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Can new lithium recovery technology meet EV demand?

Sustainability Matters

November 24, 2020

A novel and efficient way to recycle lithium from rechargeable batteries has been developed and patented by Finnish energy company Fortum.

Lithium is one of the most valuable components in lithium-ion batteries, but difficulties in the recovery and availability of the element have left an imbalance between supply and demand as the globe drives ahead with vehicle electrification.

Fortum’s breakthrough technology aims to recover lithium with minimal environmental impact — making it possible for electric vehicle (EV) producers and battery manufactures to make a smoother and more sustainable transition to EVs.

The company hopes that environmentally concerned consumers will factor in the importance of using sustainable lithium in vehicle batteries when it comes to buying EVs.

“This is a major development which will help meet and drive the massive demand for electric cars,” Fortum Head of Business Line, Batteries Tero Holländer said.

“With our new patented technology, we are able to recover lithium from EV batteries in a more sustainable way, but we will also have the capabilities to produce battery-grade material on an industrial scale.

“The reclamation of lithium and other elements from recycled sources supplements the mining of scarce metals, improving the sustainability aspects of EV production and lowering the CO2 footprint of batteries produced,” Holländer added.

“Our new technology means we are sure to position Europe and especially Finland as one of the most competitive and sustainable options for battery material recycling and production in the world.”

There are few economically and sustainably viable technologies for recycling most of the materials in lithium-ion batteries, especially outside of the Asian continent.

The global lithium-ion battery recycling market was worth about €1.3 billion ($2.1 billion) in 2019, but it is expected to boom in the coming years to more than €20 billion ($32.5 billion). According to a forecast by the International Energy Agency, the number of EVs on the world’s roads will increase from 3 million to 125 million by 2030.

In 2019, Fortum announced it had achieved a recycling rate of over 80% for lithium-ion battery materials with a low-CO2 hydrometallurgical recycling process to recover cobalt, nickel and manganese.

Fortum operates a hydrometallurgical recycling facility in Harjavalta, Finland, which is already able to operate on an industrial scale.

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Energy, Transportation