Can Automation Solve EV Battery Recycling Challenges?

As the world shifts towards electrification, the demand for electric vehicles (EVs) is soaring, increasing the need for efficient EV battery recycling processes. To shed light on the challenges and solutions in this domain, Battery Technology interviewed Stephanie Van Kirk, Industry Leader at Battery at Rockwell Automation. Van Kirk provided valuable insights into the intricacies of EV battery recycling and the pivotal role of automation in addressing its challenges.

Challenges in EV battery recycling automation

Van Kirk identified two primary challenges faced by manufacturers in automating the EV battery recycling process. Firstly, there’s a glaring lack of infrastructure for collecting and sorting end-of-life lithium-ion battery packs. Unlike lead-acid batteries, which benefit from established recycling logistics, lithium-ion batteries require meticulous sorting based on chemistry, size, and form factor. Van Kirk emphasized, “This requires an additional step of sorting these batteries by chemistry, size, and form factor with human oversight by trained operators to assure accurate categorization.”

Secondly, manual handling of incoming battery packs poses a significant obstacle. Disassembling and deactivating these packs require labor-intensive processes far from fully automated. The variability in battery designs further complicates the process, impacting efficiency and increasing processing costs.

Related:The Competitive Advantage of the Connected Battery Factory

Rockwell automation’s contribution

Rockwell Automation is addressing these challenges through innovative solutions. Van Kirk highlighted their Manufacturing Execution System (MES) capabilities, which facilitate accurate tracking and traceability of materials from raw material mines to finished cells. This enhanced traceability enables more efficient sortation and recycling processes. Van Kirk said, “This allows for more accurate information traceability of materials from the raw material mines to a finished cell in an end-of-life pack at the recycler. More accurate material information allows for more efficient sortation and recycling.

Furthermore, Rockwell Automation leverages its expertise in process control, data analytics, and automation to optimize battery discharging and energy management in recycling facilities. Van Kirk emphasized, “Rockwell has demonstrated successes in battery cell manufacturing w/ automating movement in battery manufacturing facilities, which can be applied to recycling by connection through discharge steps.”

Related:Lithium-ion Battery Recycling Insights From Rockwell Automation

She discussed emerging trends and innovations that could improve EV battery recycling efficiency. Automation technologies such as AI-based robotic disassembly systems hold promise in streamlining the disassembly process.  Van Kirk explained, “Complex AI-based robotic disassembly systems, which address multiple variables: identification of battery configuration (Machine Learning), determination of the battery assembly design, and respectively disassembly process, which could be used, for example, to adapt robotics for the disassembly procedure.”

Moreover, regional regulations mandating recycled content in batteries necessitate the development of integrated databases and tracking systems to ensure compliance. She continued, “For example, the EU New Batteries Regulation has mandatory targets for materials recycling of EOL batteries through 2030. The concept of the Battery Passport would track the battery’s life cycle to ensure compliance with the regulations and provide transparency and digitalization.”

Preparing for the future

Manufacturers need to adopt a forward-thinking approach to navigate the evolving landscape of EV battery recycling automation. Flexibility in recycling processes is paramount in the battery market, which is characterized by variability in designs and chemistries. She concluded, “ Manufacturers will need to collaborate for new equipment development with legacy automation/digitalization players to offer designs for turnkey plant solutions from BEV manufacturers to integrated battery recycling.”

Related:How Automation Advances Sustainability in EV Battery Production

Automation in EV battery recycling is paving the way for a sustainable future. Through innovative technologies and collaborative efforts, manufacturers can overcome challenges and embrace electrification opportunities. Van Kirk’s insights provide a roadmap for navigating this transformative journey toward a greener, more efficient future.