ev battery closeup
ACC partners Stellantis and TotalEnergies have agreed to use Umicore EV battery recycling technology.
Image courtesy of Umicore.

Umicore boosts battery recycling tech

European firm says its process improves recycled lithium-ion battery metals yields.

February 11, 2022

Belgium-based Umicore says it has signed an agreement with Automotive Cells Co. (ACC) to provide battery recycling technology at an ACC pilot plant in Nersac, France.           

Umicore describes itself as a pioneer in the recycling of rechargeable batteries, saying its battery recycling smelter in Hoboken, Belgium, has an annual capacity of 7,000 tons of lithium-ion batteries and battery production scrap, the equivalent of 35,000 electric vehicle (EV) batteries.

The plant started operations in 2011 to treat portable electronics batteries and early generations of EV batteries. Umicore says it has been continuously improving its processes and underlying recycling technologies so today they “reflect the combined know-how gains that Umicore has made during more than one decade of lithium-ion battery recycling.”

In the course of 2022, Umicore says it will introduce the latest generation of its proprietary recycling and smelting technology. After what the company calls intensive research and piloting activities, the process “is a significant step-up in recycling performance with an optimized operating window for EV batteries,” according to the company.

It cites a number of upgrades at the site:

  • a significantly improved metallurgical process with increased extraction efficiency of cobalt, nickel and copper to reach more than 95 percent yield for a wide variety of battery chemistries;
  • first-of-its-kind technology to recover most of the lithium, addressing a common constraint; and
  • automated material flow minimizing manual handling to “further increase process robustness and efficiency.”

The recovered metals will be delivered in battery-grade quality at the end of the Umicore recycling process allowing them to be re-circulated into the production of new lithium-ion batteries, the company says.

“This newest generation technology will be available for the market in 2022, and ensures minimal waste and impact on the environment, which will be vital for the surge in EV car adoption,” Umicore states.

“By recovering key critical elements for the lithium-ion battery supply chain, such as lithium, cobalt, nickel and copper, in the most efficient and environmentally friendly way, Umicore is leading the way towards a battery circular economy, providing solutions to the growing demand for sustainably sourced materials while lowering their CO2 impact,” remarks Denis Goffaux, executive vice president of Umicore.

System operator ACC was founded in August 2020 and involves the efforts of vehicle manufacturer Stellantis and TotalEnergies. ACC intends to become a “European market leader for car batteries that allow clean and efficient mobility for all,” according to Umicore.

“Our pilot line in Nersac aims to test all our product and process solutions before mass production in our future [battery] factories,” states Gilles Tardivo, Nersac pilot plant vice president for ACC. “The agreement between ACC for Nersac and Umicore fits perfectly into this framework, allowing us to improve our expertise, locally, regarding the recycling of our production waste. This is an important step in our larger policy of recycling our future batteries.”