Volkswagen has committed to becoming an all-electric vehicle company within the next decade, and its American branch immediately realized that two things needed to be done. With the VW ID4 going all-American in assembly by 2022, they needed all-American battery production to reduce supply chain woes, and a method of recycling their old batteries. The solution is a plan to use old batteries as energy storage solutions at VW’s affiliated Electrify America stations, and the automaker’s new Battery Engineering Lab in Chattanooga, Tennessee, will develop more battery technologies to take VW into its all-American EV future.
German Brand, American EV Production
VW’s need to move battery production closer to its U.S. ID4 assembly plant became apparent due to the continued global supply chain shortages that began back in 2020, which run the risk of interrupting company plans to sell all EVs by the start of the next decade.
To help secure itself in the current volatile market, part of VW’s $2.7 billion investment in North American production included a partnership with SK Innovation. SK Innovation is part of SK Group, a Korean energy provider that includes petroleum refining and exploration and is expanding into alternative energy, with some battery manufacturing located here in the U.S.
Even so, relying on just SK for production won’t be enough, and VW is opening its own Battery Engineering Lab (BEL) in Chattanooga, Tennessee in May. This $22 million investment will allow VW to test and validate current and new battery technologies for the American market.
The BEL will work in conjunction with VW’s Center of Excellence (CoE) North American Region battery research facilities in Chattanooga and Belmont, California. The CoE will also work closely with partner Quantumscape in San Jose, California for solid-state battery development, and 24M in Cambridge, Massachusetts on a project described as “re-imagining the design of battery cells.”
VW’s Lithium Battery Lifecycle
There is also a need to do something with the battery cells that nearing end-of-life. That’s where VW laid out a lifecycle plan for its current and future lithium-based batteries. While the required usefulness of a battery pack may no longer work in a car, the pack is still usable in other applications as many of the cells will still hold a charge.
VW plants to utilize those packs that are no longer feasible for automotive use as energy storage at Electrify America charging stations. Doing so will allow EA stations to ease off use of the local electricity grid by utilizing its own stored energy during peak times, along with help from EA’s solar power connections.
Eventually, though, the energy storage capability of those old packs will reduce to an unusable state. From that point, the battery packs will be broken down and recycled back into new battery packs, reusing the minerals that make up the liquid electrolyte within the layers of a lithium-ion battery.
This closes the planned circle of life for VW’s lithium-ion battery use, reducing some of the need for new raw materials. VW hasn’t laid out if they will partner with someone in this step—there are already many lithium-ion battery recycling companies in the U.S.—or go it alone.
Cheaper batteries, repurposing old packs for energy storage at charging stations, and recycling unusable packs to make new batteries; the all-EV future that VW has promised so far sounds a lot more sustainable and realistic thanks to the plans laid out today. Now, we’d love for VW to release a RWD EV Beetle along with the new ID Buzz to make this future even more fun, exciting, and sustainable. We haven’t heard anything of the sort, but fingers crossed.