Northvolt says battery recycling key to sustainable transportation
Swedish battery maker Northvolt believes that battery recycling is the key to developing sustainable transportation.
Over the past years, the production of electric batteries has increased due to higher demand for more sustainable electric vehicles (EVs). Even though the role of electric batteries in sustainable transportation is important, its production cycle creates significant carbon emissions.
Mining can cause ecological damage to the environment, especially in developing economies like South America and Africa, where rare earth materials used in battery production are mined.
These materials will then be shipped to battery manufacturers around the world, many of which are in China. Battery producers will then ship the finished products to numerous EV manufacturers. Ultimately, the shipping process results in more carbon emissions.
Northvolt is currently building a large battery recycling plant called the Revolt Ett in the Northern Swedish city of Skellefteå. Once the facility runs at full capacity, it is expected to recycle 125,000 tonnes of battery materials annually.
The company plans to use 50 percent of recycled metals in its products by 2030. Starting from 2040, Northvolt expects most parts of its batteries to come from recycled materials. Emma Nehrenheim, Northvolt’s chief environmental officer, told Business Insider that the goal was “somewhere between realistic and challenging.”
Northvolt initiated its battery recycling program in 2018 by testing various processes, including crushing, shredding, and filtering old battery parts. The company then separates materials, such as copper and plastic, and gives them to industry partners for recycling.
“This means that you can recycle it as many times as you want.”
Emma Nehrenheim, Chief Environmental Officer of Northvolt
It retains a powder called the “black mass,” which contains lithium, nickel, cobalt and manganese. The black mass then undergoes hydrometallurgy, which transforms its metal content into battery-grade materials. This process eliminates impurities in the metals using acid.
Northvolt’s existing recycling plant
Currently, Northvolt runs a recycling facility in partnership with energy company Hydro called Hydrovolt. From the recycling process in Hydrovolt, Northvolt obtains the black mass while Hydro gets the aluminium.
Einar Wahlstrøm, vice president of batteries at Hydro, said the battery industry is a nascent industry that does not have standardized technology. Wahlstrøm added that the sourcing market for the industry remained fragmented.
“Even though the European EV sales are growing rapidly, it will take several years before these batteries reach end of life and need to be sustainably recycled,” Wahlstrøm said.
According to Wahlstrøm, recycling demand will increase seven to ten years after the boom in the EV market.
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