In addition to steel scrap, alloy elements such as nickel, cobalt, manganese, and other alloys are essential components of our products. However, various global developments are affecting the availability of these critical raw materials. Within our sustainability framework inSPire, the High Performance Metals (HPM) Division is looking for long-term ways to keep these valuable elements in the product cycle, for example by recycling grinding sludge or batteries in order to be able to meet demand in the long term.
Social and legal changes have meant that e-mobility has become more important in recent years, and in turn, demand for e-cars, e-bikes, and other electric vehicles has risen. Additionally, electronic devices such as laptops, smartphones, and cameras have become an integral part of our everyday lives. All these products have one thing in common: They are powered by lithium-ion batteries (LIB) or nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries. The production of the batteries requires valuable raw materials such as nickel, cobalt, manganese, and lithium. Expert projections show an immense increase in demand for these raw materials; demand for cobalt, for example, is predicted to increase fivefold by 2050.
As a result, an enormous amount of “waste” is projected to be produced by 2030: According to predictions, 86,000 metric tons of pure LIB will be disposed of annually.
The Circular Economy team sees this as a great opportunity for an alternative source of raw materials and is looking for ways to recycle batteries that can no longer be used for other purposes: We want to help improve raw material use and create opportunities to recycle material that can no longer be used to make new batteries.
Using secondary material has many benefits. As Josephine Müller, lead of inSPire’s Circular Economy team, explains, “Recycling batteries is a very complex topic that is being researched worldwide. We want to play a part in this by recycling residues from material processing that either cannot go back into battery production or would be too costly to process. In the long term, this will enable us to make an important contribution to the use and safeguarding of raw materials in Europe.”
The more raw materials we use from secondary sources, the less dependent we become on the raw materials market and material shortages. At the same time, we will also increase the recycling content of our products and reduce our carbon footprint.
We are conducting research in various areas of the circular economy. You can read more about this in previous articles:
LIBs are not to be confused with the NiMH batteries commonly used in everyday life, which we are familiar with from remote controls and flashlights, for example. In contrast to these, LIBs are characterized by a higher energy density. Further advantages are the very low self-discharge (at room temperature) and lack of memory effect.
We receive used batteries from partners who cannot recycle or reuse them themselves. LIB recycling is being investigated in various research projects. The aim is to recover material for battery production. However, this is often either not possible at all or only possible at a very high cost. At the HPM Division, we see ourselves as a contact partner for alternative solutions and are examining the feasibility of using such recycling products in our steel production.
Four process types are used in research on LIB recycling:
The topic of battery recycling shows the wealth of possibilities and the great potential of this alternative source of raw materials. That is why research is being conducted on three subtopics here at HPM. The projects pursue the common goal of tapping into batteries as a source of secondary raw materials in a sustainable way and getting the most out of them. Therefore, optimizing recycling processes, especially concerning the needs of the steel industry, is our top priority.
We are currently working intensively on three specific projects related to the different recycling options:
Together with our committed partners, we are driving forward our sustainability initiatives. Under the umbrella of FuLiBatteR (“Future Lithium Ion Battery Recycling for Recovery of Critical Materials”), we are working with K1-MET and other industry partners to develop innovative solutions to improve battery recycling. The project is composed of three different focus projects:
We are very pleased to be part of such research initiatives and to work with other organizations to advance not only LIB recycling, but also many other innovative developments in the industry. Here you will find an overview of our diverse partner network we are working with to put our sustainability plans into action.
The growing demand for LIB creates an increased need for the metals processed in it on the one hand, and on the other hand, offers new opportunities for recycling and use as an alternative source of raw materials. Other materials and wastes also play an important role for us in the further development of a circular economy. We have reported here how we use grinding waste such as chips, scrap and other by-products as raw material sources and keep them in the product cycle.
Our Circular Economy Team takes advantage of these opportunities and works together with partners on the further development of recycling methods. In this way, we conserve resources and move another step closer to a circular economy system.
In addition to Circular Economy, various areas of sustainability within the HPM Division are united under our sustainability framework inSPire. In our next topic focus, you will learn everything about Climate Impact—the team, the projects, our goals, and new developments.