Modern Recycling: Decisive for E-Mobility

Reducing emissions, climate protection and conserving resources are on the agenda and have given an unexpected boost to developments in e-mobility. Recycling will play a key role for the construction materials of the batteries required for this purpose.

Lithium-ion batteries: the heart of e-mobility

With the "Kreisel Evex 910e", the Kreisel brothers have, according to their own statements, created a "super sports car with breathtaking performance data". In just 2.5 seconds from 0 to 100 and a top speed of more than 300 km/h. Car enthusiasts will be delighted by such performance data, especially when they see the car. The external shape of the electric racer dates back to the 1960s, to the Porsche 910. The racing car from Zuffenhausen, which caused a sensation at many European mountain races in the only two years of its construction, the Solingen car manufacturer Evex wants to revive in a small series with road registrations. The company states its "manufacturing capacity" with four vehicles per year. Interested customers have to bring a very thick wallet - all the more if the classic garment of this car dream is to be delivered with a modern electric drive that provides 360 kW for the above-mentioned performance, which is a credit to any gasoline engine.

With the vehicle, the project partners Evex-Fahrzeugbau GmbH and Kreisel Electric GmbH & Co. KG have created a metaphor for the future of e-mobility by reviving developments from the 20th century with the know-how of the 21st century. A few years after the Porsche 910 was built, the Technical University of Munich researched the basis for the construction of lithium-ion batteries. From then on, it took another 20 years before Sony made this battery type commercially available for the first time in a Hi8 video camera.


Examplary Porsche 910

The Porsche 910 racing car is nowadays also available as an electric version.

Since then, the Li-Ion batteries have been continuously improved. But one thing has remained the same: Cobalt is still considered indispensable for the construction of cathodes in this type of battery in order to achieve the highest possible energy density, which is important for e-mobility. But the raw material is not without its problems. According to the Federation of German Engineers (BDI), more than 60 percent of the metal is mined in Kongo today, with an upward trend. This arouses desire and drives up the price. Because cobalt is not only needed for the construction of modern Li-Ion batteries. The BDI therefore recommends a dual strategy to secure Germany as a high-tech location. On the one hand, the demand for problematic raw materials should be reduced as far as possible and on the other hand, the indispensable demand should be met by expanding the domestic recycling industry. In the case of cobalt alone, 30,000 tonnes were lost annually due to a lack of recycling, as the engineering association emphasises in its recommendations for action "Supply of raw materials 4.0".


Recycling - an industry of the future

It is difficult to significantly reduce the cobalt component in the battery cathodes. The Japanese battery supplier Panasonic may have succeeded in taking a first step. The batteries of the Tesla 3 are supposed to contain only 2.8 percent cobalt - the standard of current technology is 8 percent. German high-tech companies are already specialized in recovering these and other raw materials from used batteries, or even better, keeping an eye on recycling during production. During her visit to the medium-sized Accurec GmbH in the middle of last year, Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze therefore emphasised the importance for the forecast development of e-mobility of bringing batteries in commerce and usage into the recycling cycle. Accurec, with two locations in Mülheim/Ruhr and Krefeld, is specialised in recovering graphite, cobalt, copper and lithium from the batteries of PCs, smartphones and tablets and has already invested 10 million euros in Krefeld alone for the expansion of this essential branch of the economy; another 5 million are due to follow soon.

The German "Batterien-Montage-Zentrum GmbH" (BMZ), headquartered in Karlstein in northern Bavaria, has gone one step further and has already thought about recycling during production. With locations in Germany, France, Poland, the USA and China, BMZ is a global player in lithium-ion system solutions for e-mobility and has a comprehensive take-back system for lithium-ion batteries in all EU countries! The company, which today employs 2,300 people worldwide, started as early as 1994 as a start-up to assemble battery cells into battery packs. Two and a half years ago, production at the home location was last increased to be able to supply up to 200 million lithium-ion batteries of various types annually.


Battery production in the automotive industry

In order to maintain their leading international positions in the automotive industry, however, the offer for the German premium manufacturers came slightly late. After Daimler AG had already made good experiences in 2006 with the 100 Smart Fortwo 450 Electric Drive units, which were still operated with sodium-nickel-chloride cells, in a large-scale trial in London, it was time to take care of their own production of modern rechargeable batteries. The second Elektrosmart, briefly called ED2 and released in 2009, ran on a lithium-ion battery that still had to be purchased from Tesla. And even it was only operated and leased in a fleet trial - it could not be bought. In 2008, Daimler therefore founded Deutsche Accumotive GmbH & Co. KG.

As a result, the EQ brand concept was also launched - and this year the carmaker is launching its first fully electric SUV crossover with the new Mercedes EQC. Thanks to its own battery production in 2019, the Group now covers all passenger car segments for the first time, from the smallest Smart to the Mercedes Van e-Vito. In the transport sector too, the breakthrough has now been achieved in all vehicle sizes: after a van version of the e-Vito, the e-Sprinter and, since 2018, the e-Actros truck are now also being used. And with the e-Citaro, Mercedes is also represented in fully electric public transport. This of course required the massive expansion of the company's own battery production in Germany, including at the Sindelfingen and Untertürkheim sites.

How rapidly the German automotive industry has developed in terms of e-mobility is demonstrated by another new release this year: the first all-electric luxury class crossover Audi e-tron. But the Ingolstadt-based company is still lagging behind the Stuttgart-based company, respectively its subsidiary from Kamenz, in terms of the batteries required for this. In order not to fall into the "Tesla trap", as Daimler did with its second electric Smart, Audi is meanwhile relying on energy storage systems from the Polish factory of the South Korean LG-Chem for the new e-tron. In addition to this, Volkswagen also relies on another Far Eastern supplier - the Samsung-SDI. This means that there is considerable potential for German battery producers and their recycling!


What about the engines?

The domestic industry is even further ahead with the other core component for e-mobility. Of course, Siemens is not only involved in the development of electric engines for the automotive industry, but has also long been involved in aviation!


 
 

Siemens production competence eMobility.©Siemens

In addition to the global electric company, e-mobility has arrived in the medium-sized sector as well. Examples of smaller motor manufacturers are the Upper Franconian Schwarz Elektromotoren GmbH founded in 1999 or the Starnberger Compact-Dynamics, which, with its 70 employees, can look back on 30 years of development experience with electric drive systems in motor sports. And, of course, the global players of automotive suppliers from the country of the 1888 Flocken electric car, such as Schäffler and the Bosch Group, play their part in the electrification of individual automotive transport.

For some years now, however, car manufacturers such as Daimler AG have also been focusing on the production of electric engines for their cars. In 2011, for example, the Stuttgart-based company founded the joint venture em-motive GmbH together with Robert Bosch GmbH.

A German (speaking) company has also made a name for itself worldwide with the power supply for all these generators - Kreisel Electric GmbH & Co. KG, which uses laser connection processes developed in-house for individual cells to form battery packs and intelligent thermo-management to provide the power density required for e-mobility in energy storage systems.

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