Q&A: Building battery recycling capabilities

Technology Minerals is a London-based, LSE-listed company creating a circular economy for battery metals. The company, which is also engaged in extracting raw materials required for lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery cathodes, plans to increase its lead-acid battery recycling capability to 16,000 tonnes per annum by 2022, and 5,000 tonnes per annum for Li-ion batteries in the same time frame.

Robin Brundle, chairman of Technology Minerals plc, outlines TM’s plans to recycle batteries on an industrial scale.

You aim to build one recycling plant a year for the next six years. Who are you partnering with in this endeavour and what do they bring to your plans?

We start full industrial-scale production in early 2022 with two plants, the first, which is currently being installed and will be ready for commissioning in January, is focused on lead-acid battery recycling. The second on lithium-ion battery recycling is now in a manufacture test phase and will be ready for commissioning in February 2022. The sites are both located in the Midlands.

Our recently announced partnership with Slicker Recycling provides a full UK footprint for safe custodianship of collection, of all types of li-ion batteries to our processing plants as we start to build front end inventory during 2022 and grow production. In addition, the wider Slicker group is also very strong in Europe offering a mirror image of the services they offer in the UK. So that could be, at the appropriate time, important for us as we build commercial relationships in Europe.

Can you explain how your recycling process works? How do you get the value out of the so-called ‘black mass’?

The process, for both lead-acid and li-ion, starts through our nationwide collection process and the safe delivery of the batteries to our processing plants in the Midlands.

The li-ion process is industry-leading, and we own the IP on both the process and the plant design. Our process safely deals with all five types of li-ion battery sciences and in any mix or combination at the same time. The plant is modular in design and thus cost effective and each plant can process 5,000 tones per year on a single shift basis. The plant is UK designed, UK manufactured and serviced by a UK company. What sets us apart is that our process does not use pyrolysis or saline solution, and this removes risk to the working environment.

battery recycling
Image by Finnrich from Pixabay

On the lead-acid side, we are industrialising and mechanising a long-established industry that has traditionally been very labour intensive. The efficiencies of the plant combined with our processes really does modernise the sector and will assist in reducing the number of batteries that are either incinerated or worse still sent to landfill.

With regard to black mass, we are working on an end solution for the UK market – it is notable that as it stands – the UK doesn’t currently have the capability to process the black mass back to its constituent parts.

Until the UK has this capability, we have global offtake partners with whom we have already shared testing samples from our process. We already have these offtake partners in place as we build black mass production through 2022.

Are your processes patented and do you intend to license them?

On the li-ion plant, we are currently reviewing our patent applications for both the plant and the process. We are focused on retaining our early to market advantage and will take the necessary steps to do so. The final design and build of the plant have taken nearly two years and is testament to the engineering innovation that we have to hand in such depth in the UK.

UK set for industrial scale battery recycling

On the lead-acid side, we are currently writing a new process to surpass any previous patents that exist. The plant has been sourced from the UK, Europe and Brazil and takes circa eight months from order to completion.

What relationship do you have with Gigafactories?

We have a number of ongoing discussions with the battery OEMs which are at various stages of maturity, and also the tier one auto manufacturers to become their respective partners of choice. Certainly, we aim to build out our plants in line with customer requirements and, where appropriate, creating a bespoke recycling capability on-site which utilises the benefits of our modular processing plant and technology.

You are currently looking at Li-ion batteries from EVs. Do you plan on using other sources (laptops, tablets etc) of battery?

This proprietary process enables us to put all five sciences of lithium-ion batteries through our process, whether that is from portable devices, laptops, e-bikes, through to the heavier end of automotive and energy stations. Each battery type has a slightly different science, and our process allows us to safely recycle any combination through to the output of the ‘black mass’ material, which is rich in a number of the key metals which goes onto the final process of refining back to their respective form.

Image by Bruce Emmerling from Pixabay

What markets are you targeting?  

Because of the ability of the process to handle all five sciences in lithium-ion batteries we are not restricted as to sector or industry, from the perspective of local authorities looking for safe handling and recycling, through to the automotive OEMs, fleet management and auto dealership networks we have the logistic solution and the re-purposing and then recycling engineering process that really does embrace a circular economy solution for end-of-use and end-of-life batteries.

More broadly, what percentage of your mined products do you expect to introduce into the mix over time? 

Our whole strategy is focused on the circular economy, and specifically in the battery sector, and as such we are targeting 100 per cent of all materials being used, be that mined or recycled.

The focus for our recycling operation longer term is on the UK and European markets with a view to grow to 20,000 tonnes of lithium-ion batteries and 60,000 tonnes of lead-acid batteries respectively per annum over the next decade.

The largest market opportunity is in the automotive industry, with 800,000 tonnes of battery per year, equating to ~70 per cent of the battery market in Europe

Lead-acid is the largest battery type with 831,000 tonnes, comprising over 72 per cent of the battery market in Europe.