29 Jan 2021, 13:15
Benjamin Wehrmann

Energy transition needs better recycling of wind turbines and e-cars - German engineers

Clean Energy Wire

Precious raw materials contained in wind turbines or e-cars  should be recycled and reused to supply crucial resources for Germany’s energy transition, according to the country's engineering association VDI. Future technologies often use raw materials sourced  abroad, such as lithium or rare earth minerals, and recycling rates for some of these are less than one percent, the association said in a report completed in late 2020. Germany therefore needs recycling and circularity concepts for these raw materials to improve resource efficiency and tap into the "enormous" ecologic and financial potential scrapped equipment holds.

"In Germany and all over the world, the utilisation of materials must be improved and recycling capacities scaled up, especially for critical raw materials," the VDI warned. "Renewable energy sources increase Germany's supply security," since the resources Germany imports most, oil and gas, eventually will be no longer needed for combustion, the engineering association said. But while renewables in theory can be manufactured almost entirely with recycled products, circular use concepts still remain wanting, it argued.

The change in resource needs is especially significant for Germany's large car industry, where shifting from combustion engines to battery-driven propulsion systems will completely change established manufacturing processes, the VDI said. While batteries and e-cars in general have a very good recycling ratio of over 95 percent, the ratio of many primary resources, especially rare earth minerals, must still be drastically improved to improve supply security.

Besides reducing greenhouse gas emissions, lowering the dependence on fossil fuel imports has been one of the main rationales for Germany to pursue a transition to renewable energy sources, even though this is set to increase the variety and volume of raw material imports in the short and medium run. The country's 2020 resource strategy has acknowledged the key role recycling can play for reducing import reliance, even though it has been criticised for lacking specific procedures on how to achieve greater recycling quotas for key materials.

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