The Path to Sustainable Battery Recycling: Tozero Wants to Bring “Battery Waste to Zero”

The number of electric cars on German roads increased to one million in 2022. Using a chemical recycling process, Tozero aims to reduce battery waste to zero.

Author Anna Mühlbauer:

Translation Lana O'Sullivan, 07.24.23

Electromobility has an essential role to play in the quest for a more sustainable future. In Germany, the number of electric cars has increased steadily over the last few years, exceeding one million vehicles for the first time in 2022. Worldwide, there are over 26 million cars on the road. One of the key technologies in electric vehicles is lithium-ion batteries — used to store energy, the increasing demand for electric vehicles has raised the question of the sustainability of the life cycle for these batteries.

The German Engineering Federation (VDMA) recently published an update of the “Roadmap Battery Production Equipment 2030”. The report makes clear that, in addition to technological aspects, the relevance of sustainability on the topic of battery production has only increased. This is particularly relevant to Europe. Fundamentally, the goal of electromobility is that it reduces CO2 emissions. As we know, the production of battery cells, including the raw materials used for them, is responsible for a large part of the environmental impact. Therefore, increasing material and energy efficiency in the production process must be essential.

This is where Munich-based start-up Tozero comes in. Sarah Fleischer, co-founder and CEO of the company, explains that her ambitious vision aims to reduce battery waste “to zero” with the help of a chemical recycling process. To achieve this, the start-up has opted for an innovative approach: Unlike the conventional pyrometallurgical process, they rely on the energy-saving and material-rich hydrometallurgical process.

The technology of battery recycling

The recycling process of batteries involves several steps: First, the batteries are discharged, followed by disassembly, during which the outer casing is removed. The casing materials iron, aluminium and copper can already be recovered after this step. Subsequently, the inside of the battery is crushed into powder, whereby anode and cathode materials are recovered in the form of so-called “black mass”. This black mass contains valuable materials such as lithium, nickel, cobalt and manganese. The chemical reprocessing of this mass is the core of the hydrometallurgical process. Afterwards, processed materials can be reused unconditionally.

Recycling makes it possible to produce materials in Europe that would otherwise not be available. The largest cobalt reserves are in Congo, a politically unstable country. The most important producing countries for lithium are Chile, China and Australia. Increased recycling can reduce economic dependencies on the one hand. In addition, recycling batteries contributes to decarbonisation and makes it easier for companies to achieve their net-zero targets.

Fleischer sees the biggest challenge in the return of end-of-life products to the supply chain. Currently, there is no industrial solution to ensure the required recovery of materials according to European Union specifications. However, Tozero is working on enabling a closed material cycle.

phone, tree, peakpick
Indra Jungblut
Green Electricity Flows With PeakPick

How about being able to use your appliances when the share of renewable energies is at its highest? PeakPick is showing consumers exactly when is best.

How a New Battery Regulation Should Make Europe’s Batteries More Sustainable

A green future needs sustainable batteries. A new battery regulation in the EU should create better conditions for this in the future. But how does it work?

Torge Peters
Mobility Transition: The Multimodal and Interconnected Way of the Future

What will climate-neutral mobility look like in the future? What digital solutions are ready for a systematic mobility transition? And how do we get there? Let's take a look...

Can Long Haul Trucks Be Powered Like Trams and Trains?

A new study has explored the feasibility of large scale overhead power line trucking.

Interview: “We Created a State With 49 Million Cars — Dismantling It Is a Huge Opportunity”

What does the future of our streets look like? That depends on whether we can part with our cars, thinks Katja Diehl.

Could Wireless Charging Revolutionise E-mobility?

Imagine a world where electric vehicles could be charged during drivetime. This world might be closer than you think.

A Seamless and Comfortable Public Transport System? Real-Time Data Could Make It Happen

Will my bus be on time? How full will it be? Is there still room for my bike? Real-time data and forecasts can not only help to align public transport with actual demand, but also make it more reliable and attractive for passengers.

Could Ducktrains Be the Answer to Our Last-Mile Logistics Problem?

Urban deliveries make urban life more convenient, but pollution, traffic and carbon emissions are the prices we pay. Could Aachen-based start-up Ducktrain have an answer?