A new solution by Nordic clean energy company Fortum makes more than 80% of an electric vehicle (EV) battery recyclable, returns the scarce metals back into circulation and resolves the sustainability gap by reducing the need to mine cobalt, nickel, and other scarce metals.
There are very few working, economically viable technologies for recycling the majority of materials in lithium-ion batteries. We saw a challenge that was not yet solved and developed a scalable recycling solution for all industries using batteries.—Kalle Saarimaa, Vice President, Fortum Recycling and Waste
Fortum achieves the recycling rate of over 80% with a low-CO2 hydrometallurgical recycling process. The current recycling rate for batteries is approximately 50%.
The batteries are first made safe for mechanical treatment, with plastics, aluminum and copper separated and directed to their own recycling processes.
The chemical and mineral components of the battery form a “black mass” that typically consists of a mixture of lithium, manganese, cobalt and nickel in different ratios. Of these, nickel—and especially cobalt—are the most valuable and most difficult to recover.
Fortum is using use a unique recovery process involving a chemical precipitation methodology that allows these minerals to be recovered and delivered to battery manufacturers for reuse in the production of new batteries. This technology was developed by the Finnish growth company Crisolteq Oy.
Crisolteq has a hydrometallurgical recycling facility in Harjavalta, Finland, that is already able to operate on an industrial scale.
Circular economy in its strictest sense means recycling an element to its original function or purpose. When we discuss the recycling of lithium-ion batteries, the ultimate aim is for the majority of the battery’s components to be recycled to new batteries.—Kalle Saarimaa
Fortum is also piloting second-life applications for batteries in which the EV batteries are used in stationary energy storages after they are no longer fit for their original purpose.
According to one forecast by the International Energy Agency, the number of electric vehicles on the world’s roads will increase from 3 million to 125 million by 2030. Batteries powering electric vehicles consume huge amounts of plastics, metals and rare minerals. The current EU regulation on the recycling rate for batteries is only 50% of the total weight of the battery.
If the IEA’s EV forecast holds true, it would mean an 800% increase in the demand for nickel and manganese and a 150% increase in the demand for cobalt for the production of new batteries. These scarce minerals, mined from very few locations, would increase the greenhouse gas emissions from their production by 500%. Using recycled materials also reduces the CO2 emissions from production up to 90%.
Limited availability and the environmental impacts of mining mean that recycling these scarce elements back to battery manufacturing is key to reducing the environmental impacts of battery use throughout the life cycle, Fortum says.