As the current battery manufacturing continues to cast a shadow on the overall sustainability of electric vehicles, Fortum has unveiled a new innovation in battery that aims to resolve the sustainability gap by making over 80% of the battery recyclable. The process returns the scarce metals used back into circulation and thus resolves the sustainability gap by reducing the need to mine nickel, cobalt, and other metals, stated the company.
Fortum achieves the high recycling rate of 80% with a low-CO2 hydrometallurgical recycling process. The batteries are first made safe for mechanical treatment, with plastics, aluminium and copper separated and directed to their own recycling processes. The chemical and mineral components of the battery form a ‘black mass’ that typically consists of a mixture of lithium, manganese, cobalt and nickel in different ratios. Of these, nickel and especially cobalt are the most valuable, but also difficult to recover.
Fortum has a unique recovery process, involving chemical precipitation methodology that allows these minerals to be recovered and delivered to battery manufacturers to be reused in producing new batteries. This technology was developed by the Finnish company Crisolteq. Most of today’s recycling solutions for EV batteries are not able to recover these scarce metals. Together with Crisolteq, Fortum already has a hydrometallurgical recycling facility in Harjavalta, Finland, where the black mass is treated on an industrial scale.
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According to a forecast by the International Energy Agency, the number of electric vehicles (EVs) on the world’s roads will increase from 3 million to 125 million by 2030. Batteries powering electric vehicles consume huge amounts of plastics, metals and scarce minerals. The current EU regulation on the recycling rate for batteries is only 50% of the total weight of the battery which is not enough to capture the valuable materials in the batteries.
Kalle Saarimaa, Vice President, Fortum Recycling and Waste, said there are very few working, economically viable technologies for recycling the majority of materials used in lithium-ion batteries. When we discuss the recycling of lithium-ion batteries, the ultimate aim is for the majority of the battery’s components to be recycled to new batteries
Fortum is also piloting so-called ‘second life’ applications for batteries; in these applications, the EV batteries are used in stationary energy storages after they are no longer fit for their original purpose. If the forecasts on the increase in the number of EVs by 2030 hold true, there would mean an 800% increase in the demand for nickel and manganese and 150% increase in the demand for cobalt for the production of new batteries. These scarce metals are mined from very few locations, and mining them would increase the greenhouse gas emissions from their production by 500%. Using recycled materials reduces also the CO2 emissions from battery production up to 90%.