Arne Seeger's Insights on Lithium-ion Battery Recycling and Beyond

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Arne Seeger, Stena’s managing director in Germany, is set to delve into the realm of electronics recycling, specifically focusing on lithium-ion battery recycling. His insights include critical aspects such as battery demand, recycling infrastructure, processes, and EU guidelines, promising to enlighten the audience

Key takeaways

How will advancements in battery recycling impact electric vehicle adoption? 
Where are the key hubs of innovation and competition in battery recycling? 

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In this episode, we will cover the following topics:

  • The current state of battery recycling
  • Challenges in the recycling industry
  • Future prospects for battery recycling in Europe
  • Regulatory impacts on battery recycling
  • Stena's role and approach to battery recycling
  • Emerging technologies and trends in battery recycling

Arne Seeger, Managing Director at Stena Metall Holding GmbH

Arne Schmidt is an expert in battery recycling, currently working with Stena, a family-owned recycling company based in Gothenburg, Sweden. Arne's experience spans various aspects of the recycling industry, including electronics recycling, sales, and production. In sales, Arne focused on selling service contracts for waste management, while in production, he managed machinery and collaborated with fitters and electricians across three plants in Germany. Stena sold these plants over a year ago and has since refocused on lithium-ion battery recycling, a field Arne has been dedicated to full-time for the past 1.5 years.

Statzon: Could you share what Stena is working on concerning battery recycling?

Arne: Stena has been heavily focused on lithium-ion battery recycling over the past few years. We started by setting up mechanical treatment lines that take batteries apart, discharge them, and shred them. This process allows us to extract valuable materials like copper, aluminum, and plastics, and reduce the fire risk associated with the electrolyte. The remaining fraction, known as black mass, contains the most valuable metals such as lithium, cobalt, nickel, and manganese. While we handle the initial stages of recycling, the final steps, which involve advanced hydrometallurgical or pyrometallurgical processes, are not yet developed in Europe and are primarily conducted in Asia.

Statzon: What are the challenges the battery recycling industry currently faces?

Arne: One of the significant challenges is the lack of infrastructure for the complete recycling process, particularly the steps that involve refining the black mass into pure materials that can be reused in new batteries. This infrastructure is well-established in Asia, especially in China, South Korea, and Japan, but Europe is still in the early stages of developing these capabilities. Another challenge is regulatory, as transporting and handling batteries, especially damaged ones, requires strict adherence to hazardous waste regulations, which can be complex and costly.

Statzon: How do you see the future of battery recycling in Europe?

Arne: I believe it will take at least ten years for Europe to develop a fully closed-loop recycling system for batteries. While there are some promising initiatives and a lot of research being conducted, scaling these efforts to meet the growing demand for recycled materials will require significant investment and time. Companies like Stena are preparing by setting up initial infrastructure and partnering with other organizations to handle different stages of the recycling process.

Statzon: What role does regulation play in this industry?

Arne: Regulation plays a crucial role in shaping the battery recycling industry. The EU has set ambitious targets for recycling rates, aiming for 70% of battery weight to be recycled by 2030, and 90% of materials like cobalt and copper to be recycled by 2025-2026. Meeting these targets will be challenging but is essential for the sustainable growth of the industry. Current regulations also require that energy recovery processes, such as incineration, are not counted towards recycling percentages, pushing the industry towards more material-efficient recycling methods.

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Statzon: Can you tell us about the emerging technologies and trends in battery recycling?

Arne: One of the most exciting trends is the development of more efficient mechanical and chemical processes to extract and purify valuable materials from batteries. Technologies that can recover electrolytes and graphite without burning them are particularly promising. Additionally, there is a trend towards setting up regional recycling hubs to reduce transportation costs and improve efficiency. For example, in Europe, we are seeing efforts to localize the entire recycling process, from collection and disassembly to the final refinement of materials.

Statzon: Who are your typical customers at Stena?

Arne: Our typical customers include major manufacturers like Volvo cars, Volvo trucks, and Volvo construction equipment. We offer comprehensive waste management services, including total waste management programs where we handle all types of industrial waste for factories. In countries like Sweden, Finland, and Denmark, we manage the collection and initial recycling processes ourselves. However, in Germany, we rely on logistics partners to transport batteries to our facilities due to regulatory constraints.

Statzon: How does Stena manage the collection and transportation of batteries?

Arne: We handle the collection of batteries using special trucks that comply with European ADR regulations for transporting hazardous goods. The batteries are then taken to our facilities where they are dismantled and processed. We recently opened our first mechanical treatment line in 2023, which allows us to extract and safely store valuable materials while reducing the fire risk associated with the electrolyte.

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