Junior seeks to recycle EV batteries
Canada Silver Cobalt develops proprietary 'green' process Metal Tech News – June 2, 2021
Last updated 6/8/2021 at 3:15pm
Canada Silver Cobalt Works Inc. has developed an innovative extraction process designed to economically remove and recycle various minerals and metals from spent electric vehicle batteries.
The junior mining company's Re-2Ox closed-loop process is designed to produce cobalt sulfate to industry specifications for reuse in new EV batteries.
Canada Silver Cobalt recently hired SGS Canada to design and build a pilot plant in anticipation of bringing the benefits of its proprietary recycling process to the market.
"We're taking the additional steps to use our proprietary Re-2Ox technology to become an environmentally friendly producer of battery metals for the North American EV market," Canada Silver Cobalt Works Chief Operating Officer Matt Halliday told investors in a recent presentation.
EV battery recycling vital
With the number of electric vehicles on the road expected to increase from 10 million in 2020 to upwards of 145 million by 2030, experts forecast the demand for battery minerals will surge dramatically. Industry watchdogs have warned that the trend could spur hard rock mining in places with weak or nonexistent environmental safeguards.
To reduce the industry's reliance on metals mined in places where environmental oversight is often poor, labor standards often lax, and mine operators have clashed with local communities, experts say the United States and other western countries must improve and increase the recycling of dead EV batteries.
Though only a small number of EV batteries have aged off the streets so far, millions of tons of batteries are expected to be decommissioned over the coming decades. Metals from these dead units could supply a significant fraction of the EV industry's future mineral demand, but more efficient and greener recycling methods will be needed.
Partly due to the cost and complexity of EV battery disassembly, current recycling techniques are fairly crude. After the used battery is discharged and its tough outer casing is removed, the modules inside are often shredded and thrown in a furnace. Lighter materials like lithium and manganese burn, leaving behind an alloy slurry that contains higher-value metals like copper, nickel, and cobalt. Individual metals can then be purified out of that alloy using strong acids.
These processes, known as pyro- and hydrometallurgical recovery, require large amounts of energy and produce toxic gases and waste products that need to be re-captured.
Simple, green process
Filling the need for an environmentally sound means of reusing lithium-ion battery metals is where Canada Silver Cobalt believes its Re-2Ox process will shine.
Pronounced "ree-2-ox," Re-2Ox is a hydrometallurgical process designed to produce technical grade cobalt sulfate as well as nickel-manganese cobalt concentrates in formulations that meet buyers' specifications without harming the environment.
"People think the 'Re' in Re-2Ox stands for "recycling", but it is short for 'reactor'," said Canada Silver Cobalt Works CEO Frank Basa said in a recent interview.
"Rather than using heat like a smelter, Re-2Ox uses a "simple" environmental-friendly, two-reactor leaching process," said Basa. Suspending the spent EV battery modules in the first "reactor" or chemical solution removes undesirable minerals such as arsenic.
"We can take these arsenic cons (concentrates) out of the batteries and repurpose them," explained Basa.
Next, the batteries are placed in a second reactor (leaching solution), which extracts desired metals such as cobalt or rare earth elements. The remaining water-based solution is then recycled.
"The water itself carries values, so we have to recycle the water. It's not easy to be a green process, but we meet the criteria," Basa told investors recently.
A metallurgist by training, Basa has spent more than 40 years working on Canadian mining projects, including turning around distressed mining assets, according to Halliday, who is a resource geologist.
The men are two of three principals at Canada Silver Cobalt who steered the company in recent years through the highly competitive hard rock mining and metals recycling sectors.
Basa said the company spent the past six years and C$8 million developing the Re-2Ox process. The effort included traveling the globe to study existing metal recycling facilities in South America, Africa, and China, as well as working with a Japanese company to produce the first battery-grade cobalt-sulfate concentrate formulated to meet customer specifications.
"In this first successful test of the proprietary process, the company also extracted 99% of the arsenic in used EV batteries," Basa said, adding that Canada Silver Cobalt is the only company in Canada's legendary Cobalt Camp to have done so.
Cobalt and arsenic are two of 35 minerals deemed critical to U.S. National Security and the Economy, according to the U. S. Geological Survey.
Primary feed is key
"The recycling business is brutal," Basa said, citing fierce competition and the critical need for a primary feed source to make a metals recycling operation profitable.
He said Canada Silver Cobalt has worked to position itself to succeed with key parameters in place, including the ability to mine silver and cobalt as well as produce battery metals from its primary mine feed or recycled, spent batteries.
The junior is developing three sources of primary feed concurrently – from stamp mill tailings and residual recovery of broken mineralized material in the stopes underground at its flagship Castle Silver Mine in Ontario, and unmined, mineralized veins and a recent greenfield discovery at the Robinson zone located on the 78 square-kilometer (30 square miles) Castle property.
Secondary feeds would include complex flotation concentrates from other mines and spent electric batteries.
Exploration at Castle
Canada Silver Cobalt's recent exploration programs at Castle revealed a strong exploration upside for silver, cobalt, nickel, gold, and copper on the property.
The Castle mine is in the prolific past-producing 180-kilometer- (112 miles) long Gowganda high-grade silver district of northern Ontario. The company has discovered high-grade silver mineralized structures on the property, marking the first and only major discovery in the historic high-grade silver-cobalt camp in the past 50 years.
According to a calculation completed in May of last year, two sections of the Robinson Zone at Castle hosts 27,400 metric tons of inferred resource averaging 8,582 grams per metric ton (7.56 million ounces) silver.
The discovery, which remains open in all directions, is believed to host the highest-grade resource in the world, according to Canada Silver Cobalt.
Drilling is ongoing as the junior carries out a 50,000-meter exploration program.
Ready to recycle
With underground access to silver-rich ore at Castle, a pilot plant to produce cobalt-rich gravity concentrates on-site and the 20,000-square-foot Temiskaming Test Laboratories that the company recently purchased from the provincial government, along with the Re-2Ox recycling technology, Canada Silver Cobalt is strategically positioned to enter the green metals recycling sector, according to Basa.
"We have demonstrated that we can find high-grade mineralized vein structures, recover it, process it, and produce final end-products for (the) market," he said.
SGS is currently building the Re-2Ox pilot plant for Canada Silver Cobalt at its laboratory in Lakefield, Ontario.
Ongoing bench test work using the Re-2Ox process is also proceeding at SGS on secondary feeds consisting of spent lithium-ion batteries, nickel-cadmium batteries, and metal-hydride batteries.