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Sustainable mobility

EV battery recycling

How innovations from Bosch could help revolutionize the recycling process

A man in a blue shirt sitting next to a black battery module with Bosch Rexroth imprint and three toy cars

Electromobility is about to become the default. Driven by the imperative to curb carbon emissions, battery-electric vehicles in both all-electric and hybrid powertrains are not only becoming increasingly popular, in many places they’ll soon be required by law. In the coming years, automotive OEMs are pledging to meet skyrocketing demand by ramping up their production of electric cars. But some are concerned there may not be enough batteries to go around.

Electromobility is bringing battery-related challenges

Sebastian Krieger looking at two stacks of toy cars of different heights
Global automakers are planning to build 54 million battery electric vehicles annually by 2030. By way of comparison, 10.5 million electric cars were produced in 2022. In the photo above, the difference in height of the toy-car stacks is proportional to the expected increase in vehicle production.

While the rapid transition to electromobility is certainly a good thing from an environmental perspective, there’s no way of glossing over a hard truth: it’s going to require a lot of lithium-ion batteries. When Bosch Rexroth associate Sebastian Krieger started thinking about the challenges this will entail, two questions popped into his mind. First, where will the valuable raw materials come from to create that many batteries? He knew that many of the metals required in vehicle battery (also called traction battery) production — especially lithium, cobalt, nickel, and manganese — are already subject to supply-chain disruptions as well as geopolitical and climate-related risks in their countries of origin, and that persistent shortages could derail international electromobility efforts. Second, with so many batteries being produced to fuel the boom, what will happen to them at the end of their service lives? After all, even when not subjected to extreme temperatures and frequent fast recharging (both of which wear out cells faster), a li-ion vehicle battery typically only lasts about 8-15 years before it’s considered no longer viable. As things currently stand, most batteries are simply disposed of when they reach this point, but considering the toxicity of many cell components, this brings its own set of environmental headaches.

Recycling offers an answer — and an opportunity

A pie chart consisting of toy cars – 70 percent of them are green, 30 percent are purple
According to Bosch forecasts, electric vehicles will comprise up to 70 percent of newly registered cars in Europe by 2030, symbolized in the pie chart above by the cars painted green.

To Sebastian, who is head of a team tasked with identifying lighthouse projects for Bosch’s Industrial Technology business sector, the answer to both these questions was one and the same: as many of these batteries as possible need to be recycled. When he took a closer look, however, he discovered that the European recycling industry is extremely underprepared for the mounting wave of end-of-life vehicle batteries. There was, however, strong interest from recycling companies in finding technology partners who could help design solutions to ramp up and streamline battery recycling, particularly considering current draft legislation to set minimum recycling quotas in the EU.

We quickly realized that what we can assemble, we can also disassemble.

Sebastian Krieger, Senior Manager Engineering and Sales Support Projects for Factory Automation at Bosch Rexroth

Taking a step back to move forward

A disassembled toy car, whose parts are proportionally colored green and black
Under optimal conditions, recycling can enable the recovery and reuse of up to 95 percent of a battery’s chemical elements (including nickel, cobalt, copper, and lithium). In the photo, 95 percent is symbolized by the car parts painted green. The remaining 5 percent is represented by the parts painted black.

Bosch Rexroth is synonymous with flexible automated solutions for industrial assembly, to which the division can also add more than a decade and half of experience in manufacturing traction batteries. To recycle, however, you have to take a step in the other direction. “The challenge was to transfer our competence in manufacturing into solutions for recycling. But we quickly realized that what we can assemble, we can also disassemble,” says Sebastian with a smile.

This approach laid the foundation for developing a package of solutions that cover everything from the initial analysis of a battery module to opening it up, discharging it, disassembly and separation of raw materials by type, to a track and trace system that facilitates environmental monitoring. “This solution set forms what we call the pre-treatment phase. With it, we prepare batteries for the shredding as well as the pyro- and hydrometallurgical processes that extract the battery’s valuable raw materials and make them available for reuse.”

> 1 million

EV batteries are expected to be available for recycling in Europe by 2030

An innovation with enormous potential

An hourglass, a black battery module, and a hand holding a smartphone with the Bosch logo and a 5-minute timer on the display
Using conventional recycling processes, discharging a battery takes up to 24 hours. Bosch’s automated and patented deep-discharging process renders batteries completely inert after only a few minutes.

Of the set’s solutions, one stands out as representing a true breakthrough in recycling technology. “Before you can shred and process a battery’s cells, you need to chemically deactivate them. Traditionally, the only way to do this has been with time: batteries are discharged and left for up to 24 hours to become completely inert,” Sebastian explains. His team quickly realized that this presented a considerable hurdle to streamlining the recycling process, so they set about finding a workaround. The result is a patented and automated deep-discharging process which renders batteries chemically deactivated after just a few minutes: “Depending on the battery module, between five and fifteen,” Sebastian says proudly.

In addition to saving time, the automated solution also minimizes the not inconsiderable safety risks, from short circuits and fires to chemical exposure and injury caused by maneuvering batteries that can weigh more than a ton. In addition, the team’s solution has also been designed to repurpose the energy recovered in the discharging process, using it to power the facility’s machinery or even feeding it into the grid. In a nutshell, then, Sebastian’s team has taken one of the most time-consuming parts of the battery recycling process and made it fast, safe, and energy-efficient to boot — an innovation that surely has the potential to help accelerate battery recycling across Europe and beyond.

A toy truck with five multicolored and different sized balloons attached to its roof, marked with years ranging from 2021 to 2050
The battery revolution could reduce cumulative greenhouse-gas emissions by up to 70 GtCO2e between 2021 and 2050 in the road transport sector alone. The decreasing size of the balloons illustrates the reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions during this period.

On the way to a circular economy

It’s certainly a technological and business coup for Bosch Rexroth, but that was far from Sebastian Krieger’s main motivation. “My primary concern has always been sustainability, and how we can use technology to help create closed-loop systems. The extraction and refining of raw materials, as well as cell production, can have severe environmental effects, as can the disposal of spent batteries. By recycling them, we minimize this, and we take a big step toward establishing a circular economy for the mobility of the future.”

Portrait of Sebastian Krieger, associate at Bosch Rexroth

Sebastian A. Krieger

Senior Manager, Engineering and Sales Support Projects for Factory Automation at Bosch Rexroth

Sebastian started his career in factory automation in a rather unconventional way: by training to be a carpenter. This expertise proved invaluable when he joined Bosch Power Tools as a project manager for professional woodworking tools in 2007. In 2018, he switched to Bosch Rexroth, the company’s mechanical engineering subsidiary, and an appointment to the Industrial Technology business sector’s core team as a scout for lighthouse projects followed in 2020. Certain insights from his original career path have stayed with him, however: “Carpentry gave me a perspective on sustainability that I might not have had otherwise — after all, if you don’t sustainably manage forests, you have no wood to work with.”

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