Goldman and VW backed Northvolt produces battery cell with recycled nickel, manganese and cobalt


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Swedish battery firm Northvolt said Friday it had produced its first battery cell with what it described as “100% recycled nickel, manganese and cobalt.”

In a statement, the Stockholm-headquartered company — which has attracted investment from Goldman Sachs and Volkswagen, among others — said the lithium-ion battery cell was manufactured by its recycling program, Revolt.

The cell’s nickel-manganese-cobalt cathode had been produced using metals “recovered through the recycling of battery waste.” Tests showed that performance was on a par with cells made using metals that had been freshly mined, Northvolt said.

On Friday, the business said the design of its own recycling facility would be expanded so it could recycle 125,000 tons of batteries annually.

Construction of the plant, called Revolt Ett, is slated to begin in the first quarter of 2022, with operations starting in 2023.

It will use materials from end-of-life EV batteries as well as scrap from Northvolt Ett, the company’s gigafactory, where the first battery is expected to be produced before the end of 2021. Both facilities will be located in Skellefteå, northern Sweden.

According to the company, the Revolt plant will be able to recycle materials including lithium, cobalt, manganese and nickel, supplying the gigafactory in the process.

In addition, plastics, copper and aluminum will also be recovered and “recirculated back into manufacturing flows through local third-parties.”

In a phone interview with CNBC, Emma Nehrenheim, Northvolt’s chief environmental officer, said: “Theoretically, you can, by definition, recycle any metal that you have in a battery and make a new battery out of it.”

“As a fundamental strategy, this means that when the market of EVs is mature — so, at the point where [an] equal amount of cars would enter the street as the amount of cars needing to be scrapped or sent off for recycling — you can actually, in theory, have a very, very high recycling rate … of batteries.”

“And this means that you would not be subject to a very liquid raw material market and you would also protect yourself from very high footprints,” Nehrenheim, who is also head of Revolt, said.

Northvolt’s plans come at a time when the shift to electric vehicles is beginning to gain momentum.

This week, signatories to a declaration at the COP26 climate change summit said they would “work towards all sales of new cars and vans being zero emission globally by 2040, and by no later than 2035 in leading markets.”

While the U.S., China and carmakers including Volkswagen and Toyota were absent from the declaration, signatories did include the U.K., Mexican and Canadian governments and major automotive firms such as Ford, General Motors and Volvo Cars.

As global supply chains face serious pressure due to a multitude of factors, the notion of recycling materials and developing a circular economy is starting to become an attractive proposition to some businesses, including those in the electric vehicle sector.

In March of this year, Lucien Mathieu, from the Brussels-based campaign group Transport & Environment, sought to highlight the potential of recycling in the EV industry.  

In a statement on T&E’s website, he said: “Unlike today’s fossil fuel powered cars, electric car batteries are part of a circular economy loop where battery materials can be reused and recovered to produce more batteries.”

The recycling of battery materials, Mathieu argued, was crucial when it came to reducing “the pressure on primary demand for virgin materials” and limiting “the impacts raw material extraction can have on the environment and on communities.”

‘Much more local’

Northvolt’s Nehrenheim was asked about how important she felt ideas about recycling and a circular economy would be going forward.

“I think this is going to be the key driver for any new industry,” she said. “There will be no disruptive technology that can live without this and I think that in the long run … recycled materials in any industry will out compete any other.”

“Long term, it’s going to be much more profitable once the processes are established to just use a product to produce a new product,” she went on to state.

“You’re reducing dependence … on the raw material market, you have a much more sustainable source … it’s much more local.”

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