Design for circular economy – Design and recycling of present and emerging battery technologies

  • Project team:

    Weil, Marcel (Project leader); Armin Grunwald, Jens Buchgeister

  • Funding:

    Excellence University Project KIT Future Fields

  • Start date:


  • End date:


  • Project partners:

    HIU: Prof. Stefano Passerini, Prof. Maximilian Fichtner, Dr. Dominic Bresser, Stephan Hensel; Exc. Cluster POLIS: Dr. Christian Punckt, Dr. Manuel Baumann; IAM-ESS: Prof. Helmut Ehrenberg, Dr. Werner Bauer, Dr. Joachim Binder, Lea de Biasi, Dr. Anna Smith, Fabian Jeschull; IAM-AWP: Prof. Hans Jürgen Seifert, PD Dr. Wilhelm Pfleging, Dr. Magnus Rohde; ETI: Nina Munzke, Michael Mast; WBK: Janna Hofmann

  • Research group:

    Research for Sustainable Energy Technologies

Project description

Designing technologies to ensure a circular economy is a very challenging task. To date, there are only a few (low-tech) examples achieving 100 percent circularity of material flows (e.g., cradle to cradle). The idea is to bring together experts from the design phase of an emerging technology (new battery systems) and recycling experts to master the challenges of a circular economy and to ensure sustainability of such technologies.

The basic idea of a circular economy is not to enable a second life for the battery or to improve recycling – but rather to design the technology in such a way that all materials used can be reused (after the use phase) for the production of the same (or similar) product. This has not yet been demonstrated for high-tech products, and many hurdles have to be overcome to reach this goal of 100 percent circularity.

On a technological level, current recycling technologies (hydrometallurgical or pyrometallurgical recycling) require too much energy or materials (with relatively high environmental impact) and are very costly. For Li-ion batteries, there is a trend toward lower material values (from, e.g., NMC 111 to NMC 811, with low Co content). For emergent battery systems, such as Mg or Na batteries (based on abundant resources), the material value is even lower. Thus, the value of the recyclable materials will certainly decrease in the future, but must compensate for the effort (materials, energy, costs) for the recycling process itself. This problematic situation can only be resolved if future Li-ion batteries or emergent battery systems (e.g., Mg or Na batteries) are treated with a different, new recycling technology. In this context, “direct recycling” of different materials is under discussion (cf. Battery Roadmap 2030+).

The development of a new battery system (with a new chemistry or architecture, which can compete with present battery technology) is already very complex and highly innovative. Therefore, technology developers often focus mainly on performance aspects. At KIT (but also at other institutions), there are ongoing activities to increase sustainability by considering green design, design for recycling, or eco-design principles within the development phase. However, all these good and important activities have their shortcomings with respect to a circular economy, where all materials should ideally be kept in a closed – infinite – loop without waste generation over the whole life cycle.


Dr.-Ing. Marcel Weil
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)
Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS)
P.O. Box 3640
76021 Karlsruhe

Tel.: +49 721 608-26718