Original interview published in Rochester Business Journal
April 08, 2021
The Rochester region plays a key role in Li-Cycle Corp.’s goal of reducing the cost of batteries and electric vehicles, a move that will, in turn, enable the mass adoption of electrified transport, company leaders said.
“There is a long history in Rochester of processing and manufacturing, and we wanted to draw from that talent in the region,” said Tim Johnston, executive chairman and co-founder of Li-Cycle. “Rochester is a very important center for our company.”
The Canadian battery recovery company started its first U.S. operations at Eastman Business Park late last year as part of a $175 million-plus project.
The company plans two facilities at the site.
The first is a spoke facility that produces black mass from spent lithium-ion batteries. Black mass is an electrode mixture containing lithium, nickel cobalt and other critical materials. The spoke facility started operations in late 2020 and has some 20 employees. There are plans to add an additional 20 workers, Johnston said.
The spoke facility – which is estimated to process up to 5,000 tons of lithium-ion batteries per year – will then supply the black mass to Li-Cycle’s future hub facility, currently in last stage development at Eastman Business Park.
The hub will process the black mass in order to produce battery-grade materials from recycled sources, as well as other recycled materials that can be returned to the economy, Johnston explained.
Construction on the hub facility is expected to begin later this year, with the site being operational in early 2023, he said. The hub facility will employ some 120 full-time employees, as well as create over 600 construction jobs during buildout.
The hub is a wet chemistry/hydrometallurgical facility that will have the capability of processing material from an equivalent of 60,000 metric tons of spent lithium-ion batteries, roughly equating to 120,000 electric vehicle battery packs.
Once fully operational, the hub will be a major producer of battery-grade materials in North America, specifically cobalt, nickel and lithium, he noted.
It will also be the only source of battery grade lithium carbonate in North America and the first commercial facility globally to produce battery grade lithium chemicals from spent lithium-ion batteries.
In addition to its experienced workforce in the region, the company selected Eastman Business Park as the site for its operations due to the nature of infrastructure available, including utilities, logistics and other physical infrastructure, Johnston said.
Rochester is the best location for the company to provide services to its growing client base to the South and Midwest, and is in close proximity to its corporate headquarters, he noted. Matt Hurlbutt, president and CEO of Greater Rochester Enterprise, said the organization first began working with Li-Cycle in 2019 when the company was working with a site selector for its U.S. location.
Rochester gave the company a leg up when it came to building its facility since the business park already had the needed infrastructure in place. Having such a shovel ready site can save a business time and money, he noted.
In addition, the region had a talented workforce available to assist the company with their needs, from research and development to production.
“It’s been a great success,” Hurlbutt said, noting Li-Cycle is well positioned at the business park to leverage needed assets and reach its customers.
Since the deal closed, Hurlbutt has gotten several other inquiries from clean technology companies about locating to the region.
He noted that the Rochester region has a reputation for its success in the clean energy sector, from legacy companies to startups.
“We are really making things happen and it’s getting noticed,” he said. Johnston said Li-Cycle’s process goes against the trend of high temperature, high energy, high waste processes used in traditional methods.
The company saw a need in the marketplace for a process that was environmentally friendly, as well as cost effective, he said.
Li-Cycle, which was founded in 2016, has previously run a demonstration hub in Kingston, Ontario, to determine key design criteria for the build out of this first commercial hub.
Since its inception, the company has developed and validated Li-Cycle’s hub-and-spoke technologies — patented and sustainable processes that allow for the recovery of all critical materials found in lithium-ion batteries, capable of producing battery-grade materials.
The technology uniquely positions the company to support the growing international movement toward zero carbon economy and creation of a circular economy for lithium-ion batteries, he noted.
Lithium-ion rechargeable batteries are increasingly being used in automotive, energy storage, consumer electronic and other industrial and household applications.
Keeping up with the increased customer demand is key for the company moving forward, Johnson said.
In addition to its Rochester location, Li-Cycle has plans for 18 additional spoke facilities in North America, Europe and Asia over the next five years. There are also plans for three more hub facilities in Asia over the next five years.
The business has taken steps to assure it has the capital to continue to grow and meet demand.
In February, Li-Cycle announced a definitive business combination agreement with Peridot Acquisition Corp.
Li-Cycle is expected to receive roughly $615 million in gross transaction proceeds upon the closing of the business combination, which is expected to enable the company to contribute to funding its planned global expansion.
Li-Cycle intends to apply to list the common shares of the combined company on the New York Stock Exchange under the new ticker symbol, LICY.
In addition to its business operations in Rochester, Li-Cycle is interested in being a good corporate citizen, Johnston said.
The company recently announced a partnership with the Rochester-based Shore Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides access to technology for low-income individuals and families.
The partnership is expected to benefit a number of community groups that address issues like access to education, homelessness, at-risk youth and job empowerment programs. LI-Cycle will also assist the agency with recycling of laptop lithium-ion batteries for computers that are unable to be refurbished and redistributed.
Johnston sees Li-Cycle involved in similar opportunities in the region moving forward.
“As we continue to grow in the region, we will be looking for additional opportunities to give back to the community,” he said.
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