Cylib wants to own EV battery recycling in Europe

Battery recycling startups have emerged in Europe in a bid to tap into the next big opportunity in the EV market: battery waste.

Among them is Cylib, a German-based startup with a pitch automakers may find financially compelling. The company says it can extract pure forms of all materials in a battery using a fraction of the energy that competitors use.

This means Cylib is able to recover all elements from EV and micromobility batteries, as well as production scrap -- including lithium, cobalt, nickel, aluminum and manganese -- using 30% less energy than competitors.

Cylib CEO and co-founder Lilian Schwich is betting that this secret sauce will give the startup an edge over competitors that have more resources and longer value chains like Swedish incumbent Northvolt and American heavy hitter Redwood Materials. Massachusetts-based Ascend Elements has also made a recent European play by forming a joint venture with Polish startup Elemental.

It’s been enough to attract backers from climate, deep tech and corporate automotive, said Schwich, who spent over a decade researching resource-efficient methods of battery recycling at RWTH Aachen University before founding the startup in 2022.

Earlier this month, Cylib raised a €55 million Series A, co-led by World Fund and Porsche Ventures, the VC arm of sports car manufacturer Porsche. Bosch Ventures, DeepTech & Climate Fonds, NRW.Venture and others also participated in the round.

Cylib will use the funds to build out its new industrial-scale facility in Aachen with a 2026 launch date and add more staff to its team of 60 employees. Long-term, Cylib wants to expand beyond Germany and into other European markets.

“In our seed round, we raised €7.6 million, and with that one we built up a pilot facility where we are already capable of recycling one EV battery pack per day, so approximately 300 to 600 kilograms per day,” Gideon Schwich, Cylib’s co-founder and COO and husband to Lilian Schwich, told TechCrunch. “In a Tesla you have around 300 kilograms, and in a Porsche you have around 600 kilograms.”

Capacity today, cathodes tomorrow

Cylib has already formed relationships with automotive OEMs, Tier 1 suppliers and lithium refineries to secure battery production scrap for near-term recycling. Those partnerships are crucial for Cylib’s long-term success and ongoing feedstock supply, ensuring access to end-of-life EV batteries for future recycling.

Securing feedstock (like batteries and production scrap that can be processed in a recycling facility) today is also important for Cylib so it can prove to manufacturers that it has the capacity to handle industrial-scale recycling.

“The problem with battery recycling is, if you don’t have capacity, the big guys won’t give you feedstock,” Anil Achyuta, managing director of TDK Ventures, the venture arm under Japanese electronics giant TDK Corporation, told TechCrunch. “And if you don’t have feedstock, you won’t get capacity.”

Achyuta said that TDK Ventures, which invests in Cylib competitor Ascend Elements, helped the startup prove its worth in 2021 by “taking a big wild swing at the market” and investing lots of money into building capacity and buying feedstock. Today, Ascend’s facility in the U.S. can process 26,000 tons per year.

Feedstock and capacity aside, Achyuta says that as an investor, what he really wants to see in battery recycling companies is a plan to produce cathode active materials in the future, because that’s where the real money is. The cathode is the part of a lithium-ion battery that stores energy and releases it when a battery is used, and it's usually made from metal oxides like lithium cobalt oxide or lithium manganese oxide. In other words, battery recycling startups should be going beyond recycling batteries and refining materials into remanufacturing cathode materials.

Today, most battery recycling companies export battery materials to China and other parts of Asia to develop cathode active materials, which are then sent back to automakers and battery makers domestically. This goes against circular economic principles.

Schwich said Cylib does have plans for producing cathode active materials in the future, but doing so on an industrial scale isn’t a top priority until the startup gets its new facility up and running.

“We have the strongest added value to the market with what we do best and which is to produce really green and pure raw materials into a tech grade or battery grade,” said Schwich. “But that doesn’t mean those materials can be used directly to build new cells. They have to go through a few more steps, and this is something we are already developing with our partners now.”