‘World’s largest’ giga-scale lithium-ion battery recycling facility gets backing

A ‘giga-scale’ lithium-ion battery recycling facility, based in Norway and set to become the largest in the world, has received private placement backing.

With an initial capacity of 4GWh, the ‘only large-scale’ facility in Europe will be capable of recycling lithium in addition to cobalt, nickel, manganese and other metals.

Northvolt, European supplier of battery cells and systems, has signed a $600 million private placement led by Baillie Gifford, Goldman Sachs Merchant Banking Division and Volkswagen AG, enabling the company to make further investments in expanding its production and battery recycling capacity – as well as R&D activities to support the target of establishing 150 GWh of manufacturing capacity in Europe by 2030.

By 2025, it’s predicted that electric and hybrid cars will account for 90% of the lithium-ion battery market, meaning there will be an influx of batteries that will either need to be recycled or disposed of.

In 2018, the global electric car fleet passed 5 million – up 2 million or 68% in just one year, according to Northvolt. Around one quarter of the world’s electric fleet is in Europe, it says, where sales of electric cars rose 81% in the final quarter of 2019 and accounted for 4.4% of total new car sales in the period, according to the automotive industry federation, ACEA.

We have created a solid foundation to go on and execute our plans to enable large-scale manufacturing of green batteries in Europe

Looking forward, the trend ‘strengthens’, it says – upheld by stricter EU policy measures and plans of major automotive manufacturers, who have outlined ‘clear intentions’ to electrify the car and bus markets.

The recycling hub, based outside Oslo, will be highly automated and designed for crushing and sorting batteries. It process more than 8,000 tonnes of batteries in the early stages of the launch, with capacity being expanded over time.

Up to 90% of a battery can be effectively recycled, Northvolt says, and up to 95% of precious metals – nickel, manganese and cobalt – recovered for reuse. But to secure this, multiple effective recycling technologies are required, it says: first for handling batteries, then dismantling, and then subsequent recovery of various materials, including isolated metals and electrolyte.

Peter Carlsson, co-founder and CEO of Northvolt, commented on the private placement: “We are in the middle of a race to establish manufacturing capacity in Europe, and I believe the companies that are best at attracting talent and capital, while scaling their blueprints the fastest, will be the most successful.

“With these world-class partners behind us, we have created a solid foundation to go on and execute our plans to enable large-scale manufacturing of green batteries in Europe.”

Hydro Volt

The recycling plant will be established as a ‘green field development’, under a joint venture named Hydro Volt, and come online in 2021 in Fredrikstad, outside of Oslo.

Hydro Volt will secure end-of-life electric vehicle (EV) batteries via Batteriretur, a well-established Norwegian recycling company.

The principle intent for the plant will be for initial collection and handling of batteries, followed by processing of batteries up to the point of recovering aluminium, copper, steel, plastics, electronics and electrolyte, it says.

Once these materials are set aside for processing by third-parties, the remaining material is a fine, black powder. This compound material, referred to as black mass, contains metals nickel, manganese, cobalt, graphite and lithium and requires special treatment which will be undertaken by Northvolt in Sweden. Initial black mass volumes will be directed to Northvolt’s pilot recycling plant at Northvolt Labs in Västerås.

At commissioning, the Hydro Volt plant will have initial capacity to process more than 8,000 tonnes of batteries per year – roughly the equivalent of 23,000 moderately sized EV batteries.

In a second phase, expansion of the Hydro Volt facility could see capacities ramp up in line with increases in availability of end-of-life batteries. In time, it’s expected that a ‘significant share’ of the Scandinavian EV fleet end-of-life batteries could be processed by the facility.

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