Volkswagen Group recently opened its first EV battery recycling plant in Salzgitter, Germany, after 10 years of research.

Designed to be more energy efficient than current battery recycling techniques, the pilot plant has a goal of being able to recapture up to 95% of the materials in an EV battery pack for potential reuse including rare metals that store electricity.

"We know from many years of research that recycled battery raw materials are just as efficient as new ones," said Mark Moeller, the head of technical development and the e-mobility business unit at VW Group Components.

"We plan to support our cell production in the future with the material we have recovered. We really want to use every possible gram of recovered material as the demand for batteries rises sharply."

As EV batteries contain a complicated mix of materials, current battery recycling methods require essentially melting them down in a furnace, which only recovers about 60% of the materials inside. The process being developed at Salzgitter uses several mechanical steps designed to recover up to 95% of a battery pack's materials for reuse. In an 880lb battery pack, the plant can recover about 220lb of key electrode minerals like lithium, nickel, cobalt and manganese.

This, the automaker claimed, positions VW as a pioneer in building a recyclable materials cycle with great potential for helping reduce the need for mining of raw materials  and improving raw material supply.

The Salzgitter plant can currently handle about 3,600 battery packs a year. As VW gains more practice with the process, it expects to expand the system to handle the first wave of retired EV battery packs in the 2020s – supplying materials for new batteries in a sustainable, closed-loop system.