BASF, Solvay in battery recycling initiatives

6th July 2021

BASF, Solvay in battery recycling initiatives

Two of Europe’s major chemical companies, BASF and Solvay, have separately announced investments in battery recycling. Both characterised their actions in terms of facilitating the development of a circular economy for battery materials at a time when demand from electric vehicles (EVs) is booming.

Through its Catalysts division, BASF will build a battery recycling prototype plant at Schwarzheide in the eastern German state of Brandenburg, at the site of its cathode active materials (CAM) plant (pictured). Start-up is planned for early 2023 and 35 new production jobs will be created. In all, it is expected to reduce the carbon footprint of the company’s CAM activities by up to 60% on industry standards.

The facility, BASF added, “will allow for the development of operational procedures and optimisation of technology to deliver superior returns of lithium, nickel, cobalt and manganese” from end-of-life lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries. It will also process off-spec material from producers of cells and battery materials.

The company noted that investment at Schwarzheide reinforces its support of the European Commission’s agenda towards a European battery production value chain and is part of the Important Project of Common European Interest (IPCEI) approved on 9 December 2019, under the EU’s state aid rules.

As part of the IPCEI for Batteries, the German Federal Ministry of Economics & Energy is funding the launch of innovative battery materials from the plant and research to develop next-generation battery materials and process development, including battery recycling.

Meanwhile, Solvay and Veolia, the energy and resource management giant, took a further stop in their partnership in the closed-loop recycling of EV battery. This was originally created in September 2020. In March 2021, Groupe Renault joined the consortium.

The two firms have already demonstrated proof of concept for the process, which involves using Veolia's chemical extraction process from shredded battery cells, or ‘black mass’, followed by Solvay’s hydrometallurgical technique to purify cobalt, lithium and nickel for reuse in new batteries. They have now entered a joint operation agreement to begin their collaboration in a demonstration phase.

The next step will be to validate and optimise the process in a pre-industrial setting by running a scaled-down production unit as a demonstration plant. This will feature and operate all the operating units of the industrial process, including metal dissolution, separation, concentration, purification of individual metal elements and finally transforming them into high-purity metal salts responding to the specifications of CAM producers.

The site for the demonstration plant has not yet been decided, but the two companies have confirmed that the unit will be located in France, where they can draw on public on top of their own investments in this important project. The design, permits, utilities and equipment of the plant are all projected to start this year.

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