The Swiss electric vehicle manufacturer Kyburz has put a battery recycling plant into operation in Freienstein in the canton of Zurich. According to the company, the recycling process used there recovers up to 91 per cent of the metals contained.
Kyburz is known for its electric cargo tricycles, which are used by the Swiss Postal Service and the Australian Postal Service, among others. The company has now inaugurated an in-house facility for recycling the lithium iron phosphate batteries onboard its electric vehicles. According to a press release issued by the company, the long-term goal is “to disassemble all LiFePO4 batteries ever installed by Kyburz back into their original materials”. Around 4,000 cells per year are to be processed in the first expansion stage. According to Kyburz, the plant will have a capacity of up to 24,000 cells per year in the final stage, which corresponds to the annual production of 3,000 vehicles.
The manufacturer developed the process on the basis of an employee’s bachelor’s thesis and with the support of the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research (EMPA) and the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW). The cornerstones of the approach are optimal discharge of the batteries, careful cell disassembly and purification with water. According to Kyburz, no chemicals are used, quite in contrast to conventional practice: “Up to now, the lithium batteries of the vehicles have been recycled externally, whereby the current processes are not sustainable enough in our view,” says the company headquarters. The batteries are shredded and then either melted down or treated with chemicals. Both of these processes consume a lot of energy – and while the hot process (pyrometallurgy) loses valuable raw materials, the cold process (hydrometallurgy) pollutes the environment.
According to Kyburz, the recycling approach can be applied one-to-one to a large proportion of the batteries used in home storage systems. Using certain chemicals, the process can also be used to recycle other types of lithium batteries, such as lithium nickel cobalt manganese (NMC) and lithium nickel cobalt aluminium (NCA) batteries.
kyburz-switzerland.ch (in German)