EV batteries are an environmental headache. This startup has a solution

Voltfang, a German startup, has created an innovative system that recycles old EV batteries while also providing crucial electricity storage. We talk to the founders who have just won the Green Alley Award in circular economy innovation.

It sounds like something to avoid on a dark night – but Voltfang, a startup whose name means ‘catching power’ in German, reckons its approach to energy and recycling will light the way in future.

The business just won the 2022 Green Alley awardThe, which recognizes European startups that are leading circular innovation. And the founders are charged.

Old batteries from electric vehicles (EVs) are more difficult to recycle than regular cars. Despite their valuable cobalt and lithium, they can be a major environmental problem. While major recycling facilitiesThis month, the EU launched a new initiative. expertsOnly 8 to 23 percent of vital materials can be recycled currently, according to estimates. Meanwhile, the inconsistent nature of renewables means that electricity networks cannot always supply businesses with uninterrupted green power – especially during peak demand.

Take the initiative Voltfang, which aims to repurpose EV batteries into energy storage units for businesses. David Oudsandjii (co-founder) explains that this is important for three reasons. It first reuses a vastly untapped waste stream. The cars may have been scrapped, says Oudsandjii, but the batteries still work – many of the vehicles are from test fleets, for instance, and others can be repaired. Second, it helps businesses store electricity for times of peak need or low supply, and it’s also an important part of the wider transition to greener energy production, in which decentralised storage systems will play an important role.

Voltfang’s team wants to ensure that all EVs have a second life. Image by Voltfang

Voltfang’s goal is to build a ‘second life’ into every EV battery. “Something like cobalt, which is valuable, is extracted. The rest is just waste. There is no next step. It’s a huge problem,” explains Oudsandjii.

As densely populated areas as the Netherlands are seeingThe greater the use of green power, the higher the demand on the electricity network. Technology such as heat pumps may be able to replace gas heating in commercial and domestic homes, but they still require electricity. With solar, wind and wave power, when there are peaks of supply that the grid can’t cope with, the power is wasted. Sometimes it is cloudy, but not windy. Experts say that effective, local weather can be a good thing. energy storageFor any green transition away form fossil fuels, it is crucial.

Voltfang was inspired by a domestic environment. Afshin Doostdar, Roman Alberti, and David Oudsandji were engineering students together. They set up a solar array on top of an old campervan to generate electricity for their devices.

“In the meantime, the father of Roman said he needed a battery for home storage of his solar power,” says Oudsandji. They experimented with the idea of using an old electric car battery for energy storage. “We built it in one week, didn’t sleep that much but had it up and running. We decided to make a difference and create a future that is worth living. We made a plan and founded Voltfang.”

As we move away from fossil fuels, energy storage is essential for balancing the grids. Image: Giammarco

Their technology could prove to be most valuable in commercial and industrial applications such as factories with high demand or electric vehicle charging stations far away from the grid.

“We are focusing on the commercial and industrial market, where we can [enable]More self-sufficiency, and also [facilitate]Peak shaving [levelling out peaks in electricity usage] and load shifting,” he explains.

“We can help electric mobility because, often, charging stations need a grid extension that is highly expensive and takes a lot of time [to build]. With our battery storage, we can smooth the load and support charging.”

We want to make all decentralised batteries interconnected and eliminate coal plants

With the help of the Green Alley Award’s €25,000 (£21,440) prize money, Voltfang is developing plans for its first factory in Aachen, Germany, where it is based.

“In the future, we want to connect all decentralised batteries and make coal plants redundant,” says Oudsandji. “We want to produce more than 1,000 batteries per year. This factory is going to be fully automated, and we will source the batteries from many manufacturers and automotive companies with reliable supply for the next few years, in Germany mostly.”

The startup is currently running pilots, including one with exhibition fair stand builder Walbert Schmitz, and applying to the EU’s funding programme for science and innovation, Horizon Europe, as well as local innovation funds. Voltfang plans to launch a seed round of venture capital funding towards the end.

Electric cars

2030 will see around 30 million EVs. Battery recycling is essential. Image: Dcbel

Experts from the Green Alley Award, which supports innovation that promotes a circular economy, believe that the company will be both vital and successful.

Patrick Schulz, CEO of Landbell Group, which runs the award, said: “Voltfang addresses a vital topic. The number of electric cars on our roads will increase to 30m by 2030, according to EU plans, and so will the amount of waste batteries from these cars.”

He added: “What convinced us about Voltfang’s business idea was that it not only specialises in making the best out of these used batteries, but also contributes to closing the gap in our renewable energy transition…With the Green Alley Award, we put a spotlight on circular startups like Voltfang that can make a decisive contribution to our fight against climate change.”

Alberti, Oudsandji, and Doostdar have been energized by the award. “We want to really help countries to make the energy transition possible, with renewables,” says Oudsandji. “There is a need for surge systems but we don’t want to mine ever-more resources. We want to use what is on the street.”

Main image: Michael Fousert