THE CONFERENCE CALLER: Pyrometallurgical processing of spent Lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) can efficiently recover nickel, copper, cobalt and manganese from LIBs, but not the lithium or graphite.
Research and development into the science by Western Australia-based battery recycling company, Lithium Australia (ASX: LIT) recognised that a potential alternative to the downsides associated with pyrometallurgical processing is to take a hydrometallurgical approach.
LIBs enable us to cope with the technological demands of modern living, such as maintaining a charge on our mobile phones or computer-related devices, thus keeping us contacted with the rest of the world and our family members in the next room.
They are, presently, our greatest source of portable power yet are, ironically, creating an environmental nightmare.
On a global basis only around nine per cent of spent LIBs are recycled to keep them out of landfill and recover valuable metals.
In Australia, which is supposedly one of the recycling powerhouses, the recycling rate is embarrassing, some would say woeful, coming in at less than three per cent.
What this all means is that the world is missing out on a great opportunity – that being the large quantity of batteries discarded globally which actually represents a potentially significant resource.
Australia is a long way behind the countries that are presently leading the battery recycling wars.
Belgium, South Korea, China and Canada recycle the most batteries, with the metals they contain generally recovered by smelting – or as it is referred to by those in the know – pyrometallurgical processing.
Lithium Australia is developing a hydrometallurgical technique that recovers all metals, including lithium, from spent LIBs.
Lithium Australia has openly declared that its corporate intentions include shoring up an ethical and sustainable supply of energy metals to the battery industry, thus enhancing energy security in the process.
The company is eager to create a circular battery economy and has highlighted the recycling of old lithium-ion batteries to new, is intrinsic to this plan.
In October 2019, Lithium Australia announced it had increased its equity in Envirostream Australia Pty Ltd (EA) to 23.9 per cent.
Envirostream is the only company in Australia with the integrated capacity to collect, sort, shred and separate all the components of spent LIBs.
In December, Lithium Australia completed a JV for joint battery marketing operations with China-based battery and energy storage specialists the DLG Group (DLG).
The JV will trade as Soluna Australia Pty Ltd, and will sell lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) and Soluna energy storage products into the rapidly expanding Australian renewables energy market.
Lithium Australia’s 100 per cent-owned subsidiary company, VSPC Ltd has developed advanced processes for manufacturing lithium-ferro-phosphate (LFP) cathode powders at its R&D and pilot plant facility in Brisbane, Queensland.
The cathode powders produced by VSPC possess simple nanotechnology that produces superior battery cathodes, provides control of composition and particle size in a precise manner and highly reliable quality control with low production costs.
VSPC Ltd signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Beijing Saideli Technology Incorporated Company Ltd (SDL) to commercialise VSPC cathode material.
The terms of the MoU include the low-capital establishment of a supply chain for VSPC cathode material in China, and collaboration on a feasibility study for an international cathode material project, beyond China, using VSPC technology.
The MoU was agreed following technical review and discussions based on VSPC’s Lithium-Ferro-Phosphate (LFP) cathode product.
VSPC is a developer of advanced cathode materials that owns a patented process for the production of lithium-ion battery (LIB) cathode materials.
SDL’s experience lies in the design and manufacture of process equipment and extensive experience in the construction, commissioning and operation of chemical process plants, including those for the production of LIB cathode powders.
The market for LFP cathode material is anticipated to enjoy a strong run in the near future with analysts forecasting to grow strongly over the next decade.
In addition to core applications for ebus and stationary storage, heightened demand is expected through substitution (existing) and displacement (expanding) in applications that have traditionally been the domain of lead acid batteries.
This includes, but is not limited to, 12V and 48V applications for micro and mild hybrid powertrains, LSEV (low speed electric vehicles), datacentre UPS and 5G tower backup.
“We see partnering with SDL – which has a demonstrated track record in process development and high-tech process plant delivery – as a great opportunity,” Lithium Australia managing director Adrian Griffin said.
“VSPC’s MoU with SDL provides Lithium Australia with a low-capital pathway to the commercialisation of VSPC cathode powders, in order to meet targets set by our other partners in China.”