Battery recycling breakthrough

Toronto’s Electra Battery Materials Corp. has made a breakthrough in how electric vehicle batteries are recycled.

What happened: Electra says it’s the first in North America to scale up a “hydrometallurgical” recycling process that uses water and acids to recover valuable minerals from used EV batteries.

  • The hydrometallurgical process uses less energy than the more common “pyrometallurgical” technique, which depends on high levels of heat.
  • Pyrometallurgy also only recovers 40-50% of key minerals like cobalt, nickel, and lithium, whereas hydrometallurgy can reclaim up to 95% of them. This isn’t Starbucks-style recycling: Electra really wants to retrieve that stuff.

Why it matters: Electra’s recycling breakthrough helps to position Canada as an innovation hub for battery recycling tech, which could be big business in the years ahead.

  • Right now, most of the minerals needed for EV batteries are mined, but the consultancy McKinsey & Co. expects the recycling market to grow threefold from 2030 to 2040 as more car batteries reach the end of the road.

  • Li-Cycle, another Canadian battery recycling startup, inked a US$200 million deal with the giant commodities trader Glencore last year, but its hydrometallurgical facility isn’t up and and running yet.

What’s next: Electra says it’s going to recycle more than the 75 tonnes initially planned through its current demo facility and eventually build a permanent recycling plant to ramp up production.