Australia’s Neometals Approaching Lithium-Ion Battery Cell Recycling Goal

Neometals lithium ion battery recycling

Australia’s Neometals Ltd has announced the successful commissioning of stage 1 of its lithium‐ion battery recycling pilot plant – but it’s not here.

Stage 1 consists of a feed preparation process, which the company says safely and efficiently shreds end-of-life lithium ion batteries (LIBs) at a commercial scale. An interesting aspect is some of these batteries still carry charge. Shredding lithium batteries is accompanied by a risk of combustion occurring, but obviously that threat has been overcome.

Here’s what the Stage 1 equipment looks like.

lithium ion battery recycling feed preparation

As part of commissioning of Stage 1, two tonnes of battery cells have gone through the shredder. From there, what’s left of the batteries will be screened, with plastic and steel casing components removed; both of which will head to recycling. What will be left is “black powder”, which is comprised of cobalt, nickel and lithium compounds along with shredded copper and aluminium foil.

The black powder will then be processed in Stage 2 – hydrometallurgy recovery and refining.

Neometals says it has developed a process flowsheet that will result in more than 90% of all battery materials recovered and from all types of lithium-ion batteries; includes cells used in electric vehicles (EV) and solar energy storage.

“With ever increasing volumes of commercial LIBs reaching their end of life, we are focussed on proving at scale, then qualifying our scaleable and modular recycling solution with industry as early as possible,” said Neometals Managing Director Chris Reed.

SGS Canada Inc. has been engaged by the company to undertake both the front-end feed preparation and hydrometallurgical processing/refining stages.

A scoping study from 2017 put the estimated operating cost at US$4.45/lb contained Cobalt vs LME Spot/3 month/15 month prices of ~US$24.50/lb at that time. Cobalt did get as high as around $42 last year, but has dropped dramatically – currently it’s sitting at around US$13.60.

Why Canada?

The big question some Australians may be asking: why is the pilot plant in Canada and not in Neometals’ home country of Australia?

In an interview with StockHead, Mr. Reed said the pilot plant is a showcase for potential partners — and Australia isn’t really a target market for NeoMetals. The company’s target markets are US, Europe and (obviously other parts of) Asia.

However, Mr. Reed acknowledged “anything that the Canadians can do, we can do down here as good, if not better”.

So perhaps it’s time we did. While electric cars and solar batteries still aren’t all that common in Australia, it may not be long before both are. Unlike (good quality) solar panels, solar batteries won’t have a service life anywhere near as long and it will take some time to ramp up the required recycling infrastructure.

On a related note, we’ve mentioned a few times over the past eighteen months not much seemed to be happening in Australia on the solar panel recycling front. Australia’s only venture, Reclaim PV, had been very quiet. However, last month the company reportedly stated it will open Australia’s first commercial solar-panel recycling plant in mid 2019. 

About Michael Bloch

Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He's been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.

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