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Battery recycler Primobius on track for 10 mt/day commercial operation in Q1 2022

Highlights

Provide disposable services to European auto, battery makers right away

Investment decision on 50 mt/day plant expected in Q1 2022

Expansion to Asia, North America in the pipeline

Battery recycling joint venture Primobius is on track to expand its existing battery recycling demonstration plant in Hilchenbach, Germany to a 10 mt/day black mass commercial operation in the first quarter of 2022, Neometals managing director Chris Reed said during a Sept. 30 press conference.

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Primobius is a 50:50 JV between project development company Neometals and German plant manufacturer SMS group, with the latter having previously agreed to fund the fast track commercialization of the plant.

"What we've recently announced is that we're going to expand the capacity of Hilchenbach from a R&D permit of 1 mt/day up to 10 mt/day, and so that will enable us to start providing disposable services for cell makers and carmakers in Europe, particularly Germany, right away from first-quarter of 2022," Reed said.

Separately, Primobius was completing the demonstration trials -- expected by November --which would be followed by finishing the engineering studies, operating expenditure and capital expenditure by the end of the fourth quarter and the completion of feasibility studies in Q1 2022, he said.

"Then we're going to consider an investment decision on the Primobius 50 mt/day plant [in the March quarter] and we're looking at sites in Germany -- we're down to the final two sites there," Reed added.

The company has developed a two-step system for recycling lithium-ion batteries, which uses a combination of mechanical and hydrometallurgical processes to make the recycling process more efficient and sustainable.

In the first step, the system shreds used batteries of various sizes and types, separates out the plastic and metal parts, and separates the black mass, which contains the sought-after materials for battery manufacture.

In a second step, hydrometallurgical processes are used to extract materials such as lithium, nickel, and cobalt in ultra-pure form.

"We are enablers of sustainability," Primobius CEO Horst Krenn said. "We are bridging the gap between industries wanting to put used batteries back into circulation and those that want to make new lithium-ion batteries."

Primobius is studying the possibility of installing a 20,000 mt/year plant to take production scrap from an automaker's gigafactory, Reed said, as well as a 200,000 mt/year plant to take the end-of-life batteries from electric vehicles, after 10 years of use or possibly earlier if there are recalls, such as seen recently with the Hyundai Kona or Chevy Bolt.

These plants would look to address future shortage of battery recyclers in Europe, with Reed noting that the continent's total market in 2025 was expected to be around 335,000 mt of batteries to be recycled versus a current total installed capacity of all recyclers in Europe of around 50,000 mt.

Flexible recycling solutions

He added that Primobius was also happy to adapt and be flexible to the needs of customers.

"We are happy to act as the principals and to dispose of lithium-ion batteries responsibly and find our own market for the byproducts ... but we're also happy to look at accessing larger volumes by entering into joint ventures to share the economic benefits of our low cost and safe eco-friendly process," he said.

Primobius was also able to set up at partners' sites to recycle production scraps or batteries from returned end-of-life vehicles.

It is looking to set up a central larger refining hub, with various spokes in various locations around it. The spokes will shred batteries to create black mass, which could then be transported safely back to a larger hub refinery.

"With our [hub and spoke] system, it reduces the amount of transportation of dangerous cells, so you can shred them quickly, make black mass, which is a much higher value product that the batteries themselves ... reducing logistics costs, environmental footprints, lead times and closing the loop to what is needed," Reed said.

He said Primobius' flexible offerings had already attracted a number of significant partners, with memorandum of understandings signed with two partners -- Canadian steel producer Stelco and Japan technology company Itochu.

The Stelco MoU refers to a proposed 50:50 JV development of a lithium-ion battery extraction and recycling plant in North America, while the Itochu MoU provides a framework for Primobius to recycle Itochu's end-of-life batteries. The Japanese company agreed to provide stationary energy storage batteries for Primobius' demonstration plant trial.

"We are also looking at deploying into Asia, first of all probably Japan, so our commercial dialogues are accelerating. These are the ones that have been announced, but we have a pretty full runway building up," Reed said.