All Stories
4 min

The KION Group is closing the loop for lithium-ion batteries

Its strategic partner Li-Cycle sustainably recovers almost all the valuable materials from old batteries in a sustainable manner so that they can be reused in new batteries.


Most of today's technologies rely on batteries, from cell phones and laptops to cars and forklifts. Even the occupants of the International Space Station (ISS) could not operate without batteries as a source of stored energy. Today, lithium-ion batteries are among the world's most popular energy storage devices.

“Of course we try to keep using the batteries for as long as possible,” says Henry Puhl, Chief Technology Officer of KION GROUP AG. “At the end of the first lifecycle, we refurbish them to give them a second life. After refurbishment, however, they can only be used as stationary energy storage. And after about a decade, when the batteries really have come to the end of their useful life, we send them to our strategic partner Li-Cycle for recycling.” With its Linde MH, Fenwick, STILL and Baoli brands, the KION Group is the market leader in the electrification of forklift trucks. Around 90 percent of all industrial trucks sold are electric, and the percentage is rising.

The inauguration of Li-Cycle's plant on September 26, 2023, amongst the guests is Reiner Haseloff, Minister President of the State of Saxony-Anhalt.

But after heavy use over many years, even the best lithium-ion batteries stop holding their charge adequately. So what happens to them then? Most (household) batteries are still thrown away and end up in landfills, even though lithium-ion batteries contain valuable materials such as lithium, cobalt, copper, and nickel. These are key resources that should be preserved and not wasted. Recycling allows them to be returned to the supply chain. However, some methods are better than others.

Lithium-ion batteries contain valuable materials such as lithium, cobalt, copper, and nickel.

A number of recycling techniques use a smelting process that consumes a huge amount of energy and has a negative environmental footprint. Smelting incinerates valuable battery components, releasing pollutants that are harmful to the environment. This is why the KION Group and its strategic partner Li-Cycle are taking a different approach to recycling.

Lithium-ion batteries – highly efficient technology with plenty of benefits

Li-ion batteries offer a number of advantages that make them a sustainable and cost-effective alternative powertrain technology. They boast significantly higher power density and greater efficiency than, for example, lead-acid batteries. As a result, the batteries are smaller and reduce energy costs by up to 30 percent for the same power output. Lithium-ion batteries can be recharged at any time and are ideally suited to multi-shift operation. They are also at the cutting edge from an environmental perspective as they produce no emissions while in use. And they are a clean technology, making them suitable for sectors with strict hygiene standards such as the food and pharmaceutical industries.

Modern and environmentally friendly recycling process

Li-Cycle uses an innovative and sustainable two-stage process to recycle lithium-ion batteries and recover the resources they contain.

In contrast to energy-intensive smelting methods, KION’s partner uses a water-based shredding technology. An extensive underwater crushing process can be used for all types of lithium-ion batteries – regardless of shape, size, or chemical composition. This is a safer method and avoids potential hazards such as fires. After the plastics and metals (such as copper, aluminum, and steel) have been separated, they are rinsed, dried and packaged for shipping. The remaining mixture, known as “black mass”, is then processed in the second stage. This hydrometallurgical process recovers key materials such as lithium carbonate, cobalt sulfate and nickel sulfate from the black mass for use in new batteries.

“Li-Cycle's innovative process produces minimal landfill waste, no wastewater discharge and low air emissions,” says Richard Storrie, Li-Cycle’s President for the EMEA region. “Our sustainable technique makes it possible to reuse up to 95 percent of the mass of a lithium-ion battery.”

The Group’s objective is to have a total of up to 5,000 tonnes of end-of-life battery material professionally and sustainably processed at the Li-Cycle recycling plant in Magdeburg, Germany, by 2030. This tonnage is equivalent to around 15,000 large lithium-ion batteries of the kind used in counterbalance trucks. Once it has reached its expected final capacity, the facility in Magdeburg will be able to recycle up to 30,000 tonnes a year.

“We are driving forward the energy transition”

“We firmly believe that lithium-ion is the powertrain of the future. As the market leader for electric industrial trucks, we want our product solutions to play a key part in driving our industry’s net-zero transformation. With Li-Cycle at our side, we can then establish a sustainable and regional battery ecosystem. That is why it is so important to us to make the technology part of a closed loop – from manufacturing and use to resource recovery,” says Henry Puhl, Chief Technology Officer of KION GROUP AG, at the official opening of the Li-Cycle facility in Magdeburg. “This makes us one of the pioneers in the material handling industry when it comes to recovering materials and recycling modern lithium-ion batteries.”

The remaining mixture, known as “black mass”, is then processed in the second stage.

The KION Group produces its own lithium-ion batteries at the KION Battery Systems plant in Karlstein am Main. These are then installed in electric-powered industrial trucks and in automated warehouse logistics systems. “Together with Li-Cycle, we are now closing the loop and ensuring that almost all of the valuable materials, including lithium, cobalt, copper, and nickel, are recovered from the lithium-ion batteries used in our trucks,” explains Puhl. These resources can then be used to make new batteries. According to Puhl, the collaboration with Li-Cycle will strengthen the KION Group’s sustainability credentials and further extend its market-leading position in electric-powered industrial trucks.

Storrie sees the partnership with KION as a fantastic example of a sustainable, long-term relationship. “We will support the KION Group in hitting its recycling targets while at the same time helping it to meet EU requirements for battery management.”

Thanks to this closed recycling loop, we will be able to continue using the technologies that make our lives easier, from mobile phones and laptops to cars and forklifts – and without any problem.