Michael O’Kronley, CEO, Battery Resourcers
With the transportation and energy industries driving wide scale adoption of lithium-ion batteries, robust, scalable and reliable supply chains are becoming a priority for major vehicle OEMs, electric grid operators and even national governments. That’s the reason for the U.S. National Blueprint for Lithium Batteries, released in June of this year and the EU Batteries Directive Legislation from December 2020.
Environmental sustainability is a major component of these efforts, but in fact, just the start.
The EU Batteries Regulation includes this statement:
Batteries that are more sustainable throughout their life cycle… promote competitive sustainability and are necessary for green transport, clean energy and to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. The proposal addresses the social, economic and environmental issues related to all types of batteries.
Similarly, the U.S. Roadmap, laid out the Vision for the Lithium-Battery Supply Chain, which states:
By 2030, the United States and its partners will establish a secure battery materials and technology supply chain that supports long-term U.S. economic competitiveness and equitable job creation, enables decarbonization, advances social justice, and meets national security requirements.
Battery Resourcers shares this global, forward-looking view of sustainability for the good of the battery industry and broader society. Battery manufacturing requires a variety of raw materials that must be mined, and it consumes a great deal of power to convert those materials into finished goods. As use of lithium-ion batteries accelerates, we will soon see a tidal wave of batteries being retired. There is a huge opportunity to make the industry more sustainable and derive economic, environmental and social progress around the world.
We believe our model for the lithium-ion battery supply chain is the best way to get there.
A clear way to understand our approach is to see how it aligns with the U.S. National Blueprint for Lithium Batteries report, specifically with goal 2 (materials-processing base) and goal 4 (end-of-life reuse and critical materials recycling at scale). We’ll turn to the EU proposal after that.
GOAL 2: Support the growth of a U.S. materials-processing base able to meet domestic battery manufacturing demand
Battery Resourcers is a battery materials company that manufactures battery-grade metals, active cathode materials and graphite that go directly back into the battery supply chain. But instead of using raw metals that were mined, we reclaim our input from old, end-of-life (EoL) or scrap lithium-ion batteries. We close the loop in the domestic supply chain, thereby decreasing the need for valuable resources such as lithium, nickel, cobalt, manganese, copper, aluminum and graphite that are expensive to procure and are mined and refined using carbon-intensive methods.
This closed-loop process creates high-end cathode materials that are 35% less expensive to make than those from virgin sources, primarily due to the lower cost of the raw materials. Cathode active materials are the most expensive materials of lithium-ion batteries, so this reduced cost helps the domestic industry move closer to Objective 3 of this Goal: Develop improved processes for existing materials to decrease cost and improve performance that enables a $60/kWh cell cost.
By turning EoL batteries into high-value active battery materials, we go beyond the current industry expectations for the battery supply chain. We optimize the value of battery recycling and the material lifecycle to make it more efficient and ultimately better for the industry and the environment. Instead of recycling, we call this “upcycling” of the supply chain, because we improve the economic value of EoL battery materials.
Let’s look at the US National Blueprint goal 4 to better understand how this works.
GOAL 4: Enable U.S. end-of-life reuse and critical materials recycling at scale and a full competitive value chain in the U.S.
We’re not the only company to recycle EoL lithium-ion batteries. Many recyclers shred spent batteries or smelt them to create a cobalt-nickel alloy, while some more advanced recyclers can extract commodity metals such as lithium, cobalt and nickel. They all feed the early stages of the supply chain, namely refining and cathode precursor manufacturing.
What’s different is where our closed-loop process reintroduces recycled materials in the supply chain. An upcycling approach converts EoL batteries directly into engineered active battery materials—cathode and anode—for the battery manufacturer. In fact, the process can even take a battery manufacturer’s scrap and turn it back into materials to make more batteries! This model is the most efficient for objective 4 of this Goal: Develop processing technologies to reintroduce these materials into the supply chain.
As shown in figure 1, by reintroducing battery materials much later in the supply chain compared to the typical material reintroduction point, significant cost savings can be realized along with a reduction in carbon emissions.
Our process recycles over 99% of all the materials in the EoL batteries, including plastics, copper, aluminum, cobalt, manganese, nickel and electrolyte. Over 50% of the EoL battery material is converted directly into valuable active battery materials.
We are also co-locating our facilities alongside new battery production lines, to further optimize the battery production cost structure and lower the environmental impact of the supply chain.
With higher recovery rates, more revenue realized, and lower environmental impact, the upcycling closed-loop model accelerates both critical materials manufacturing at scale as well as a full competitive value chain for the domestic industry.
EU Batteries Directive Legislation
As stated before, the EU Batteries Directive also expands the common understanding of sustainability in the lithium battery industry. In addition to avoiding sourcing raw materials from conflict zones and lowering the CO2 footprint, the Directive calls for strict reuse of material by tracking every battery above a certain size to ensure it stays within the EU for recycling, thereby "sustaining” the domestic supply chain in the EU. It also sets specific targets for recycling efficiencies, ensuring availability of reclaimed battery materials for the supply chain, as you can see in Table 1.
Click image to enlarge
Table 1: Recycling Efficiencies – EU Directive and Battery Resourcers capabilities
We see our model as directly assisting the EU in achieving these goals. Locating our cathode manufacturing facilities next to recycling centers helps to ensure that EoL EV batteries can remain in the EU as they are converted into valuable new materials. Our current recycling rates are far above the EU targets for recycling cobalt, lithium and nickel set for the year 2030. Our current technology and process will help the industry meet EU goals and sustain its battery supply chain and the EV industry across the decade.
Sustainability for the Environment, Industry and Society
As lithium-ion batteries become a fundamental part of our transportation, energy and other sectors, how we grow the battery supply chain is also fundamental for meeting goals not just for environmental stewardship, but also for sustaining our economic competitiveness, job creation, social justice and national security. A closed-loop model of upcycling EoL lithium batteries into valuable materials for industry is the best way to optimize value and achieve all of these goals.