Original article published in CleanTechnica
January 11, 2021 – Zachary Shahan
The future of electric vehicles is batteries, batteries, batteries. That means a lot of mining for nickel, lithium, cobalt, and other minerals. Indeed, with the enormous growth in demand expected in the electric vehicle industry in the coming years, there’s concern about securing enough battery supplies to meet demand. One solution that will increase as the industry grows and EVs on the road get older is battery recycling. As many of you know, Tesla cofounder and longtime CTO JB Straubel left Tesla in order to start up a battery recycling company. But JB isn’t the only name in town.
A surprise entry to this arena, though, is New Flyer, a bus manufacturer (including both New Flyer Industries Canada ULC and New Flyer of America Inc.). New Flyer has provided Li-Cycle Corporation with 45 end-of-life lithium-ion battery modules (used for research and development) totaling 3,200 pounds. These batteries will be processed at Li-Cycle’s Spoke facility, which is located in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Li-Cycle Corporation is reportedly the largest Li-ion battery recycler in North America. Notably, this is the first time Li-Cycle is recycling heavy-duty electric vehicle batteries.
“Li-Cycle offers a proprietary, closed-loop lithium-ion battery resource recovery service-producing minimal solid waste, and zero liquid and air emissions that can sustainably produce battery-grade lithium, cobalt, and nickel products,” the partners report.
The recycling process first turns the old batteries into “black mass,” and that is later “refined to recover critical materials such as nickel and cobalt.”
“We’re committed to providing sustainable mobility solutions from procurement through vehicle retirement,” said Chris Stoddart, President of New Flyer and MCI. “Working with Li-Cycle delivers a triple sustainability benefit: we recover critical resources and divert them from landfills, provide them for re-use in the battery supply chain, and do so through Li-Cycle’s proprietary clean recycling process that minimizes impact to surrounding environments.”
But how much does this process actually recover? According to Li-Cycle 95% of all lithium-ion battery materials. This is from using a patented recycling system called Spoke & Hub technologies. Importantly, as well, you aren’t getting raw materials out of these batteries — you’re “extracting high-grade materials for battery reproduction, at a cost lower than mined and refined material.” How exactly is the Spoke & Hub system special? Well, since this sounds dramatic and shocking and I don’t see a better way to summarize it, here are Li-Cycle’s or New Flyer’s own words on the matter:
“Key differentiators of the Spoke & Hub model include an automated process at Spoke facilities where batteries are received in any state of charge and are mechanically shredded with no sorting, dismantling, discharging, or thermal processing needed. Patented Li-Cycle Hub technology, then intakes the black mass-produced at Spoke plants, processes the materials hydrometallurgically, and outputs high-purity battery chemicals to be redirected to the lithium-ion battery supply chain and broader economy.
“Li-Cycle’s technology sets it apart from most other recycling facilities which use thermal processes to recover only a portion of the materials present in spent batteries. This approach only recaptures half the contents, as the lithium is lost, going up smokestacks and leading to further emissions. Li-Cycle’s wet-chemistry process requires lower energy consumption than traditional high-temperature processes and is fully sustainable with no solid or liquid waste and zero impact air emissions.”
One interesting final note, broader than the topic of batteries: Li-Cycle Chief Commercial Officer Kunal Phalpher commented that there were approximately 425,000 electric buses on the road worldwide as of 2019. There’s a lot of room for growth in that industry, and a lot of room for large-scale battery recycling.
Both New Flyer and Li-Cycle are members of CALSTART, an international nonprofit focused on speeding up the development and adoption of clean technology.
We’ve written about Li-Cycle twice before if you want to dive into the company further:
- Cobalt Banished From New Lithium-Ion Electric Vehicle Batteries
- We Need To Recycle Lithium-Ion Batteries At Their End-Of-Life (Video)
New Flyer was not one of the trailblazers in the electric bus market, but it has certainly jumped into this industry at this point and has had many orders for electric buses by now. Here are a couple of related New Flyer stories from the past year: