UK’s first industry-scale EV battery recycling plant opens

Garages concerned about what to do with the growing quantities of end-of-life lithium-ion batteries used to power electric vehicles – and which they are legally obliged to deal with safely and responsibly – have been thrown a lifeline by a new UK company that will collect the used energy packs for recycling back into battery manufacture.

Recyclus, based in Wolverhampton, claims to be the country’s first industrial-scale recycling facility. It can process 8300 tonnes of spent lithium-ion batteries, taken from a range of sources including electric cars, each year. In addition to separating out the steel, aluminium and copper in them, the primary aim of the operation is to harvest the precious nickel, manganese, lithium and cobalt that they contain and which store and provide the battery’s energy. The company extracts them in the form of a mix called ‘black mass’. 

The valuable metals have then to be separated, purified and new chemistries created from them to power future batteries. Only one company in the UK, Altilium Metals based in Tavistock, Devon, but with plans to open a full-scale processing plant in Teeside in 2026, can do this latter part of the recycling process at present but Recyclus also aims to provide the service in the future. 

Recyclus has partnered with Slicker Recycling, a leading waste oil collection company with nine depots across the UK, to collect end-of-life batteries, with those from EVs expected to come from garages and car makers. While at present, the number of end-of-life EV batteries is modest, by 2030 it has been suggested that worldwide, there could be 11 million tonnes of spent lithium-ion batteries from all sources in need of recycling. 

“The world is facing a tsunami of spent lithium-ion batteries,” says Robin Brundle, co-founder and director of Recyclus. “Already, car makers with spent batteries they don’t know what to do with, are approaching us on an almost daily basis asking how we can help them.”

The firm’s Wolverhampton plant will be the first of six battery recycling facilities it plans to launch within the next five years. It also plans to sell its processing systems to car makers and gigafactories. Meanwhile, thanks to a £1.9 million fund awarded by Innovate UK, Recyclus is also working with the University of Birmingham on the development of a mobile version of its recycling plant that could be transported on the back of a truck to customers including EV garages. 

Depending on the battery’s chemistry and its state of charge, Recyclus charges customers up to £8.40 per kilo to receive and recycle their lithium-ion batteries. On the open market the black mass that is extracted fetches £5000-£6000 per kilo. However, the economics of recycling its four constituent parts are finely balanced. Compared with prices for the raw materials from source, nickel and cobalt are cheaper to recycle, manganese is comparable but lithium is more expensive.

The used batteries are transported and stored in special boxes designed and engineered by LiBox, a member of Recyclus Group. To help safeguard against thermal runaway, an ever-present risk with lithium-ion batteries, battery pillows containing non-combustible filler are packed around them. Even if a fire should break out, the outside of the box will not exceed 100deg C. 

From the storage bays at the Wolverhampton site, the batteries are taken to a conveyor belt and delivered to a 10-ton roller that shreds them in an enclosed box filled with nitrogen gas to suppress any spontaneous fires. From here the battery material is separated and the black mass recovered for separation and purification elsewhere. 

Recylus claims to be around 15 months ahead of the competition in scaling up lithium-ion battery recycling, competition that includes Veolia, Umicore and Cawleys. Brundle says, “Our achievement in launching an industrial-scale lithium-ion battery recycling facility enables us to get an early foot in the door of those companies concerned about the accumulation of discarded batteries and how best to deal with them safely and responsibly.”

Written by: John Evans

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