MERCATOR: Making Electric Mobility More Sustainable


The German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety supports the MERCATOR research project on battery recycling.


A consortium of seven partners from industry and research seeks to establish whether it is possible to optimize the recycling of lithium-ion batteries in terms of ecological, economic, and supply aspects.

As one of the research partners, RWTH's Institute of Process Metallurgy and Metal Recycling IME headed by Professor Bernd Friedrich will contribute to the project, which is titled “Material-Efficient Recycling for the Circular Economy of Automotive Storage Systems without Residual Waste – MERCATOR.”

The aim is to minimize the high disposal costs of batteries from electrically powered vehicles. The focus is on the cost-effective recovery of all valuable secondary raw materials, some of which have been classified as critical, and on improving the eco-balance of these batteries. The Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety provides funding in the amount of 2.9 million euros to support the research project.

Due to the high disposal costs of the battery modules, industrial application is not economical in the long run. Moreover, in the current processes, valuable components such as lithium or graphite are not recovered. This not only has a negative impact on the supply of secondary materials for European battery cell production, but also on the overall eco-balance and economy of electric vehicles.

Against this backdrop, the project will investigate in how far the currently available techniques and technologies can be optimized with regard to cost effectiveness through process simplification and with regard to revenue enhancement through the recovery of additional recyclables. To this end, an innovative pilot-scale multi-zone furnace will be used, in which vehicle batteries will be thermally deactivated and pre-treated for a subsequent, material-efficient treatment process.

The different temperature and atmosphere zones of the multi-chamber system enable the chemical structure of the battery materials to be modified and optimally prepared. In this way, materials that were previously not recyclable, such as lithium, are to be recovered as secondary raw materials at an early stage of the process with low losses and low energy and resource consumption.

At the same time, it is intended to reduce the oxides contained in Li-ion batteries to elementary metals and to remove them prematurely.

In addition, the project seeks to establish whether the graphite contained in the batteries can be processed in such a way that it can be made available again as a raw material.