BMW goes for closed-loop recycling

BMW Brilliance Automotive (BBA), the joint venture between BMW Group and the Chinese manufacturer Brilliance has for the first time established a closed cycle in China for the reuse of the raw materials nickel, lithium, and cobalt from high-voltage batteries. As a result, compared to the use of newly mined material, CO2 emissions are to be reduced by 70%.

For the time being, the batteries still come from fully and partially electric development vehicles, test facilities, and the production committee, according to the company.

In the future, batteries from end-of-life vehicles are also to be used. However, the joint venture will not extract the raw materials itself. Instead, a local recycling company dismantles the discarded batteries, and the raw materials are recovered “to a high percentage”.

Second-life or recycling

Once returned, the batteries are evaluated for potential continued use. For example, the BMW Group began using end-of-life batteries with a high residual capacity in forklift trucks at BBA plants in China back in 2020. The plan is for these “second-life applications” for batteries to be expanded, including pallet lifting trucks and stationary energy storage units with charging capabilities.

If end-of-life batteries do not meet the criteria for a second use, they are recycled. The nickel, lithium, and cobalt raw materials obtained in this way are channeled into producing new battery cells for the BMW Group. A battery with a capacity of 100 kWh contains, on average, almost 90 kg of nickel, lithium, and cobalt, with nickel accounting for most of this amount.

Circular economy

The materials recovered in this way are then used to produce new battery cells for the BMW Group, the carmaker adds. “Against the backdrop of increasing scarcity of finite resources and rising raw material prices, it is particularly important to promote the circular economy, increase the proportion of reused materials and reduce dependence on raw materials,” says Jochen Goller, Head of BMW Group Region China.

BMW does not name the local partner in its statement. But it should be the company Zhejiang Huayou Recycling Technology that has entered into such a partnership with the BMW Group. Under the new cooperation, the duo will expand the application of used batteries to all facilities at BMW’s Shenyang site, it says.

Huayou Recycling is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Co., Ltd. (“Huayou Cobalt”), a leading Chinese supplier of lithium-ion and cobalt battery materials.

BMW wants to expand the recycling concept in China further. Already in 2020, together with Zhejiang Recycling, the Group started to use spent batteries with high residual capacity in forklifts at the BBA plants in China. In the future, this second-life use of batteries will also include pallet trucks and stationary battery storage with charging stations.

A growing amount of discarded batteries

The reason for the company’s further involvement in recycling is likely to be environmental as well as the wave of end-of-life batteries expected for the Chinese market as a result of the steadily increasing demand for electric vehicles.

In its press release, BMW refers to figures from the China Automotive Technology and Research Centre, which indicate that the total amount of discarded batteries in China will reach about 780 000 tonnes by 2025.

To ensure that the recycling industry can expand effectively, the Chinese government has issued a number of new policies. Concerning these guidelines, the vehicle manufacturer writes in its press release: “The BMW Group has developed a system for this, with coding that enables seamless traceability of batteries throughout their lifecycle.” This coding must ensure that batteries from the entire value chain are appropriately recycled.

Second-use batteries can be used in transport vehicles in the factories or in stationary electricity storage/ BMW Group.

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