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Mercedes-Benz establishes sustainable battery recycling: Own recycling plant to start in 2023

Cooperation with high-tech partners in China and the USA ensures the closure of the recyclable materials loop worldwide in the future

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.

The most important data

Location Mercedes-Benz plant in Kuppenheim
Production start of mechanical disassembly 2023
Annual capacity 2,500 t
Batteries Lithium-ion batteries from (plug-in) hybrid and electric vehicles
Origin of the batteries Test vehicles, start-up batteries, possibly returns from the field
Technology Mechanical hydrometallurgical process
Recovery rate > 96%
Recovered material Battery-grade recyclate (cobalt, nickel, lithium and in future also graphite)
CO2 savings per battery Up to 70%
Technology partner Primobius GmbH

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.


Partners & Quotes

Horst Krenn, Managing Director of Primobius says: “Intelligent recycling significantly enhances the CO2 balance of lithium-ion batteries and shortens the time to reach the CO2 ‘break-even’ of electric cars in the future. We are proud to be one of the first to realize a resource-efficient recycling technology in the heart of Europe. The joint project with Mercedes-Benz shows that our two-stage recycling process, and particularly the high recovery rates with hydrometallurgy, already meets the industry’s needs today.”

Primobius is a joint venture established by Neometals Ltd., a company listed on the Australian stock exchange, and the German plant engineering and technology company SMS group GmbH. Primobius aims to commercialize an advanced recycling technology that can sustainably recover recyclables such as lithium, nickel and cobalt from used lithium-ion batteries (LiBs), for example from electronic devices and electric vehicles. The recovered and reprocessed material can be returned to the battery manufacturing supply chain.

Prof. Daniel Goldmann for the Institute for Processing, Landfill Technology and Geomechanics (IFAD) at the Technical University of Clausthal: “The sustainable recovery of recyclable materials is one of the very big issues of the future. We are very pleased to intensify our long-standing cooperation with Mercedes-Benz in the field of lithium-ion battery recycling with this project. The findings will be instrumental in further optimizing current and future generations of batteries in terms of sustainability and a truly circular economy.”

The TU of Clausthal with IFAD is one of the leading national universities in the field of recycling. The institute has special expertise in the development of treatment processes for complex material flows. In particular, IFAD is active in the development of complete recycling chains and networked systems. Since 2012, IFAD has carried out a large number of projects in the field of recycling of electromobility components and has worked particularly intensively on the technologies of flotation and hydrometallurgy.

Prof. Dr. Helmut Ehrenberg for the Institute for Applied Materials and Energy Storage at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology “Returning recycled raw materials to the material cycle of battery systems is an important lever for conserving resources. We are pleased to contribute our expertise in the field of material synthesis as well as electrode and cell manufacturing to the project. Validation will not only focus on the re-synthesis of current cathode materials, but will also look at the production of future generations of materials.”

The Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) with the Institute for Applied Materials – Energy Storage Systems (IAM-ESS) is one of the largest scientific institutions in Europe. With the Battery Technology Center, KIT has established one of the leading research centers for batteries. In particular, the institute is a leader in the elucidation of processes involved in energy storage, through to the manufacture and testing of electrodes and complete cells.

Prof. Dr. Matthias Finkbeiner, Head of Sustainable Engineering and Managing Director of the Institute for Technical Environmental Protection at the Technical University of Berlin: “Closing the material loop plays a significant role in the life cycle assessment of electric vehicles. The use of recycled raw materials has the potential to significantly reduce the carbon footprint and sustainably conserve resources. We are pleased to be able to accompany such a forward-looking project.” 

TU Berlin with its Institute for Technical Environmental Protection has established an outstanding reputation in the field of sustainable engineering. TU Berlin is a leader in the preparation of life cycle assessments, the development of footprint instruments, risk analysis and sustainability assessment.

SOURCE: Mercedes-Benz

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