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New process cheaply extracts copper, nickel, cobalt and lithium from used EV batteries

Sumitomo Metal Mining has developed a new proprietary process to extract high-grade metals from used EV batteries. Tapping its expertise in copper refining, Sumitomo says it can cheaply extract copper, nickel, cobalt and lithium from used EV batteries by crushing them, heating the resulting powder to specific temperatures, and adjusting oxygen levels.

Sumitomo says competitors, including JX Nippon Mining & Metals and Umicore, are also working on ways to recycle these materials, but that their processes require expensive chemicals. In contrast, Sumitomo says it is on track to extract materials that are comparable in quality to mined alternatives, at a relatively low cost and at commercial volumes. The company said its method will remain competitive even if the price of mined lithium falls to around $5 or $6 per kilogram, or if nickel and cobalt prices return to past lows.

EV-related demand has sent prices for these materials surging. The price of lithium has more than doubled over a year to nearly $30 per kilogram, while cobalt has risen about 80% to around $60,000 per ton, says Sumitomo. Many of these materials also carry supply chain and compliance risks.

Pressure is growing to use more recycled materials in EV batteries. Under new regulations proposed by the EU, EV batteries will be required to contain a minimum of 12% recycled cobalt and 4% recycled lithium and nickel by 2030.

Sumitomo plans to bring a recycling facility online in Japan by 2023, which will have the capacity to process 7,000 tons of crushed batteries a year, enough to extract 200 tons of cobalt from NMC cathodes. For now, the company plans to source small volumes of crushed batteries and use the extracted materials for in-house cathode production. It hopes its proprietary process will give it a competitive advantage once battery recycling becomes more widespread.

Source: Nikkei Asia

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