By Faith Ashmore, Benzinga
Today, only roughly 5% of lithium-ion batteries are recycled around the world. This is a startling statistic when compared to the reality that it is projected that between 2022 and 2030, the global demand for lithium-ion batteries will increase almost sevenfold. Lithium-ion batteries are a key component in electric vehicles, energy storage systems and portable electronics. As the lithium battery industry continues to grow and transitions towards more sustainable practices, the need for a circular economy for battery materials is essential. Without robust recycling, companies and countries risk depleting key minerals and resources that are essential to the modern world.
Recycling lithium batteries allows for the recovery and reuse of valuable metals like lithium, cobalt, nickel and manganese, which are essential for the production of new batteries. By recycling these materials, we can reduce the reliance on mining, conserve natural resources, and minimize the environmental footprint associated with battery production. Not to mention, recycling, when done effectively, can minimize the disposal of hazardous materials and help prevent pollution. There are a few companies that are heralding the age of recycling in the era of lithium-ion batteries. Below, we look at some of the leading contenders.
Redwood Materials is a Nevada-based recycling and battery material company co-founded by JB Straubel in 2017. Its goal is to create a domestic supply chain of critical materials for battery manufacturing through the recycling and refining of virgin materials. They have made headlines for developing partnerships with companies like Panasonic and Toyota (NYSE:TM) and for raising over $2 billion in funding to support their projects.
However, Redwood Materials has also faced criticisms of its recycling practices. While they have made efforts to create a closed-loop system for material recovery, some have pointed out that Redwood uses a recycling process based on pyrometallurgy – melting batteries in high-temperature furnaces to recover certain metals. This practice loses key materials like lithium, contributes to pollution and serves to undermine sustainability goals by harming human health and the environment.
Additionally, the capital-intensive nature of Redwood Materials' operations can limit the scalability of its recycling efforts, which could ultimately limit the benefits of its work in mitigating the environmental impact of battery production. The company has dedicated substantial resources toward creating new cathode materials for U.S. manufacturers, which may indicate the company is more focused on that part of the battery supply chain than specifically recycling.
Li-Cycle (NYSE:LICY) is a Canadian company focused on providing solutions for lithium-ion battery recycling. They utilize a hydrometallurgical process (‘hydromet'), which involves using caustic chemical solutions to extract the valuable materials from spent batteries. Li-Cycle has gained attention for its rapid expansion and ambitious plans, attracting funding and partnerships with various battery industry players.
While they have replaced traditional furnace-based techniques with chemical processes, some critics argue that the company's reliance on chemicals trades one detrimental practice for another. Instead of burning batteries to create slag and lots of emissions, trainloads of one-time-use chemicals are employed.
These consumable chemicals come with their own embedded emissions, must be constantly transported and stored on-site, and produce significant amounts of waste byproduct that must be landfilled – typically sodium sulfate. And the amounts can be staggering, often 3-4x as much waste as critical minerals recovered. This chemical-heavy approach can be costly and potentially raises questions about the long-term viability of the hydromet recycling process as a sustainable solution.
Industry critics also point out that Li-Cycle's flagship facilities, known as 'Hubs,' have encountered significant budget overruns, and the scalability and reliability of their technology remain unproven. Li-Cycle's 'Spokes,' where batteries are collected and shredded into black mass, have also been criticized for producing poor-quality materials. The method of shredding EV packs as a whole without first disassembling structural components results in a higher proportion of waste in the black mass materials – making the material more difficult and costly to recycle.
American Battery Technology Co
American Battery Technology Co (NASDAQ:ABAT), formerly known as American Battery Metals Corporation, is a US-based battery recycling technology startup founded in 2011. The company recently joined the Nevada Battery Coalition (NBC) with companies like Lithium Americas (NASDAQ:LAC).
American Battery Technology Co specializes in a hydrometallurgical process for recycling batteries and recently acquired a building that housed a former lead acid recycling operation in Reno for their new facility. The company also has expanded interests in primary mineral mining as well as virgin metals refining. While the company has made claims regarding its lithium mining operations in the region, they have not yet demonstrated its recovery technology at scale.
Aqua Metals Inc. (NASDAQ:AQMS) is a company looking to leapfrog current recycling technologies and is pioneering a new form of lithium-ion battery recycling that doesn't rely on furnaces or intensive chemical processes. They have developed a patented electrified recycling process they call AquaRefining™, which the company highlights as an environmentally friendly and electricity-based alternative to current recycling methods.
The AquaRefining process is a novel system that transforms lithium battery ‘black mass' – the industry term for the composite of shredded battery metals and manufacturing scraps ready to be recycled – into high-purity, reclaimed battery metals that can be delivered back into the supply chain. An electricity-powered recycling solution replaces furnaces and one-time-use chemicals, and this would mean dramatically less carbon pollution for every tonne of material recycled – and would eliminate the significant chemical waste byproducts typical of recycling today.
The key differentiating factor of Aqua Metals' patented recycling process lies in the use of clean electricity instead of high-temperature furnaces and chemical reactions. Through an innovative technique akin to electroplating, dissolved metals are atomically extracted from a solution and attached to an electrode. Another notable aspect of this process is its regenerative approach. The electricity not only extracts the critical metals but also replenishes the company's proprietary solution as part of the recovery process, drastically reducing chemical usage on-site by over 95% compared to other recycling technologies.
The company is currently operating its pilot-scale facility and is already underway developing a five-acre campus outside Reno, NV into its first commercial-scale lithium battery recycling operation, with an expected capacity of 10,000 tonnes per year when completed.
The Future of Recycling
As the world ushers in a new era of sustainability and electrification, the ability to recycle the critical minerals that will power our devices, our vehicles and our economy is essential to achieving our ambitious goals to combat the worst impacts of climate change.
In this fast-approaching future, developing truly sustainable recycling stands out as a crucial component of building a circular economy. Companies like Aqua Metals are at the forefront of this transition, redefining the recycling landscape with innovative technologies that are delivering a clear path to net-zero battery recycling.
This post contains sponsored content. This content is for informational purposes only and not intended to be investing advice.
View source version on newsdirect.com: https://newsdirect.com/news/the-world-is-powered-by-batteries-but-who-is-leading-the-charge-in-battery-recycling-841171298
2023 News Direct Corp.