New Battery Recycling Center Will Have A Big Impact on Europe

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Lithium-ion batteries are a rapidly growing technology, used to power everything from our mobile phones to electric vehicles to renewable energy systems. Lithium-ion batteries generally have a much longer lifespan than anti-EV commentators would lead people to believe, and once they’re too degraded for vehicle use, they serve for years more doing stationary energy storage. But, they eventually get to the point where they are no longer useful and will need to be recycled.

Recycling lithium-ion batteries is extremely important, and for several key reasons.

First, these batteries contain valuable metals such as cobalt, copper, and lithium that can be recovered and reused. By recycling these metals, we can reduce our reliance on mining and extractive activities that aren’t free or even cheap.

On top of that, failing to recycle lithium-ion batteries can lead to significant environmental harm. When not disposed of properly, these batteries can leak toxic chemicals and heavy metals into the soil and groundwater, polluting the surrounding ecosystem. This can have major implications for human health and wildlife, and that’s before you consider the mining activities that an be avoided through recycling.

Finally, lithium-ion battery recycling is essential for the growing renewable energy industry to continue its expansion. As renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power become more prevalent, so too does the need for large-scale energy storage systems. Recycling lithium-ion batteries from electric vehicles and renewable energy systems can provide a sustainable source of raw material for the production of new batteries and keep this growth from being stunted by lack of supply.

In short, the importance of lithium-ion battery recycling cannot be overstated. It is essential to reduce environmental harm, conserve valuable resources, and support the ongoing growth of sustainable energy technologies.

So, it’s great news that Li-Cycle (a recycling company) and Glencore (a mining company) have partnered to do something significant in this space.

The two firms have committed to collaborating on a feasibility study to investigate the creation of a hub facility in Portovesme, Italy. The proposed “Portovesme Hub” would focus on producing essential battery materials like cobalt, lithium, and nickel by recycling used battery content. A letter of intent has been signed to commence the preliminary discussions.

Li-Cycle’s advanced hydrometallurgical technology will be utilized to establish the Portovesme Hub, which is expected to become Europe’s biggest manufacturer of sustainable battery grade products. Portovesme, located in Sardinia, Italy is home to a lead-zinc smelter and hydrometallurgical facility that began operating in 1929. The site already has significant infrastructure, including access to a port, utilities, and processing equipment from the hydrometallurgical plant, as well as an experienced workforce.

Li-Cycle and Glencore plan to conduct a definitive feasibility study (DFS) for the Portovesme Hub within 60 days of this announcement. The DFS is expected to be finished by mid-2024, and subject to investment decisions by the parties, construction will commence. Commissioning of the Portovesme Hub is projected to begin in late 2026 to early 2027.

“The planned Portovesme Hub is a landmark project for Europe’s battery recycling industry and is expected to be the largest source of recycled battery-grade lithium on the Continent. We are excited to expand our global strategic partnership with Glencore and build on our learnings from the Rochester Hub in support of the rapid growth of the lithium-ion battery ecosystem in an environmentally friendly manner,” said Tim Johnston, co-founder and Executive Chair, Li-Cycle. “Li-Cycle’s expansion in Europe aligns with our modular rollout strategy, as we replicate our successful North American model, which mirrors customer demand and commercial contracting with a strategically located pre-processing Spoke network and centralized post-processing Hub.”

Li-Cycle and Glencore intend to form a 50/50 joint venture that will repurpose a portion of Glencore’s existing metallurgical complex in Portovesme, Italy, to establish the Portovesme Hub. The plan is to achieve a cost-efficient and accelerated development process. The project will also involve Glencore, providing competitive long-term financing to fund Li-Cycle’s portion of the capital investment.

The Portovesme Hub is expected to have an annual processing capacity of up to 50,000 to 70,000 tonnes of black mass, equivalent to up to 36 GWh of lithium-ion batteries when operational. The black mass will be supplied from Li-Cycle’s expanding Spoke network in Europe and through Glencore’s commercial network. The facility is anticipated to be the first of such scale and kind in Europe. It would allow Europe to progress toward its objective of utilizing hydrometallurgical processes to recycle end-of-life batteries and manufacturing scrap while staying within the region, in conjunction with Li-Cycle’s Spoke network and Glencore’s battery circularity platform.

“This project, combined with our existing footprint in primary supply as well as recycling of battery metals, underpins our ambition to become the circularity partner of choice for the European battery and EV industry. This also marks a significant step in our collaboration with Li-Cycle, a preferred partner in the lithium-ion battery recycling space,” said Kunal Sinha, Global Head of Recycling, Glencore. “Establishing a Hub through the re-purposing of our Portovesme site, which could become the first Glencore asset to produce battery-grade lithium, will enable us to truly close the loop for our European OEM and gigafactory customers across all aspects of the supply chain. It will shorten delivery times, reduce emissions by minimising the distance of the freight routes and support Italy and Europe’s ambitions to be a global leader in the circular economy.”

Upon commencement of its operations, the Portovesme Hub is expected to offer substantial advantages to both Li-Cycle and Glencore, as it will provide an expeditious way to establish a Europe-based post-processing facility with low capital intensity due to the existing infrastructure, equipment, and skilled workers at the Portovesme site.

While there’s no way this one facility can take care of Europe’s full battery recycling needs, that’s not what makes this such a big announcement anyway. The studying and development of mass recycling processes is what really sets the stage for future facilities that will take care of the rest of the needs. So, this announcement is both good for the near-term and the long-term future!

Featured image provided by Li-Cycle and Glencore (screenshot from video embedded in article).

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1983 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba