Multiple battery advances for Johnson Matthey

1st June 2021

Multiple battery advances for Johnson Matthey

Within the last six weeks, Johnson Matthey (JM) has opened its new Battery Technology Centre in Oxford, UK, while announcing a new commitment to fully carbon-neutral production of its eLNO nickel-rich advanced cathode materials technology by 2030 and for the whole company by 2040. It has also signed three agreements to secure the supply chain for these materials, and another in the recycling of key raw materials.

Kwasi Kwarteng MP, Secretary of State for the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, formally opened the Battery Technology Centre on 7 May. JM described this at the time as “a further strategic development in the commercialisation of eLNO”, which will enable it to further develop and customise the technology for electric vehicle applications.

The commitment to carbon-neutrality encompasses at least 33% absolute reductions of at least 33%in Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and at least 20% in upstream Scope 3 emissions by 2030. JM has also signed the Business Ambition for 1.5C campaign, which gives it automatic membership to the UNFCCC’s ‘Race to Zero’ campaign ahead of COP26.

In April, JM had announced three key agreements to secure the supply of materials for eLNO. Upstream, it signed terms for the supply of nickel and cobalt from Nornickel’s metal refineries in Harjavalta, Finland, and in the Kola region of Russia; and for lithium hydroxide from SQM out of its Salar del Carmen plant in Antofagasta, Chile.

JM and Nornickel also intend to collaborate on other parts of the battery materials value chain, including the digitalisation of the supply chain, circular economy opportunities in general, the application of a newly developed metal dissolution technology and further enhancement of the sustainability of the value chain.

Downstream, JM has now partnered with Finnish Minerals Group, to support the development of its planned second commercial plant. This should begin construction later this year at Vaasa on Finland’s western coast, and will have 30,000 tonnes/year of nameplate capacity.

Finnish Mineral Group, which manages the Finnish state’s holding in mining and aims to create an integrated electric vehicle battery value chain in Finland, will join JM to develop a means to treat sodium sulphate, which is a common by-product of battery manufacture. It will also invest in pre-treatment technology of nickel and cobalt sulphates to tailor the materials to the requirements of high nickel cathode materials.

In addition, the plant will be entirely powered by renewable energy. “These developments are a major step towards sustainable cathode material production, which our customers are increasingly demanding,” JM said.

Also in April, JM concluded a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Stena Recycling Group, a recycler of industrial waste and end-of-life products, to develop an efficient value chain in Europe for recycling of lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries and cell manufacturing materials. As part of this, the firm will develop additional process steps to produce fully refined materials suitable for use in Li-ion battery manufacturing.

As electric venicle sales continue to rise and battery prices fall, the volume of Li-ion batteries used in them and in power storage is projected to increase nearly ten-fold to 2,500Gwh by 2032. This, JM notes, “will result in an exponential increase in demand for recycling”, particularly for the critical metals used in batteries, such as lithium, nickel and cobalt.

More recently and in an adjacent field, JM has just signed another MoU with Plug Power, a manufacturer of electrolysers used to manufacture green hydrogen. This will focus on the incorporation of JM’s materials in Plug Power’s systems, and they will also seek to develop a closed-loop recycling system for the platinum group metals used as catalysts in these systems.

The two companies said that they will “develop a roadmap to accelerate the joint development of high-performance electrolyser technology with improved durability, increased performance and greater energy efficiency than systems available today”. Plug Power is the world’s largest user of liquid hydrogen and plans to be generating 500 tonnes/day of green hydrogen in the US by 2024 and 1,000 tonnes/day worldwide by 2028.

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