Electra to recycle battery metals in 2022
Advancing commercial-scale demo plant at First Cobalt refinery Metal Tech News - December 8, 2021
Last updated 12/21/2021 at 2:31pm
In another step toward realizing its vision of establishing a lithium battery materials park at its First Cobalt refinery in Ontario, Electra Battery Materials Corp. is putting in motion a plan to begin recycling lithium, nickel, cobalt, copper, and graphite from the black mass produced from recycled lithium-ion batteries.
"With our existing facility in Canada, Electra can be the first recycler to establish a closed-loop supply of battery materials, making electric vehicles more sustainable and more reliant on domestic material," said Electra Battery Materials CEO Trent Mell. "Our first concrete steps on that path will be a commercial-scale demonstration plant in 2022 utilizing existing facilities and equipment."
In the lithium-ion battery recycling process, black mass is a powdery material that is produced by crushing or shredding the electrodes pulled out of spent batteries. This black powder contains critical battery materials such as lithium, cobalt, nickel, manganese, graphite, and copper.
This black mass must be further processed to extract the metals and minerals, which can then be upgraded to the anode and cathode materials that can be circulated back into new batteries.
Recent studies have shown that Electra Battery Materials' First Cobalt hydrometallurgical refinery is ideally suited for recovering the critical battery elements from black mass, as well as the scrap materials from lithium-ion battery manufacturing facilities.
With an investment of less than US$3 million, Electra's cobalt refinery in Ontario can be ready to process a bulk sample of material at full production scale by mid-2022
"We plan to demonstrate the ability to make products containing, nickel, cobalt, copper, lithium and graphite – all from recycled lithium-ion batteries," said Mark Trevisiol, vice president of project development at Electra Battery Materials.
With an additional investment, the First Cobalt refinery will have the ability to produce battery-grade materials that can be directly returned to the lithium-ion battery supply chain.
"This would be the first industrial-scale operation in North America to recover this list of recycled products for resale," Trevisiol added.
From this initial commercial-scale demonstration, Electra plans to expand its recycling business in a staged and modular fashion – initially recovering the critical battery metals and graphite from black mass produced from consumer electronic batteries and subsequently targeting primary scrap material from North American EV battery manufacturers.
"A secure, sustainable and domestic solution for recycling lithium-ion batteries is essential as North America shifts to electric mobility," Mell said. "At present, there is no industrial scale hydrometallurgical facility in North America to recycle the black mass material that is recovered when lithium-ion batteries are dismantled and shredded."
A recent report by BMO Capital Markets concluded that hydrometallurgical processing, such as is being used at Electra's facility, which dissolves the battery materials and then recovers the elements from solution, is preferred over pyrometallurgical that instead uses extreme heat to recover and purify the materials.
Based on independent peer comparisons conducted by London-based Minviro Ltd., Electra's facility will have 51% lower greenhouse gas emissions than comparable plants in China.
In addition to the lower carbon footprint, hydrometallurgical processing tends to recover more of the targeted materials and is more customizable, even producing a mix of battery materials ready to go directly back into batteries.
With this lower environmental footprint and North American locale, Electra has already been contacted by more than 20 black mass producers interested in selling their feed material to the emerging Canadian battery materials producer for processing.
The recycling circuit is the second phase of Electra's four-part strategy to establish a low-carbon battery materials park at its refinery in Ontario.
The initial phase of this plan is to re-establish the facility's original purpose – cobalt refining.
Towards this first step, the company is expanding the already permitted refinery to produce 5,000 metric tons of cobalt contained in a battery-grade cobalt sulfate by the end of next year. The facility will have all the components in place to instantaneously increase this capacity to 6,500 tons per year.
In the latter two phases, Electra intends to establish a nickel sulfate plant alongside the cobalt refinery and battery recycling facility, followed by a battery precursor materials plant in 2025.
Electra says the initial capacity of the cobalt, nickel and precursor facilities at the battery materials park is being designed to supply enough raw materials for batteries powering more than 1.5 million EVs per year. The modular design of this battery park facility will allow Electra to expand its capacity as the lithium-ion industry grows.