MAN Truck & Bus

Recycling is the starting point for new products

An interview with Nicole Rostock, Recycling Expert for High-Voltage Batteries at MAN Truck & Bus

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MAN has committed itself to far-reaching climate targets. One component of this is the circular economy. Nicole Rostock from Product Management in Customer Service looks after battery recycling and explains what goals are being pursued.

In the future, more and more electrically powered buses and trucks from MAN will be on the road. MAN has been reprocessing and reusing engines and other components for some time now. Is this also possible with high-voltage batteries?

Nicole Rostock Yes, absolutely. If we look at the entire life cycle of a battery, we talk about first and second life as well as recycling. The first life is the regular use of the battery in the vehicle. Depending on how much capacity it still has after use in the vehicle - in other words, its "state of health" - it can still be used after reconditioning in the second life, for example as a buffer storage unit for solar systems or elsewhere. After that, the high-voltage battery is recycled. That's the area I'm responsible for at MAN. We follow the requirements of the EU's new battery regulation. 

What can be recycled in a battery?

Nicole Rostock Currently, around 70 percent of a battery is recycled. This mainly involves the peripheral parts - i.e. the copper cables or the metal frame made of aluminum - and of course also valuable active materials in the battery such as manganese, cobalt or nickel. These are valuable raw materials that can, for example, flow back into the new production of batteries. Especially against the backdrop of enormously rising raw material prices, recycling is becoming increasingly important. Theoretically, a battery could be recycled up to 100 percent, but then it must be ensured that there is a market and demand for all recycled products so that recycling is economical. This is currently not yet the case for all recyclable battery raw materials.  

How exactly does recycling work?

Nicole Rostock First, the battery must be completely deep discharged. Then it is dismantled into individual parts and sorted according to materials such as cables or the housing. The modules are then shredded. MAN prefers to use the mechanical process, which produces significantly less CO2 than melting. The shredder breaks the battery down into its individual parts. In further process steps, plastic and magnetic metals are separated from the valuable raw materials. The intermediate product is known as black mass, from which the valuable raw materials are recovered in the subsequent hydrometallurgical process - a chemical process. The recycled materials are already being used in new products today, such as catalytic converters and fuel cells. The so-called slag produced in pyrometallurgy is used in road construction. In the long term, of course, the aim is to recycle as much as possible into the production of new battery cells and modules. There are also efforts to produce batteries in the future in such a way that they are easier to recycle - in other words, to think about recycling when designing them. This could also reduce recycling costs and make it easier to recover valuable raw materials. 

This would complete the product cycle a bit further again ...

Nicole Rostock Right. MAN is striving for a circular economy in more and more areas. We are talking here about the challenge of the "closed loop" or "cradle to cradle. Ideally, the high-voltage battery would also remain 100 percent in this cycle, and there would be no waste at all. 

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Perfect combination: In their second life, high-voltage batteries can serve as buffer storage for solar systems.

Electrification in the commercial vehicle sector is a fairly recent development that is only now picking up speed. When will the recycling of batteries really take off?

Nicole Rostock That is difficult to predict, because there is simply a lack of empirical data on how long the batteries will remain in the vehicles. However, I am already in the process of setting up a network of recyclers for our service centers. Specifically, I am currently visiting our current recycling service providers throughout Germany and Europe with my colleague from Scania to learn how the processes are implemented in practice and to see on site how these companies work.  

Nevertheless, can you estimate a rough time horizon?

Nicole Rostock MAN has been producing the Lion's City E, an electrified city bus, in series since 2020, while series production of the eTruck will start in 2024. We therefore expect a significant recycling volume for the high-voltage batteries in perhaps 10 to 15 years. Then the current batteries will come back from their first and second life and will have to be recycled. 

Battery recycling is one of MAN's very young projects. How long have you been working on this?

Nicole Rostock But I wouldn't call it a "project" either, because battery recycling will certainly be a permanent part of the process chain. By the way, we are also working closely with our colleagues from Scania and VW to exchange experiences and explore synergies. This is very important, as many things change quickly in the industry and in legislation, and the topic is new to everyone. MAN is also already part of the Volkswagen Group's recycling network.  

Text   Claudius Lüder
Photos   MAN / Getty Images

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