Tesla published a sustainability report in which the electric car manufacturer also describes its approach to battery recycling. Tesla is so far cooperating with external recycling companies but says this is only an interim solution.
The Tesla report states the company is developing a “unique battery recycling system” at the Gigafactory 1 at the moment to maximise the recovery of critical minerals. According to Tesla, the EV maker aims to recover all these materials in a way that allows for the production of new batteries and expects “significant savings” in the long run.
In detail, the impact report reads: “At Gigafactory 1, Tesla is developing a unique battery recycling system that will process both battery manufacturing scrap and end-of-life batteries. Through this system, the recovery of critical minerals such as lithium and cobalt will be maximized along with the recovery of all metals used in the battery cell, such as copper, aluminium and steel. All of these materials will be recovered in forms optimized for new battery material production.”
This is different from a second-life approach for old EV batteries. With Tesla wanting to build new batteries from pre-used metals in a closed-loop it remains to be seen how. A previously suggested connection with the recycling start-up Redwood Materials founded by Tesla CTO JB Straubel remains unconfirmed.
The electric carmaker is not alone in this approach of course. Volkswagen, for example, is currently constructing a recycling facility for raw materials in the town of Salzgitter reportedly. From 2020 the plant is to churn out 1,200 tons per year, enough for about 3,000 batteries with potential for more capacity. Players from connected industries have begun looking into material recovery too with Fortum of Finland claiming a 80% recovery rate using a process developed by Crisolteq. The recycling is based on a hydrometallurgical process that first separates plastics, aluminium and copper before recovering cobalt, manganese, nickel and lithium. The materials are then returned to the battery manufacturers for reuse in the production of new batteries. You can find more examples of battery recycling here.
tesla.com (impact report, pdf)