As lithium-ion batteries become more useful in the manufacturing of vehicles, the more experts predict that the batteries will regularly appear in the waste stream within the next coming years. Despite the batteries still in the early stages of entering the waste stream, British Columbia-based company American Manganese sees this trend as a great opportunity. The company is convinced that there is already a critical mass due to the sheer value and predicted growth. In response to the need for end-of-life management as well as supply metals for battery manufacturing, American Manganese has employed hydrometallurgy.
Larry Reaugh, president and CEO of American Manganese, told Resource Recycling that the company’s process targets the “cathode” section of large-format lithium-ion products, which is the portion of the battery that contains manganese, cobalt and other metals. Reaugh commented, “It’s the most valuable part of the battery. This one singular item probably represents 25 to 30 percent of the value of the battery.” Reaugh said the EV battery stream is large enough to be profitable. He estimates there were roughly 280,000 spent EV batteries entering the waste stream globally in 2015.
However, there are many challenges and barriers within the battery stream. In an effort to combat these, American Manganese is looking to scale up its proprietary hydrometallurgical process and create a pilot plant, which could cost as much as $5 million. Reaugh indicated that a commercial plant, which would be the model for a portable processing solution, is about two years down the line. Using American Manganese’s technology, Reaugh believes that a plant could have a throughput of up to 20 tons per day.
“Right now, they’re being burned. You get some cobalt out, 40 to 60 percent, and the rest of it, aluminum, manganese all goes into a slag, which is a waste product,” Reaugh said. “That’s not a solution.”
Instead, Reaugh states American Manganese aims to employ a process that allows recovery of all those different battery chemistries. Using a hydrometallurgical process, similar to what is found in a mining circuit, the process will use thickeners, tanks and pumps to separate the metals contained in the cathode. So far, Reaugh says the process has been extremely successful and has extracted 92 percent of the lithium. He anticipates that 100 percent lithium recovery can be reached if the metal is cycled through the process multiple times.
Currently, American Manganese has filed for a U.S. patent for the technology. The company plans to file in China, Europe, and other countries that will be leaning heavily into the lithium-ion battery space in the near future.