Umicore will build an industrial scale recycling facility for end-of-life rechargeable batteries in Hoboken, Belgium. The investment will enable Umicore to deal with the expected growth in the availability of end-of-life Lithium-ion, Lithium-Polymer and Nickel Metal Hydride rechargeable batteries.
Increasingly stringent legislation is also placing a heavy premium on the efficient and eco-friendly recycling of end-of-life materials, such as used batteries. By 2012 in the European Union, for example, 25% of all portable batteries placed on the market will have to be collected and recycled. This figure will rise to 45 % by 2016.
Umicore currently operates a small scale facility which treats spent batteries that come primarily from portable electronic equipment such as mobile phones and laptop computers. The new facility will have an initial annual capacity of 7,000 tonnes. This is the equivalent of some 150,000 HEV batteries or 250 million mobile phone batteries. The plant, which involves an investment of €25 million, (US$37.4 million) is expected to start operating in the first half of 2011.
The new industrial operation will use Umicore’s proprietary and patented Ultra High Temperature Smelting technology. This recycling process has high metal yields and will cut CO2 emissions compared to the primary production of cobalt and nickel. Furthermore, this process is significantly more energy efficient than any other existing battery recycling process and also guarantees that no hazardous dioxins or other volatile organic compounds are released into the environment, according to Umicore.
Currently, the process allows for the recycling of cobalt, nickel, copper and other metals and is fully in line with Umicore’s strategy of closing the materials loop. The scale-up of this new ultra high temperature smelting technology will also enable Umicore to test its suitability for recycling new streams of materials. For example, Umicore is working on developing a capability to recycle lithium for re-use in lithium-ion batteries.
Umicore already counts a number of the world’s leading electronics and automotive manufacturers among its key suppliers of recyclable materials. The move to electrified automotive transport is expected to be a global trend and Umicore will, in time, be evaluating the extension of this new recycling technology to other regions. Umicore is also the world’s largest recycler of precious metals and is a leading producer of key materials for rechargeable batteries.