Veolia announces its first UK battery recycling plant

Article by Adam Duckett

VEOLIA is building its first electric vehicle battery recycling facility in the UK, with the capacity to process 20% of used batteries by 2024.

The new facility will be built in Minworth in the West Midlands and will be able to process more than 1,000 t/y of batteries by 2024.

The electric vehicle market is seeing a huge surge in demand, representing 12.7% of sales in the second half of 2021 compared to just 2.2% in 2018, according to data reported by New Normal Consulting. While this rise will help reduce fossil fuel emissions from regular combustion engine vehicles, it carries a different environmental threat, as producing the lithium required for electric vehicle batteries uses a lot of water.

The Institute for Energy Research reports that around 2.3m L of water is used for every ton of lithium extracted from the earth, and this impact is compounded by the fact that more than half is produced from a water-stressed region known as the “lithium triangle”, covering Argentina, Bolivia and Chile. Recovering lithium from used batteries will help limit the impact.

“This is an important first step on the UK’s journey to create an ethical and sustainable supply chain for batteries that will be increasingly necessary as we transition to a greener economy,” said Gavin Graveson, Veolia Senior Executive Vice-President, Northern Europe Zone. “We will not reach carbon neutrality without increasing our investment and development of new technologies and recycling opportunities. As the demand for electric vehicles increases, we will need this facility – and more like it in the UK – to ensure we don’t hit a resource crisis in the next decade.”

Veolia expects the plants will help establish a secure supply source for strategic battery materials including lithium, cobalt and nickel. Operations at the plant will involve dismantling, metal extraction and purification, and enhancing existing mechanical and hydrometallurgical battery recycling processes.

A report on battery recycling published by Warwick University in 2020 warned about the lack of recycling capacity for lithium ion car batteries in the UK but noted without these legacy processes it has an opportunity to challenge for the highest recycling efficiencies.   

Veolia said its planned recycling activity in the UK will be introduced in phases, initially focusing on discharge and dismantling of batteries and subsequent mechanical processing and the recovery of the black mass, which typically consists of high amounts of metals including lithium, manganese, cobalt and nickel. Veolia said further development will include recycling battery manufacturing scraps from gigafactories, and technology transfer of mechanical processes to the UK. Black mass processing will then lead to the UK production of battery precursors.

Article by Adam Duckett

Editor, The Chemical Engineer

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