Stuttgart – Mercedes-Benz AG has firmly established the principle of sustainability as an integral part of its corporate strategy. In addition to CO2-neutral production and the switch to an all-electric vehicle portfolio, a closed loop of recyclable materials is also crucial to reducing resource consumption. In addition to circular design and value retention, Mercedes-Benz is equally focused on recycling. With a view to the future return of lithium-ion battery systems from Mercedes-EQ vehicles, the company is therefore now expanding its global battery recycling strategy. Mercedes-Benz is starting to build its own battery recycling plant in Germany, based on hydrometallurgy. Analogous to this technology, the company plans to close the recyclable material loop with high-tech partners for battery recycling in China and the USA.
Jörg Burzer, Member of the Board of Management of Mercedes-Benz Group AG, Production and Supply Chain Management: “Mercedes-Benz is pursuing a clear goal with a view to conserving resources: a maximum circular economy for all raw materials used. Sustainable battery recycling is a key factor in this – worldwide. With our new recycling plant at the Kuppenheim location, we are increasing the recycling rate to more than 96 percent while expanding our own expertise in the area of battery value creation. Through targeted collaborative ventures with high-tech partners in China and the U.S., we are globalizing our battery recycling strategy and taking a decisive step toward closing the recycling loop in e-mobility.”
Mercedes-Benz recycling plant in Kuppenheim, southern Germany
An important milestone in the global Mercedes-Benz battery recycling strategy is the establishment of an own pilot plant for the recycling of lithium-ion battery systems. To this end, Mercedes-Benz has founded LICULAR GmbH as a wholly-owned subsidiary. For the conceptual design and construction of the facilities, LICULAR GmbH plans to cooperate with the technology partner Primobius, which as a joint venture of the German mechanical engineering company SMS group and the Australian project developer Neometals is contributing the necessary technological know-how, including the relevant preliminary investigations, to the project. The companies have signed a memorandum of understanding. Scientific support for the project is to be provided by the renowned research institutes of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and the Technical Universities of Clausthal and Berlin.
The project is intended to set standards in terms of battery recycling from an ecological point of view: the process design of the patented hydrometallurgy with recovery rates of more than 96 percent is expected to allow a holistic circular economy of battery materials. Mercedes-Benz is investing a double-digit million euro amount in research and development, as well as in the construction of the CO2-neutral pilot plant at the Mercedes-Benz location in Kuppenheim in southern Germany. The project has received the prospect of funding under the Battery Innovation Support Program of the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection.
Michael Brecht, Chairman of the Works Council of the Mercedes-Benz plants in Gaggenau and Kuppenheim and therefore also of LICULAR GmbH, Deputy Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Mercedes-Benz Group AG: “The pilot factory at the Kuppenheim location marks the Mercedes-Benz Group’s entry into the important field of battery recycling, and will make the company more independent of raw material supplies in the future. At the same time, we are gathering important know-how on the subject of the circular economy and creating new, sustainable jobs that can be further expanded if operations are successful. Sustainability also includes human rights. In this respect, we as the General Works Council, together with the company management, adopted the Declaration of Principles for Social Responsibility and Human Rights last year as a central foundation for our daily actions.”
In the future, the new pilot plant will map the entire process chain of battery recycling: from the development of logistics concepts and the sustainable recycling of valuable raw materials to the reintegration of recyclate into the production of new batteries. The new recycling plant is based on an innovative mechanical/hydrometallurgical process, which completely dispenses with energy-intensive and material-consuming pyrometallurgical process steps. The direct integration of hydrometallurgy into the overall concept of a recycling plant is a first in Europe, and acts as a key element in the realization of sustainable battery recycling in the sense of a true circular economy.
Construction of the plant is in two stages. Initially, a plant for mechanical dismantling will be constructed by 2023. As a second step – subject to promising discussions with the public sector – the facilities for hydrometallurgical processing of the battery materials are to go into operation. This means that in the future, Kuppenheim could cover all the stages from dismantling to module level, shredding and drying and subsequent processing of battery-grade material flows.
The pilot plant is expected to have an annual capacity of 2,500 tonnes. The recovered materials will be fed back into the recycling loop to produce more than 50,000 battery modules for new Mercedes-EQ models. Based on the findings of the pilot plant, production volumes could be scaled up in the medium to long term.
Holistic approach to battery value creation
Mercedes-Benz is taking a holistic approach to the circular economy of battery systems, looking at three core issues: circular design, value retention and closing the loop. During the development of a vehicle, the company creates a concept for each vehicle model in which all components and materials are analyzed for their suitability in the context of a circular economy. As a result, all Mercedes-Benz passenger car models are 85 percent materially recyclable and 95 percent reusable in accordance with ISO 22 628. Material recycling of the raw materials used, such as lithium, nickel, cobalt, is an integral part of this approach, and also begins with the design of the components. This approach covers the entire supply chain from mining to recycling. A high level of attention is also paid to the observance of human rights in the working conditions of employees. Mercedes-Benz offers reconditioned batteries as replacement parts for all-electric vehicles, in order to comply with the idea of a closed economic cycle and to conserve resources. In addition, Mercedes-Benz AG has established a successful business model with stationary large-scale energy storages through its subsidiary Mercedes-Benz Energy. Batteries that can no longer be used in vehicles can continue to be used in a 2nd-life storage system. For example, in Factory 56 in Sindelfingen, where a stationary energy storage with an overall capacity of 1,400 kWh is connected to the DC network and acts as a buffer for excess solar power from the photovoltaic system. Material recycling is at the end of a battery’s life, and is the key to closing the loop of recyclable materials.