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Repair instead of recycle: Extending the lifecycle of high-voltage batteries

The battery is by far the most expensive component in an electric car. The high-voltage storage system accounts for 40 to 60 percent of the manufacturing costs; around eight tons of CO2 are emitted during its production. However, premature ageing or defects in battery components reduce their performance and impair the overall condition of the high-voltage storage system (SoH, State of Health). Replacing or repairing individual components could be a way to make used electric cars more attractive and to allay customers’ fears of battery damage, says Felix Feuerbach, Managing Director of KBC.

Feuerbach demands: “We also need to think much more about repair options for future generations of high-voltage storage systems. According to Feuerbach, the focus in the development of new storage systems today is predominantly on manufacturing costs, energy density and weight – not on the replaceability of defective components.

According to Feuerbach, the repair of high-voltage storage systems is quite economical. However, this is often not possible because some battery concepts along the “Cell to pack” trend do not even allow for the storage housing to be opened. In addition to the right concepts for diagnosis and repair, trained personnel and the availability of spare parts are also a prerequisite for efficient repairs. However, the availability of spare parts over 10 years of the delivery obligation alone is not easily possible with today’s prevailing stockpiling concepts, storage options and sources of supply for storage facilities, even if these are not insurmountable challenges.

However, the recycling (i.e. scrapping) of defective high-voltage storage systems is now common practice. Felix Feuerbach therefore sees the danger of the electric car losing its reputation as an environmentally friendly means of transportation.

Battery electric vehicles are already having a hard enough time. No sooner has the state subsidy for new cars been abolished than sales collapse. Things are no better on the used car market. In addition to a general skepticism, the reasons for this are low consumer confidence in the service life of batteries and the high prices for replacement batteries. “The drop in the price of used electric vehicles is extreme,” says Felix Feuerbach. “The residual value of the vehicle is usually disproportionate to the costs of replacing the memorys”, Feuerbach continues. “If nobody wants to buy a vehicle that is more than three or four years old in the future, it will be tight for electric cars. And the slump in residual values is damaging the brands.”

KBC co-founder Feuerbach has long been involved in circular economy issues, in particular Remanufacturing. “Too often, batteries with defective or degraded cells are recycled – i.e. scrapped. Research is being carried out into the recovery of valuable raw materials (including cobalt, lithium and rare earths), but overall sind the processes have not progressed far enough to date. We are still a long way from effective and efficient recovery of rare raw materials from storage facilities that are 5 or 6 years old.” Even the definition of battery recycling is often unclear: “Contrary to popular belief that the valuable raw materials are recovered, such as recycled steel from old car bodies, battery components are usually simply shredded and thermally disposed of. The residues are then added to Asfalt for new road surfaces, for example.”

Feuerbach: “A lot of work is being done on recycling topics, such as highly automated dismantling, while the impression is that the industry has already buried the topic of repair.

It is always amazing to see the SoHlevel to which repairable memories can already be raised with the right diagnostic and repair processes.

The use of old high-voltage batteries from vehicles as so-called second-life energy storage systems, for example for solar systems in homes or factories, is probably not the answer either, according to Felix Feuerbach –, even though this seems to be the common strategy for all manufacturers alongside recycling. Apart from use in the company’s own factories, where it may be possible to use the old storage units for a very short time, the question arises as to who should take these degraded storage units, especially as an oversupply is becoming apparent. “Even if you want to continue using old storage units from vehicles for a long time, repairability is a prerequisite.”

Felix Feuerbach: “If e-mobility is to function sustainably, the question must be how this storage system, which contains so much CO2 and investment, can be used for as long as possible in order to offset the CO2 input during operation.” Feuerbach’s demand: “We need to recycle less and repair more”. There is no always until the end of the lifecycle, and too little thought is given to repairing e-vehicles in line with their current value.

Männliche Person, graue Haare, blaue Augen, lächelnd mit Bart, trägt ein weißes Hemd, eine dunkelblauen Anzug, stehend mit beiden Händen in den Hosentaschen
Männliche Person, graue Haare, blaue Augen, lächelnd mit Bart, trägt ein weißes Hemd, eine dunkelblauen Anzug, stehend mit beiden Händen in den Hosentaschen
Felix Feuerbach
Senior Partner

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