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Lithium recycling goes commercial to meet ‘unprecedented phase of the market’

‘Size reduced’ lithium battery materials. Li-Cycle says its two-step process can “safely and sustainability recover the resources from all types of end-of-life lithium-ion batteries.” Image: Li-Cycle.

A new lithium battery recycling facility, established by operator Li-Cycle on a commercial basis at the well-known Eastman Business Park in New York State, answers both a growing need and an opportunity in an “unprecedented phase” of deployment, the company has said.

The Canadian company has previously penned a technical feature article for and PV Tech Power on the science and technology underpinning its two-step process for recycling, claiming that 80% to 100% of battery recycling is possible through mechanical size reduction (shredding packs and cells) and then recovering materials through a hydrometallurgical process. Li-Cycle announced its first commercial shipment of recycled lithium battery materials to a customer at the beginning of this year. 

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Eastman Business Park in Rochester, New York, is also host to a number of other battery industry operations, including Kodak’s battery production centre. Li-Cycle representatives said via email that the announced facility will be a “spoke” of the companies operations (as opposed to a “hub”), with capacity to process 5,000 tonnes of spent lithium-ion batteries per year.

“The ‘Spoke’ technology transforms lithium-ion batteries into an inert, non-hazardous intermediate product consisting of the electrode material, while separating plastics and other metals contained in the battery for further downstream recycling by third parties,” the company’s representatives said in an exclusive commentary sent to this week.

‘First step to addressing mass market global opportunity’

According to Li-Cycle, the Monroe County, Rochester, site location offers several strategic advantages including EBP’s on-site analytical labs, with trade association / technology accelerator NY BEST also hosting some R&D, testing and innovation facilities at the park. Being in New York also gives good access to battery materials from EVs, portable electronics and energy storage from a broad area of the US, from the Midwest through to the Northeast.

“The deployment of Li-Cycle’s Rochester facility marks a major milestone for the company and just a first step to address this global mass market opportunity,” the company said.

“As the world enters an unprecedented phase of lithium-ion batteries across a broad spectrum of products and industries, lithium-ion battery waste is forecasted to hit anywhere from one to four million tonnes per year globally by 2030, depending on the source of the study. This translates into a potential material value to be recovered from lithium-ion batteries of US$6 billion by 2030.”

There may need to be a competitive advantage for the US as a whole as well. Consultant Hans Eric Melin at Circular Energy Storage, who has reported back from extensive surveying and analysis of the lithium-ion industry's potential for recycling (and second life repurposing of batteries) has said previously that China, which currently holds a lead in the nascent space, is expected to continue to dominate global efforts as the market accelerates. 

Li-Cycle has been assisted in setting up the “spoke” by Empire State Development (ESD), a public-benefit economic development organisation. ESD said Li-Cycle has committed to creating at least 23 new jobs at the facility in the first year of its operation.

The commercial recycling station is expected to become fully operational during 2020. Through making those local employment opportunities, ESD’s Excelsior Jobs Program will assist Li-Cycle with US$450,000 of the project’s total expected US$23.3 million cost to set up and run over a three-year period.

“Every great business started with an idea and an opportunity. Li-Cycle’s idea to tap into the lithium-ion battery supply chain is a forward thinking concept and a great fit for Eastman Business Park,” New York State Senator Joe Robach said.

“This investment by Empire State Development will benefit our local workforce and economy, something we can all be excited to see.”

Read “Batteries need to be ‘renewable’ too: why recycling matters now” by Li-Cycle's Stefan Hogg on the site here, while you can also download the paper as a PDF to keep from our 'Resources' section.

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