With day one of Paydirt’s Battery Minerals Conference heading towards close, presentations covered off most stages in the supply chain from exploration to downstream processing, but few dealt with the less discussed area of circular materials recovery and recycling.
With ESG principals being an underlying factor in the development of all battery minerals projects at one level or another, it is logical that as the use of batteries becomes more prolific in transport and energy storage the need to recapture valuable chemical ingredients will become more critical to the sustainability of the vertically integrated industry.
One company that has made a conscious pivot away from more carbon intensive upstream mining to focus on the processing technology required to reuse critical minerals like lithium and vanadium is ASX listed Neometals.
Neometals has three separate projects under way in that regard, but it is the company’s lithium-ion battery recycling process that could see Neometals capitalise on its early mover advantage in what will likely become a globally significant part of the future story for the battery industry.
Neometals managing director Chris Reed told the conference his company really did walk the talk when it came to sustainability, with all projects materially removing carbon from the battery footprint.
The Australian company has partnered with SMS Group in Germany to commercialise the lithium-ion recycling technology.
“The issue with EVs that is under publicised, is the fact they have twice the carbon footprint of your internal combustion engine and only become a net benefit to the environment in year seven,” Mr Reed said.
“That is because they have batteries in them and batteries are made from predominantly mined material that comes from Australia, Indonesia and the Congo – and we need to reduce that.
“The existing recycling where they burn it, get a dirty metal button and then refine that is great, but they only get about 50% mass recovery, so that pulls about half the carbon out of it. Our process is looking to take between 90% to 95% out.
“With Europe’s new battery regulations, you are going to have to have technologies like ours by 2025 to be compliant.”
Neometals’ hydrometallurgical recycling solution, designed to supersede traditional pyrometallurgical processes, took several years of research and development and was proven to be effective through a year-long pilot plant project in Canada.
“We can take cells of different formats and different chemistries, and in different states of charge, and we can safely shred them,” he said.
“Its more like a base metal concentrator. We take out the rubbish: the plastics; the steel casings; the copper and aluminium foil, which is valuable rubbish – and we are left with a black powder.
“We pass that [black powder] over to the hydrometallurgical refinery and we essentially dissolve that in sulphuric acid and then we use conventional solvent extraction to recover the battery metals as sulphates that can go straight into cathode producers for new cells.
“One of the novel things we use, rather than cheap sodium, we use ammonia for our pH adjustment and our tailings product is ammonium sulphate fertiliser.”