars. Because they still have a large proportion of their original charging capacity, an interdisciplinary project team is now investigating how batteries from Audi e-tron test vehicles or from hybrid models can continue to be used.
Factory vehicles in Audi’s production plants, such as forklifts and tow tractors, have so far been powered by lead-acid batteries, with their long-charge times, and awkward removal processes. Lithium-ion batteries, by contrast, can be charged directly where the vehicles are parked during normal downtimes, in breaks between shifts, for example. This saves battery room space and eliminates the high manual effort required to replace the batteries.
Audi estimates it would save millions of dollars if it converted its entire fleet of factory vehicles to lithium-ion batteries at its 16 production sites worldwide.
“Every lithium-ion battery represents high energy consumption and valuable resources that must be used in the best possible way,” said Peter Kössler, member of the board of management for production and logistics at AUDI AG. “For us, a sustainable electric-mobility strategy also includes a sensible second-use concept for energy carriers.”
The remaining charging capacity of a lithium-ion battery after use in a car is more than sufficient for the requirements of material handling vehicles.
The battery of an Audi e-tron consists of 36 individual battery modules and is located under the car’s passenger cell between the axles, in the form of a flat, wide block. After batteries are taken back, the project team checks each individual module for its continued usability. They then install 24 modules in each new battery tray. This has the same dimensions and weight as the previous lead-acid batteries of the factory vehicles, so the company can continue to use all of those vehicles without any major investments.
In the future, Audi sees the possibility of a team of specialized employees that could take over the assembly of the second-use batteries in the company’s own battery centre.
A project team from production, logistics and development has been working on this second use of used battery modules for about two years. After the first tests were successful, they are now testing the first converted factory vehicles in everyday production.