Lithium Miner Eyes Even Greater Riches in Piles of Battery Waste

(Bloomberg) -- Recycling lithium material from used electric vehicle batteries promises to be even more profitable than mining the increasingly valuable metal, according to an Australian producer building a test facility in Canada.

Perth-based Neometals Ltd. is working to recover raw materials including lithium, cobalt, nickel and copper from expired batteries at a facility in Montreal, aiming to add production from recycling to its existing output from mining.

The electric vehicle revolution has sparked a surge in demand for battery materials, driving up prices and triggering a rush to secure new sources of supply. As rising costs and increased competition pressure mining margins, recycling the metal in used batteries is poised to become an increasingly important resource, spurred by government regulation aimed at keeping them from landfills, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

“What we are hoping to prove in the pilot plant is that it does provide a better net margin,” Chief Operating Officer Mike Tamlin said in a phone interview. “The numbers look far and away better than if you are doing a primary extraction from an ore.”

Lithium Miner Eyes Even Greater Riches in Piles of Battery Waste

”The world needs recycling to stop us drowning in batteries, and it also has the potential to produce components at a lower cost,” Tamlin said Thursday. “At the same time, we will always need new materials coming in.” Neometals is a partner in Australia’s Mt. Marion lithium mine and has two other development projects in the country.

American Manganese Inc., which is developing the automated disassembly of batteries, forecasts the stockpile of used lithium-ion batteries will more than triple in the 10 years to 2025 and has reported test work that’s extracted 100 percent of lithium and cobalt from battery cathode powders. China’s Tianqi Lithium Corp., which is building the world’s biggest lithium processing plant, is planning research and development work on recycling, Phil Thick, the general manager of the producer’s Australian unit, said Monday in an interview.

It could be 2019 before Neometals makes a decision to invest in the construction of a recycling facility, with further work needed to test and refine the process. “You’ve scrambled the eggs pretty well in making the battery,” Tamlin said. “Unscrambling them does take a bit of work, we need a good chemistry solution and that’s what we are developing.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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