Altilium secures £700k+ in UK funding for research on recovery of copper and rare earths from mine waste
Altilium, a UK-based clean technology group, has secured more than £700,000 (US$889,000) in UK government innovation funding for two collaborative research projects focused on the recovery of copper and Rare Earth Elements (REE) from mine waste.
Building on its work to recover lithium and other critical battery materials from end-of-life EV batteries, Altilium is partnering with CPI and Camborne School of Mines (CSM) for the two projects, which aim to develop new environmentally-friendly processes for the recycling of REE and other battery metals from mine tailings.
Both projects will focus on utilizing mine tailings controlled by Altilium in Europe (the Medet concession, located in central Bulgaria), supporting the shift to a circular economy, mitigating waste and reducing new mining. Instead of sourcing metals from mining of virgin mineral resources, which are increasingly carbon and resource intensive to extract and refine, Altilium is exploring new opportunities to recover these metals from existing mine waste, and provide these in a form that can be utilized by the UK battery supply chain.
Altilium has exclusive rights to reprocess materials from the largest mine tailing site in Eastern Europe. Detailed analysis has already confirmed significant residues of copper, iron, aluminium and other metals in the mining waste.
Hydrometallurgical processing of the tailings will be carried out a new state-ofthe-art solvent extraction pilot plant at Altilium’s Technology Center in Tavistock. This work will focus on developing innovative leaching techniques and efficient separation methods, while minimizing waste generation and environmental impact.
ReTail: Recovery of copper, aluminium and other battery metals. In partnership with CPI, Altilium has been selected for funding under round 6 of UKRI’s Faraday Battery Change, which aims to accelerate the development and commercialization of advanced battery technologies in the UK and support growth of the supply chain in the UK battery sector.
The 12-month project aims to establish the feasibility and environmental impact of processing tailings from Altilium’s site in Europe to extract copper, aluminum and other battery materials for use in the UK EV battery supply chain (for example, to produce copper foils for use as current collectors). The aim is to develop clean and efficient methods that can be scaled for industrial application, reducing reliance on traditional mining practices.
Copper makes up around 11% of an NMC battery by weight, while aluminum typically makes up 19%. These metals are also used extensively in other EV components. While these metals are not conventionally considered rare, the growth of green transport and energy markets will greatly increase demand and require new supply options. ‘The Future of Copper’ report in 2022 warned: “Unless massive new [copper] supply comes online in a timely way, the goal of Net-Zero Emissions by 2050 will remain out of reach”.
ReREE: Recovery of rare earth elements. Altilium is also working with the Camborne School of Mines on a feasibility study exploring the recovery of rare earth elements from mine tailings using innovative hydrometallurgical processes, thus supporting the development of a resilient and sustainable supply chain for REEs in the UK.
The project has secured funding from Innovate UK under the Critical Materials for Magnets Competition, part of the circular critical materials supply chains (CLIMATES) program. Announced in February, The CLIMATES programme, has committed £15 million of government funding for research to strengthen the supply of critical materials.
As well as evaluating the technical and economic viability of the process, the study will also include an environmental impact assessment to ensure sustainable practices and minimize ecological footprint. Geochemical and mineralogical characterization of tailings will be carried out by CSM, while Pensana Plc will provide commercial feedback on the recovered materials. Pensana is establishing an independent, sustainable rare earth supply chain with midstream processing to produce magnet metal in the UK.
Identified in the UK Govt’s Critical Mineral Strategy, REEs are vital to the UK’s electrification ambitions, forming a critical part of the technology for EV motors and offshore wind turbines, as well as other technological applications. With the increasing adoption of EVs and growth of offshore wind, demand for REEs is forecast to grow seven-fold by 2050.
This supply chain represents a huge opportunity for UK businesses; the global market for rare-earth elements (REE) is projected to grow from $2.5 billion to $5.5 billion by 2028 according to Fortune Business Insights. However, their extraction and production often have negative environmental impacts, while China currently dominates over 90% of the supply chain for permanent magnets.