BMW Group Creates Closed Recycling Loop For EV Batteries

2023 BMW iX Manufacturing Assembly Line

BMW Group Creates Closed Recycling Loop For EV Batteries

BMW Group is stepping up its commitment to achieving climate neutrality by tracking batteries once they reach end-of-life, and by expanding use of secondary materials in new BMW vehicles.

2023 BMW iX Manufacturing Assembly Line

BMW Group is stepping up its commitment to achieving climate neutrality and massively expanding its use of secondary material in closed recycling loops. For the first time in China, the BMW Brilliance Automotive joint venture (BBA) has established a closed loop for reuse of the raw materials nickel, lithium and cobalt from high-voltage batteries that are no longer suitable for use in electric vehicles.


The batteries come from fully and partially-electric development vehicles, test systems and production rejects.  In the future, batteries will also from end-of-life vehicles. Materials re-use lays the foundation for an innovative closed-loop material cycle, which is becoming increasingly important as e-mobility ramps up. To achieve this, BBA is working with a local recycler that dismantles retired batteries, and uses innovative technology to recover a high percentage of nickel, lithium and cobalt, some of the key materials that make-up battery cells.


The reused raw materials are then used in the production of new battery cells for BMW Group vehicles. The closed-loop material cycle conserves resources and reduces CO2 emissions by 70%, compared to using newly extracted battery metals.


China is the world’s largest market for electric vehicles. With the rapid development of this market since 2015, the automotive battery recycling industry has also experienced rapid growth. The China Automotive Technology and Research Centre expects the total volume of retired batteries in China to reach around 780,000 tons by 2025. At the Due to rapidly increasing demand for EVs, prices for domestic raw materials for high-voltage batteries have increased sharply since last year.


Despite a challenging environment due to COVID-19 lockdowns and supply chain disruptions, BMW Group was able to triple its sales of fully-electric vehicles in China in the first quarter of 2022. 


Seamless traceability of batteries enables second use and recycling


China’s current policies require a high-voltage battery tracing system to be established to ensure batteries can be tracked and recycled once they reach end-of-life. BMW Group has developed a coding system that enables seamless traceability of batteries throughout their lifecycle. The coding ensures batteries from the across their entire operation, from initial test vehicles to vehicles already in the market, can be professionally recycled.


Once returned, the batteries are evaluated for potential continued use. BMW Group began using end-of-life batteries with a high residual capacity in forklift trucks at BBA plants in China in 2020. Going forward, the plan is for these “second-life applications” for batteries to be expanded 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. The nickel, lithium and cobalt raw materials obtained in this way are allocated to production of new battery cells. A battery with a capacity of 100 kWh contains, on average, almost 90 kg of nickel, lithium and cobalt; with nickel accounting for most of the composition.


Batteries that are not disposed of properly impact the environment and waste valuable raw material resources that could be used further. With this recognition in mind, BMW Group, along with its suppliers, operate according to the four principles of “Re:think, Re:duce, Re:use and Re:cycle”, to maximize the recycling rate for battery raw materials and to use all resources responsibly.


Circular economy as key element of the “Race to Zero” initiative


BMW Group became the first German auto manufacturer to join the Business Ambition for 1.5° C campaign launched by the Science-Based Targets Initiative, and is committed to the goal of complete climate neutrality throughout the company’s entire value chain by 2050. 


The transition from Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) to electric vehicles is not the only way to achieve climate-friendly mobility. It is also vital to minimize the use of key metals that are needed for battery production.  Extraction and processing of raw materials is environmentally harmful, as well  as energy and CO2-intensive.


With a growing percentage of battery-electric vehicles on the road, the need for raw materials for high-voltage EV batteries will increase. Materials recycle and reuse of EV batteries by BMW Group is a demonstration of the potential benefits of a circular economy.  BMW Group currently uses secondary nickel in the high-voltage batteries of the BMW iX.


BMW’s e-mobility roadmap


BMW Group is accelerating its expansion of e-mobility and plans to deliver at least 10% fully-electric vehicles this year. By 2030, roughly half of the company’s global sales will come from fully-electric vehicles. 

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