Phototheque VEOLIA - Olivier Guerrin

Resourceful electric car batteries!

Posted on 25 July 2017.

In the Moselle region in France, a Veolia subsidiary is recovering the precious metals used in electric car batteries for reuse in various industrial applications.

Sales of electric vehicles have risen sharply in France in just a few years. But what happens to batteries that power these cars when they reach the end of their useful life after 7 to 10 years?

Several avenues have been identified: refurbishment by replacing damaged cells, reusing the batteries (in the form of energy storage systems, for example), and recovering the metals in the batteries. The latter option is complex, but interests car manufacturers because it reduces recycling costs (mandatory under the extended producer responsibility regulations).

Used batteries become resources

This is where Euro Dieuze Industrie (EDI) comes in. The Veolia subsidiary in Moselle handles between 5,000 and 6,000 tonnes of used batteries and accumulators every year. In 2011, EDI embarked on a new challenge: the highly complex and costly recovery of the strategic metals in electric vehicle batteries. A gamble on the future that turns the weak link in clean cars - the batteries - into a resource.

EDI has a scientific and commercial cooperation agreement with Renault to develop a special, economically viable industrial sector for the recovery of electric vehicle batteries. The objective is twofold: to prevent pollutants being released into the environment and recover a significant proportion of the strategic metals contained in the batteries. It’s an innovative project that meant it was selected for the Re-B-Live state-led investment program.

Short loops

Recycling vehicle batteries requires a complex knowledge base. EDI's expertise is based on a unique hydrometallurgical process that makes it possible to extract precious metals at high levels of purity: the various metals are put into chemical solution before being separated.

The recovered copper, aluminum, cobalt, nickel, manganese and lithium are reused in various industrial applications, for example in making steel and alloys. Lithium is of especial interest as EDI would like to be able to reuse it to make new Li-ion batteries. "The real jackpot for us would be to return the recovered materials to their original industry, namely the automotive industry," Denis Foy, director of the Moselle site, told Planet magazine.

It is in line with Renault's environmental policy - a circular economy approach which seeks to create short loops to recycle the raw materials used in the automotive industry. The manufacturer claims to include more than 30% recycled content in its new vehicles.