Founded in 2019, the UK’s Recyclus Group has developed a recycling process that recovers the critical battery materials from spent lithium-ion batteries. In July 2023, it opened the UK’s first industrial-scale battery recycling plant.
“This cutting-edge solution enables us to tackle the challenge of discarded batteries, playing a pivotal role in the electrification transition and forging a sustainable circular economy in the UK,” Robin Brundle, the CEO of Recyclus, tells Auto Futures.
The company’s LiBatt facility – based in Wolverhampton – has now successfully completed the commissioning phase, meaning it is now able to commence commercial operations.
The recycling process begins with the collection and delivery of end-of-life lithium-ion batteries to the LiBatt facility. They are first processed through a shredder, where nitrogen is used to create an inert environment for the mechanical breakdown of the batteries.
“A major benefit of using nitrogen is that we eliminate the use of water, as well as the need for excess heat and consumption of additional liquids and chemicals, meaning that it’s less energy intensive and more environmentally friendly. After being processed through the initial shredder, the batteries go into the dryer, which enables the electrolytes to be removed and collected using our unique drying system. As the electrolyte is highly volatile and flammable, separating it from the battery shred renders the material safe for further processing.
The separation process then begins, using a magnet to extract all ferrous metals. This leaves ‘black mass’ which passes through a vibrating screen, allowing fine particles to be collected.
The final stage is to separate the remaining materials into non-ferrous metals, and plastics and polymers.
These materials can then be separated and resold to processing partners for the remanufacturing of lithium-ion batteries.
Repurposing Critical Materials
Recyclus is licensed to process 22,000 tonnes of lithium-ion batteries per year at its LiBatt facility.
“In year one, we forecast 8,300 tonnes to be recovered, and have plans to scale up to three shifts by 2025, enabling fulfilment of the facility’s 22,000-tonne licensed capacity. That’s equivalent to more than 48,000 electric vehicle batteries. The site is also able to provide storage for up to 100 tonnes of lithium-ion batteries – equivalent to around 200 EV batteries.” says Brundle.
Another crucial factor for the UK is the need for a responsible, sustainable solution to the increasing number of spent lithium-ion batteries.
“Currently, pyrometallurgical recycling processes are the most established across Europe, but these require high temperatures and various additives to operate effectively. In turn, this leads to problematic emissions, including CO2. By pioneering a clean, low energy, automated hydrometallurgical process, using UK-manufactured technology, Recyclus is adopting a responsible approach to the energy transition.”
The Need For Scale And Speed
Recyclus Group is 48%-owned by Technology Minerals, and the two businesses are commited to developing a closed loop ecosystem in the global battery industry.
“We have a number of strategic mineral exploration projects alongside our industry-leading recycling facilities, which means we are focusing on the security of the supply chain from metal discovery through to end-of-life use. Together, this amounts to our ultimate goal, which is to supply sustainable raw materials critical for battery manufacturing, and vital support towards the concomitant battery metals recycling industry,” says Brundle.
Finally we asked him for his thoughts on what EV battery recycling will look like in the future.
“As the demand and transition to electrification continues at pace, battery recycling in 2030 will play an even more pivotal role in achieving net zero targets. We’re already seeing reports from academia to suggest that the materials contained in one old, spent battery will be able to produce five new batteries. While making a further case for the importance and benefits of battery recycling, this also highlights both the scale and speed of developments,” he predicts.
“In an effort to deal with the increasing volume of end-of-life batteries, we also expect to see the introduction of doorstep collections for items containing batteries and magnets, supporting consumers to take a responsible approach to the disposal of these items. Recyclus is already developing a mobile solution to support this vision which uses our state-of-the-art recycling technology,” concludes Brundle.