Scientists say recycled car batteries are good source for cobalt

Almost 9,000 miles from the dusty Congo savanna, miners have hit on an entirely new source of cobalt — the rare mineral at the heart of the electric-car boom. And not only can they take coffee breaks, when they take a break, they can grab a donut at Tim Hortons.

Scientists working for American Manganese Inc., located in the suburbs of Vancouver, British Columbia, have developed a way to produce enough of the bluish-gray metal to power all the electric cars on the road today without drilling into the ground: by recycling faulty batteries.

It’s one of many technologies that entrepreneurs are patenting to prepare for a time when electric cars outnumber polluting petrol engines, turning the entire automotive supply chain upside down in the process. Instead of radiators, spark plugs and fuel injectors, the industry will need cheap sources of cobalt, copper and lithium.

“Mining batteries is much more profitable than mining the ground,” said Larry Reaugh, the president of American Manganese, which is patenting a method to draw out all of the metals in rechargeable batteries. “Rather than mining ore that’s 2 percent cobalt, you’re mining a battery that has 100 percent cobalt in it.”

Innovators like him have made so much progress that the likes of Tesla and Toyota could count on recycling for 10 percent of their battery material needs through 2025 if companies roll out large schemes, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. That will ease pressure on lithium and cobalt, whose prices have more than doubled in the past year.

Finding new sources of cobalt, in particular, could be a game-changer because more than half of the relatively rare metal is sourced in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Not only is it one of the world’s poorest countries, doing business there is tough after decades of violence and corruption. Some artisanal mines still use child labor.

American Manganese wants to recycle the one in 10 lithium-ion batteries — used in everything from home electronics to smart phones — that fail quality-control tests and end up in hazardous-waste dumps. Doing this could yield as much as 4,000 tons of cobalt, according to Reaugh. If true, that’s equal to the material used in all electric vehicles on the road this year.

Add in the 311,000 metric tons of electric car batteries that Bloomberg New Energy Finance anticipates will stop working by 2025, and the potential trove of metals grows exponentially.

Recycling could have a “stabilizing effect” on battery metal prices, said George Heppel, a consultant at London-based commodity analysis company CRU Ltd.

After surging from $10 to $30 a pound in less than two years, cobalt’s price gains are poised to slow to $32 by 2021 and $41 by 2022, according to forecasts of Macquarie Group Ltd., one of the largest banks in commodities. Pressure on lithium, sourced mainly from Chilean brine lakes, will also abate as new supply starts getting produced in Argentina and Australia.

“Recycling will help to ease supply constraints that we see coming in the next couple of years,” said James Frith, energy storage analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “It will be a big deal mainly because you wouldn’t get all the wastage going into the ground.”

That doesn’t mean miners like Glencore, the world’s top producer, will need to scale back production. As the number of electric cars on roads from Shanghai to Paris surges from 2 million now to 118 million vehicles by 2030, demand for cobalt will soar to 156,000 metric tons.

By then, cars that emit less greenhouse gas than combustion engines will be everywhere. The U.K. and France plan to outlaw the sale of petrol- and diesel-powered cars by 2040. China, which is tackling one of the world’s worst air pollution problems, aims for electric cars to make up 10 percent of new sales in two years.

To really live up to their Paris Agreement goals for mitigating global warming, though, governments need to ensure that car batteries — in some cases weighing more than 500 kilograms — don’t leave a big environmental footprint when they die. At the moment, some companies burn expired batteries, giving off a range of toxic gases. Others even bury them in the ground.

“We expect recycling will take off in 10 to 12 years when the first wave of electrified vehicles will near end of life,” said Marc Grynberg, the chief executive officer of Brussels-based Umicore, one of the few companies capable of recycling electric-car batteries at an industrial scale at a plant in Belgium.

Umicore has agreements with Tesla and Toyota to recycle their expired batteries in Europe. It uses smelting to recover minerals to make cathode materials — the part of the battery that houses the chemical reaction and produces the electron.

