Battery market & circular economy

Prof. Kerstin Kuchta will be focusing on the battery market and the circular economy in her keynote address at the international conference on battery recycling this September. She provided some interesting insights in an interview with conference organiser ICM AG. Following are excerpts.

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August 15 2018
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Professor Kuchta, the EU circular economy package was adopted just a few weeks ago. What impulses do you expect it will provide in the field of battery recycling?

The EU circular economy package has triggered a great deal of debate throughout Europe. The main criticism levelled at the package in Germany is that it is not ambitious or specific enough to bring about the intended transformation of the economy. Impulses have undoubtedly been provided towards the fundamental acknowledgement that even complex products do not become waste after the use phase, but are resources that need to be either made available for reuse or recycled for use in the production sector. As a result, product design and the provision and accessibility of secondary raw materials are also becoming more important for batteries. Changes in the transportation sector, in energy supply and the trend towards a generally more mobile lifestyle are placing growing emphasis on the production and further development of batteries and thus to the supply of raw materials.

In the view of the EU, the task of the circular economy is to supply industry with raw materials. What role can battery recycling play in achieving this aim?

Raw materials for making batteries such as lithium, cobalt, nickel and manganese are scarce or critical raw materials and demand for them cannot be met by mines in Europe. Primary extraction largely takes place in a few regions worldwide and in politically unstable situations. The recycling of batteries helps to reduce supply risks. At the same time, recycling minimises energy intensity in the production chain. The recycling of metals requires up to 80 percent less energy compared to primary production, thus protecting both the environment and the climate.

Some time ago, Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke in favour of Europe setting up its own battery cell production capacities with the aim of reducing dependency on imports from Asia. Is that a good idea?

Battery and storage systems support key technologies, strengthening Europe as a production location through sufficient, efficient and innovative availability. The recycling and reuse of batteries and the materials from which they are made as a means of supplying raw materials will impact production technologies and promote the establishing of innovative manufacturing within Europe.

To what extent could battery recyclers benefit from battery manufacturing in Europe?

The creation of a largely closed added value in circular systems not only promotes the mutual appreciation of all stakeholders, but also innovations in the system as a whole. That includes recycling, reuse, processing and, not least, product design. Geographical proximity generally promotes mutual understanding, greater interest and the development of business models. Legal or economic accompanying measures introduced to promote the reuse of materials and the exclusion of hazardous materials, for example, can be implemented in Europe.

Your keynote speech at the ICBR 2018 is titled "Batteries and a Circular Economy". What are the points your speech will mainly focus on?

Unlike plastics, organic waste or construction waste, batteries have a comparatively low mass flow. However, in terms of the quality and value of their components, their complexity and their growing importance, they constitute a significant material flow in a circular economy. The focal points of my speech are the opportunities and limitations of the circular economy; and product design and quality as well as reuse, recycling and cascade utilisation will be presented and discussed for both battery materials and their systems. This year, the conference that takes place September 26 to 28 in Berlin has a diverse programme and will have three keynote speakers who will open the congress on September 26, including Prof. Kerstin Kuchta, Hamburg University of Technology, Germany, Didier Marginèdes, Blue Solutions, France and Gudula Schwan, Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure, Germany.