Due to the increase of electric vehicles which will only increase in the future, a higher demand for cobalt is sort. This rare mineral which is becoming harder to mine in the Congo is being sourced elsewhere.
Scientists working for American Manganese Inc., located in the suburbs of Vancouver, Canada, have developed a way to produce enough cobalt to power all the electric cars on the road today without drilling into the ground. How? By recycling faulty batteries.
According to the article in Autonews, ‘It’s one of many technologies that entrepreneurs are patenting to prepare for a time when electric cars outnumber polluting gasoline engines, turning the entire automotive supply chain upside down in the process. Instead of radiators, spark plugs and fuel injectors, the industry will need cheap sources of cobalt, copper and lithium.’
Larry Reaugh, President of American Manganese Inc., said, “Mining batteries is much more profitable than mining the ground,” which is patenting a method to draw out all of the metals in rechargeable batteries. “Rather than mining ore that’s 2 per cent cobalt, you’re mining a battery that has 100 [sic] per cent cobalt in it.”
American Manganese Inc., want to recycle the one in 10 lithium-ion batteries which are used in everything from home electronics to smartphones that fail quality-control tests and end up in hazardous-waste dumps. Doing this could yield as much as 4,000 tonnes of cobalt, according to Reaugh. If true, that amounts to the material used in all EVs on the road this year. Not only this but a further 311,000 metric tonnes of electric car batteries that Bloomberg New Energy Finance anticipates will stop working by 2025 will potentially be included.
According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, innovators like American Manganese Inc., have made so much progress that the likes of Tesla Inc. and Toyota Motor Corp. could count on recycling for 10 per cent of their battery material needs through 2025 if companies roll out large schemes. That will ease pressure on lithium and cobalt, whose prices have more than doubled in the past year.
Cobalt’s price has surged from USD$10 to USD$30 a pound in less than two years, and according to the predictions of Macquarie Group Ltd, one of the largest banks in commodities, cobalt’s price gains are due to slow to USD$32 by 2021 and USD$41 by 2022.
Although, this doesn’t mean that miners will need to scale back production in the future. As the number of EVs on the roads will increase from 2 million now to 118 million by 2030 and the demand for cobalt will rise to 156,000 metric tonnes.
By this time, cars that emit less greenhouse gas than combustion engines will be everywhere. The UK and France plan to outlaw the sale of petrol and diesel-powered cars by 2040. China, which is tackling one of the world’s worst air pollution problems, aims for electric cars to make up 10 per cent of new sales in two years.
The government needs to ensure that car batteries (some which weigh over 500 KG) don’t leave a big environmental footprint by following the Paris Agreement goals for mitigating global warming. Currently, some companies burn dead batteries, which give off toxic gases. Others even bury them in the ground.
“We expect recycling will take off in 10 to 12 years when the first wave of electrified vehicles will near end of life,” said Marc Grynberg, CEO of Brussels-based Umicore, a company which recycles electric-car batteries at an industrial scale, based in Belgium.
Umicore has agreements with Tesla and Toyota to recycle their expired batteries in Europe. It uses smelting to recover minerals to make cathode materials (the part of the battery that houses the chemical reaction and produces the electron).
Electric car batteries are harder to recycle than the lead-acid variety because they consist of a variety of materials and manufacturers often have different ways of building them. A recycling programme should be standardised something that UK companies, Aceleron and Powervault Ltd. are getting around by transforming dead car batteries into packs that can be used in homes to store renewable energy derived from rooftop solar panels.
Umicore and American Manganese say they’ve already overcome a major hurdle; they can now directly recover lithium from batteries.
Reaugh, who spent four decades working for miners of precious and base metals in the Americas and China, is patenting a technique that removes the battery casing with robotics and soaks the cell in a chemical solution for 30 minutes to bring out the pure metals. He plans to raise $6 million (£4.4 million) next year to build a pilot plant near Vancouver.
A technique I’m sure will be of great interest to the industry in the not too distant future.