At American Manganese, Reaugh says he can extract metals at a cost of about 30 cents a pound and resell them to battery manufacturers for up to $20 a pound.

Electric car batteries are harder to recycle than the traditional lead-acid variety because they comprise many materials and manufacturers often have different ways of building them. This could be a hurdle to rolling out standardized recycling schemes, according to Gavin Montgomery, a director of global metals market research at Wood Mackenzie Ltd.

British tech startups Aceleron and Powervault Ltd. are getting around this by transforming dead car batteries into packs that can be used in homes to store renewable energy derived from rooftop solar panels.

“We are not worried about these winding up in landfills,” said Louis Shaffer, renewable energy segment manager of Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Eaton Industries Manufacturing GmbH, which makes batteries. “Today, there aren’t a lot of big recycling centers set up. But like other batteries, once there’s enough out there, it will be a very good business to be in.”

Umicore and American Manganese say they’ve already overcome a major hurdle — they can now directly recover lithium from batteries, something commercial smelting hasn’t always been able to do.

Reaugh, who spent four decades working for miners of precious and base metals in the Americas and China, is patenting a technique that removes the battery casing with robotics and soaks the cell in a chemical solution for 30 minutes to bring out the pure metals. He plans to raise $6 million next year to build a pilot plant near Vancouver.

“This is an immediate market,” he said.

