Hannover Fair: Optimizing the recycling of power electronics in electric vehicles

The German government wants electric vehicles to make a substantial contribution to climate protection in future. As a result the recycling industry faces new challenges – for example with regard to power electronics. Under the leadership of Oeko-Institut a new project – entitled “Electric vehicle recycling 2020 – Power electronics as key component” – is therefore developing optimized recycling processes that recover important components of power electronics in electric vehicles. The goal is the reuse of valuable elements like gallium and other precious metals like gold and silver alongside other technology metals.

In the project – which is being presented at the Hannover Fair – Oeko-Institut is working with partners in industry such as Volkswagen AG, Electrocycling GmbH and PPM Pure Metals GmbH as well as the Institute of Mineral and Waste Processing, Waste Disposal and Geomechanics. The project is being funded by German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB).

The components of power electronics are needed for the electricity supply of electric vehicles. The recycling process in place for them up to now is not optimal. Valuable metals are used in voltage transformers in particular and these have not been included in recovery processes to date. In addition, industry is currently developing semiconductors of the next generation that are based on gallium nitride. These elements are used in compact components and there has been no recovery of them in the past.

“In view of increasingly limited resources worldwide, such materials – which are classified as rare by the EU Commission and are therefore particularly economically valuable – have to be recovered through recycling,” says Dr. Doris Schüler, expert for sustainable resource management and project leader at Oeko-Institut. “Only if we start sustainably managing these components today can we avoid supply shortages in the future.”

Optimizing recycling - economic and life cycle assessments

In the project, the aim is to close the gap between conventional electronic waste recycling focusing on precious metals and hydrometallurgical recovery processes from the pre-concentrated, high-purity material of the semiconductor industry. To this end, the contents of the relevant components are analysed and existing gaps in recycling are shown. Based on this analysis, the team of project experts is developing new recycling processes and describing what changes existing recycling processes can make.

It is then assessed whether all proposals elaborated in the project can be easily implemented from an economic point of view. To accompany this, estimates are made of the quantity of resources that can be conserved if optimum recycling of power electronics is implemented on national and international levels. The project portfolio is rounded off with a life cycle assessment that determines the environmental benefits of recycling compared to the production of primary raw materials.

Project flyer “Electric vehicle recycling 2020 – Power electronics as key component” of Oeko-Institut and its project partners (in German)

Information on the project and the funding program is available on the BMUB website 

Further information from Oeko-Institut on the project and on resource conservation

Contact at Oeko-Institut:

Dr. Doris Schüler
Deputy Head of Infrastructure & Enterprises Division
Oeko-Institut e.V., Darmstadt office
Phone: +49 6151 8191-127
Email: d.schueler@oeko.de