DITZINGEN, Germany—Engineers at Trumpf have developed a way to efficiently recycle electric vehicle batteries on an industrial scale. It uses lasers to safely cut batteries and remove remove valuable raw materials from the electrode foil.

“Recycling batteries makes ecological sense and, thanks to laser technology, can now also be implemented economically,” says Hagen Zimer, CEO of laser technology at Trumpf. “[We] can draw on extensive expertise in laser welding and cutting for the production of e-car batteries. We’ve been working with all leading car and battery manufacturers for years and we have incorporated this experience into the development of the new processes.

“The electrodes for new battery cells are created as foil strips coated with valuable materials such as cobalt and nickel,” explains Zimer. “In a future recycling plant, laser processes [will] remove the wafer-thin layer from the foil. Manufacturers can collect the precious dust and process it for new coatings. Until now, it was not uncommon for miles of coated foils to end up as waste in the garbage.

“In the future, lasers could also be used to recycle battery packs,” Zimer points out. “Laser technology is the only way to ensure efficient and automated dismantling. For example, to remove the covers from batteries or to cut off cables.

“The raw materials can then be sorted, and the battery cells that are still usable can be separated and reused directly,” says Zimer. “Until now, dismantling electric car batteries has been a manual process. It is laborious, slow and sometimes dangerous for workers.”

“Laser technology has proven its ability to manufacture safer and higher performance batteries,” adds Pierson Cheng, automotive industry manager at Trumpf Inc. “Now, we see additional opportunities for lasers in battery recycling, [which is] a growing market in North America.

“The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that EV sales have quadrupled and predicts rising demand will increase the lithium battery market by [up to] ten-fold by 2030,” Cheng points out. “Considering these statistics, new technologies such as laser systems…will be of critical importance to recycling the materials from these batteries at the end of their lifecycles.”

“Without valuable raw materials such as cobalt, lithium or nickel, there are currently no electric car batteries,” says Alexander Sauer, head of the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation. “”However, the extraction of these raw materials is expensive and not always sustainable. Manufacturers must also accept long and uncertain supply chains. In addition, the EU requires a recycling rate of up to 90 percent for batteries.