Vegas Homeless Remembered
Las Vegas vigil remembers 179 homeless people who died over the past year in Clark County. (David Guzman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
A look inside Tesla’s Nevada Gigafactory
Tesla's Gigafactory east of Reno produces the batteries that fuel the company's electric cars. Production has created more than 7,000 jobs, and the campus that includes one of the largest buildings in the world is expected to triple in size by the time it is completed. Tesla Vice President Chris Lister leads a tour of the facility. (Bill Dentzer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Garnet Interchange Ribbon Cutting
The Nevada Department of Transportation celebrated the completion of the $63 million I-15-US 93 Garnet Interchange project. The project includes a modified diverging diamond interchange and a 5-mile widening of US 93.
State Foresters Hunt for Record Trees
Urban foresters from the Nevada Division of Forestry hunt for record setting trees.
Rick Davidson directs NFR satellite feed
Rick Davidson directs the Wrangler NFR's live satellite feed from a production trailer outside the Thomas & Mack Center. (Patrick Everson)
Scott Boras, Bryce Harper's agent, speaks to media at baseball's winter meetings
Baseball agent Scott Boras updates media on the contract negotiations of his client Bryce Harper during baseball's winter meetings at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Dec. 12, 2018. (Ron Kantowski/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Achievement School District
The achievement district faced strong opposition from traditional schools back in its beginnings in 2016. But with schools like Nevada Rise and Nevada Prep, it's slowly and steadily growing. Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Fresno State QB on record-breaking receiver
Fresno State quarterback Marcus McMaryion talks record-setting receiver KeeSean Johnson. Video by Mark Anderson/Las Vegas Review-Journal
The annual 'Shop with a Cop' event at Target
This year’s "Shop with a Cop" event gave about 40 children the chance to shop at Target alongside a North Las Vegas Police officers. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @Bizutesfaye
Melvin Dummar dead at 74
Melvin Dummar has died at 74. Dummar was famous for claiming to have saved Howard Hughes in a Nevada desert in 1967. Dummar claimed to have been left $156 million in Hughes’ will. The will mysteriously appeared after Hughes’ death in 1976. It was dismissed as a fake two years later. Dummar never saw a dime of the billionaire's fortune. Dummar died Saturday in Nye County.
Officer-involved shooting in Nye County
The Nye County Sheriff's Office gives information about a shooting in Pahrump on Thursday night after a man began firing shots outside of his home. (Nye County Sheriff's Office)
Law Enforcement Active Shooter Training Exercise
Multiple Las Vegas Valley law enforcement agencies held an active shooter drill at the Department of Public Safety’s Parole and Probation office on December 6, 2018. Officials set up the training exercise to include multiple active shooters, a barricaded suspect and multiple casualties. (Katelyn Newberg/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Public memorial service for Jerry Herbst
Archiving effort hits milestone at Clark County Museum
The Clark County Museum catalogs the final item from the bulk of Route 91 Harvest festival artifacts. (John Przybys/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pearl Harbor survivor Edward Hall talks about his memories of Dec. 7, 1941
U.S. Army Corps Edward Hall, a 95-year-old survivor of Pearl Harbor talks about his memories of that horrific day. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Final Route 91 Harvest festival remembrance objects catalogued at Clark County Museum
The last of the more than 17,000 items left at the makeshift memorial near the Las Vegas sign after the Oct. 1 shootings have been catalogued at the Clark County Museum in Las Vegas. The final item was a black-and-white bumper sticker bearing "#VEGASSTRONG. An additional 200 items currently on display at the museum will be catalogued when the exhibit comes down. (K.M. Cannon Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dozier execution timeline
Scott Dozier was set to be executed July 11, 2018, at the Ely State Prison. Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez delayed the execution.
Grand Jury Indicts Constable for theft
A Clark County grand jury indicted Henderson Constable Earl Mitchell. A Las Vegas Review-Journal investigation prompted the criminal probe. The newspaper found Mitchell wrote himself thousands in checks, took out cash at ATMs and traveled on county funds. He faces four felony counts of theft and a county of public misconduct. Mitchell and his attorney could not be reached for comment.
93-year-old WWII veteran arrested during visit to VA hospital
Dr. S. Jay Hazan, 93, a World War II veteran, talks about his arrest during his visit to VA hospital on Friday, Nov. 30. (Erik Verduzco Las Vegas Review-Journal @Erik_Verduzco_
Pearl Harbor survivor struggles in her senior years
Winifred Kamen, 77, survived the attack on Pearl Harbor as an infant, works a 100 percent commission telemarketing job to make ends meet. (K.M. Cannon Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Metropolitan Briefing 18th street gang
Las Vegas Metropolitan briefs the media on the recent arrests made regarding the 18th street gang.
Man shot in Las Vegas traffic stop had knife, police say
Police said the man fatally shot by an officer during a traffic stop in downtown Las Vegas had a “homemade knife.” Demontry Floytra Boyd, 43, died Saturday at University Medical Center from multiple gunshot wounds after officer Paul Bruning, 48, shot him during a traffic stop. Bruning pulled Boyd over on suspicion of driving recklessly at 7:41 a.m. near Sunrise Avenue and 18th Street.
Catahoula dogs rescued from home in Moapa Valley
Catahoula dogs were brought to The Animal Foundation after being rescued from home in Moapa Valley.
Intuitive Forager Kerry Clasby talks about losses in California wildfire
Intuitive Forager Kerry Clasby talks about losses she suffered in California's Woolsey Fire in Malibu in November. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Benefit dinner for Kerry Clasby, the Intuitive Forager
Sonia El-Nawal of Rooster Boy Cafe in Las Vegas talks about having a benefit for Kerry Clasby, known as the Intuitive Forager, who suffered losses on her farm in California’s Woolsey Fire in Malibu. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former President George H.W. Bush dies at 94
Former President George H.W. Bush has died at the age of 94. He died Friday night in Houston, about eight months after the death of his wife, Barbara.
Las Vegans Celebrate Big Snowfall
Las Vegans celebrate big snowfall at Lee Canyon.
Exploring old mines for denim jeans and other vintage items
Caden Gould of Genoa, Nev. talks about his experiences looking for vintage denim jeans and other items in old mines and other places areas across Nevada and the west.
Officers share photo of dead gunman after Las Vegas shooting
A little over an hour after SWAT officers entered Stephen Paddock's suite at Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas police officers far from the scene were already sharing cell phone photos of the dead Oct. 1 gunman.
News Headlines
Local Spotlight
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like