Battery recycling at First Cobalt refinery
Facility capable of recovering battery metals from black mass Metal Tech News – July 28, 2021
Last updated 8/3/2021 at 3:22pm
Furthering its vision of developing an integrated lithium-ion battery park centered on its refinery in Ontario, Canada, First Cobalt Corp. reports that it has successfully extracted nickel, cobalt, copper, manganese, lithium, and graphite from a "black mass" product recovered from recycled batteries.
In the lithium-ion battery recycling process, black mass is a powdery material that is produced by crushing or shredding the electrodes after the casing and other ancillary parts have been removed from spent batteries.
The hydrometallurgical refining process used at the First Cobalt refinery would dissolve the black mass and then recover the individual battery metals from solution. From a sustainability perspective, this is considered superior to the pyrometallurgical alternative, which uses heat to melt the materials.
Metallurgical testing carried out by SGS Labs on black mass material provided by upstream battery recyclers in the U.S. and Europe shows that the hydrometallurgical process used at the First Cobalt refinery has the ability to recover lithium, nickel, cobalt, copper, manganese, and graphite.
"Demonstrating our ability to recycle lithium-ion batteries is an important step in our journey to be the most sustainable producer of battery materials," said First Cobalt President and CEO Trent Mell.
The company is already well on its way to achieving the first phase of this journey, the production of battery-grade cobalt from mined concentrates, at the refinery next year. Recycling additional metals from black mass is the second phase.
The First Cobalt refinery already has the capacity to produce separate products containing nickel, cobalt, copper, and manganese. A global engineering firm has been retained to study the leaching of black mass within the existing refinery to produce these four battery metals, as well as lithium and graphite products with recommended modifications.
In addition to the refining capacity already in place, First Cobalt is to leverage existing permits for the refinery and is in discussion with Ontario regulatory authorities to permit the processing of black mass at the facility.
The ability to expand upon an already established refinery puts First Cobalt years ahead of others that would need to permit and build a similar recycling facility from scratch.
"There are many producers of black mass in the western world but few environmentally friendly options to then refine the product into battery-grade material given the capital expenditure required and the permitting timeline associated with building a hydrometallurgical facility such as ours," said Mell. "We intend to capitalize on this first-mover advantage and leverage our position as an ultra-low carbon operation."
First Cobalt has a bigger vision of developing a battery park around its refinery that would offer environmental and efficiency advantages similar to those at the Harjavalta Industrial Eco-Park in Finland, where more than five companies cooperate on refining technology metals and producing technology metal products, including the chemical products that go into batteries and EVs.
First Cobalt believes that an integrated refining operation that produces a suite of lithium-ion battery materials from mined and recycled sources would help attract companies to complete the final chemical process of upgrading these metal sulfates into the cathode materials that go into lithium-ion batteries.
Being accessible by rail and less than 400 miles away from the battery and EV manufacturing hubs emerging around Great Lakes cities such as Detroit and Buffalo also makes the First Cobalt refinery well positioned to be a center for producing lithium-ion battery materials.
In the meantime, an engineering study for the recovery of battery metals from black mass at the First Cobalt refinery is expected to be completed by the end of the year. With the successful completion of these studies, First Cobalt intends to process black mass at its Canadian refinery on a pilot basis.
More information on eco-industrial parks and First Cobalt's vision for establishing one at its refinery in Ontario can be read at First Cobalt battery park concept emerges in the July 14, 2021 edition of Metal Tech News.