The BMW Group is expanding its recycling capabilities by launching a joint venture to recover lithium-ion battery metals by recycling used electric vehicle packs in China for the first time amid a materials scarcity concern.
The BMW Brilliance Automotive— a joint venture between BMW and Brilliance Auto— (BBA) has been created to recycle nickel, lithium and cobalt from high-voltage batteries from electric vehicles.
The batteries will come from fully and partially-electric development vehicles, test systems and production rejects and, in the future, also from end-of-life vehicles.
BBA will work with a Chinese recycler that dismantles used EV batteries to recover materials for use in the production of new battery cells for the BMW Group.
BMW Group says a 100kWh battery contains, on average, almost 90kg of nickel, lithium and cobalt; with nickel accounting for most of this amount.
Jochen Goller, head of BMW Group Region China, said: “In light of the growing scarcity of finite resources and rising commodity prices, it is especially important to push forward with the circular economy, increase the percentage of reusable materials and reduce our dependence on raw materials.”
In February, BMW acquired a 75% stake in BBA after receiving the relevant business licence from the Chinese authorities; Chinese partner Brilliance China Automotive Holdings indirectly holds the remaining 25%.
The increase in the shareholding from 50%, as well as the amended Joint Venture Contract, became effective from 11 February 2022
Used battery market
The science research institute China Automotive Technology and Research Centre expects the total volume of retired batteries in China to reach around 780,000 tonnes by 2025.
At the same time, prices for domestic raw materials for high-voltage lithium-ion batteries have increased sharply since last year.
In January analysts Bloomberg NEF reported the benchmark prices of lithium carbonate ended 2021 at records with prices five times higher (just over $41,060) in China than January 2021.
The price for cathodes materials were reported to be increasing with the cost of cobalt doubling between January 2021-22 to $70,208 a ton, while nickel jumped 15% to $20,045.
The BMW Group has developed a system to meet China’s requirement to trace high-voltage batteries in an attempt to ensure track and recycle them once retired.
BMW can track batteries through the entire value chain, from initial test vehicles to vehicles already in the market, can be professionally recycled.
Since 2020, the BMW Group has used suitable end-of-life batteries in forklift trucks at BBA plants in China, with plans to extend this scheme to include pallet lifting trucks and stationary energy storage units with charging capabilities.
If end-of-life batteries do not meet the criteria for second use, they are recycled.