Metso Insights Blog Mining and metals blog Addressing the battery boom with Metso’s Battery black mass recycling process
Mining Metals refining
Feb 27, 2024

Addressing the battery boom with Metso’s Battery black mass recycling process

Madeleine Scheidema
Madeleine Scheidema
Technology Manager, Battery Recycling
As a frontrunner in circular economy, Metso responds to the growing battery minerals demand by introducing a sustainable battery black mass recycling process. Leveraging comprehensive testing, research capabilities and end-to-end solutions, Metso is leading the charge in advancing battery black mass recycling as a crucial process for a sustainable future.

Battery minerals are undoubtedly influencing the future of energy transition, with product lifecycle and circular economy emerging as key drivers. But – of course, nothing great ever came that easy, as the availability and consistency of battery raw materials is limited. To address this challenge, a structured and sustainable process has been growing in popularity: Battery black mass recycling.

The global surplus of battery usage, stemming from electric vehicles and various electronic devices, further proves the pressing need for their eventual recycling. As the world increasingly gravitates towards zero-emission vehicles and endeavors to establish circular economic systems, the battery recycling industry is inevitably set to see new and prosperous growth opportunities. Central to this is the concept of circular economy, enabling the sustainable recovery and recycling of raw materials crucial for the battery value chain.

So what is Battery black mass recycling?

The Battery black mass recycling process treats batteries after mechanical separation with an optional thermal treatment. The process involves leaching to dissolve metals from the black mass, followed by precipitation to recover copper and remove impurities such as aluminum and iron. Then, through solvent extraction, Metso systematically recovers metals one by one – starting with manganese, followed by cobalt, nickel, and lithium.

“There is what we call black mass, which is literally black fine powder that contains the valuable metals from the cathode and also graphite from the anode,” says Madeleine Scheidema, Technology Manager, Battery Recycling.” The starting point of our recycling process is when we receive the black mass.”

This method not only supplements virgin material supply but also reduces the carbon footprint of the battery supply chain. The recovered metals can then be used in the production of precursors for batteries, so these raw materials can make new batteries again.

Our method not only supplements virgin material supply but also reduces the carbon footprint of the battery supply chain. The recovered metals can then be used in the production of precursors for batteries, so these raw materials can make new batteries again.

Pioneering research and development on alternative solutions

Metso is leading the movement in developing advanced technologies tailored for the conversion of raw materials into battery-grade chemicals. With a focus on both sustainability and process excellence, our proprietary technologies and advanced processes are designed to recover high-value battery raw materials efficiently.

VSF® X solvent extraction technology is the core process along with proprietary OKTOP® reactors, Larox® PF filters, Dual Media (DM) filter, LSF filter, Thickeners and Scrubbers. These robust technologies form the base of Metso's Battery black mass recycling process, ensuring optimal recovery.

In addition to state-of-the-art equipment, Metso integrates smart process control and digital products to further enhance the recycling process. The online courier analyzer provides consistent, reliable automated sampling and analysis, operating real-time measurement around the clock. Along with that, Geminex - Metso's metallurgical digital twin - harnesses operational data and expertise to deliver insight-driven performance management, effectively managing variability in mining and metallurgical operations.

“In order to have enough batteries available in the market for all the cars and devices we are planning to have, mining is still needed, and from concentrator plants to hydrometallurgical and pyrometallurgical refining, we have all those processes available for primary raw materials,” says Madeleine. “But battery black mass recycling is an essential addition. Primary materials are important, but we need to start relying more and more on recycling.”

From measurement to prediction to optimization, the overall objective is to close the loop on battery raw materials through hydrometallurgical processing. By leveraging decades of process expertise and equipment design, Metso creates efficient and responsible methods for recycling and reusing metals extracted from decommissioned batteries.

Recapturing battery raw material value
Learn about Metso's battery black mass recycling process.
Battery black mass recycling is essential. Primary materials are important, but we need to start relying more and more on recycling.
Madeleine Scheidema, Technology Manager, Battery Recycling

Forging the path to progress with Pori Research Centre

To meet the evolving needs of the battery industry, Metso is looking to expand its process piloting capabilities at the Pori Research Center. This internationally recognized and unique facility includes a battery materials precursor pilot plant, now available for customer trials. This expansion gives minerals and battery industry customers the opportunity to have end-to-end testing, piloting services, technologies and equipment deliveries from a single supplier.

“What sets us apart is our Pori Research Center and the capabilities there,” says Madeleine. “All the experts are specialized in different parts of the process, whether it’s filtration, solvent extraction, leaching, or something else entirely. They are all working together to make this whole flow sheet come together, and that is really something special and not common elsewhere.”

The rising demand for everyday electrical items, and thus the subsequent battery boom, has led to more than half of the center’s projects relating to lithium and other battery metals, increased from approximately 10% just five years ago.

“Pilot run requests for battery minerals like lithium, nickel and cobalt have increased significantly during the last three years,” says Janne Karonen, Director, R&D and Business Development, Hydrometallurgy. “Currently, we are working on several battery black mass recycling and precursor projects and have numerous lithium and other battery chemicals project pilots on our laboratory schedule.”

In alignment with Metso's commitment to sustainable processes, the Research Center has unveiled a groundbreaking innovation aimed at drastically reducing carbon emissions from steel production by up to 90%. This, along with the collaborative efforts of Metso experts, ensures the seamless integration of diverse processes and solutions with both sustainability and efficient performance in mind.

“This is one of our company’s strengths. We aren’t just an equipment supplier; we are able to deliver the entire process and technological solution to the customer. And that is where research plays a key role,” says Juha Saari, Director, Minerals Processing.

3D rendering of Battery Black Mass Recycling Process
3D rendering of Battery Black Mass Recycling Process

From concept to completion

Metso offers comprehensive coverage across the entire process, from initial test work to final plant delivery and services. With battery minerals extraction, refinement and recycling, Metso utilizes extensive and proven experience to support the lithium, copper, nickel & cobalt production value chain, thus ensuring seamless integration and efficiency at every stage.

”We have a lot of equipment that fits into this flowsheet,” says Madeleine. ”Being able to supply from start to finish is definitely a strong benefit we have.”

Metso's support extends beyond production, boasting the industry's most comprehensive aftermarket services. From aftermarket offerings and life cycle services to spare parts and inspections, Metso ensures that every aspect of the process operates at maximum efficiency.

"Our advantage lies in our ability to test technology in our own lab," explains Madeleine. "This allows us to move beyond theoretical considerations and literature resources and actually conduct practical tests, so we can provide insights to the customers."

The journey typically begins with desktop study research to have an overview understanding of the proposed plant, including costs and equipment specifications. Metso can then conduct pilot tests at the Pori facility. Once the customer sends raw material, Metso experts test it all the way from washing or starting straight from leaching, and then manually complete all the steps that are in the actual process. This is so there can be valuable knowledge on how well the raw material works, what kind of process parameters are needed, and more. This hands-on approach not only helps in influencing equipment design but also enables customers to optimize their processes based on real-world insights.

Typical battery materials processing stages
Typical battery materials processing stages

Tailored for success: Metso's flowsheet adaptability

With versatile adaptability in the Battery black mass recycling process, Metso offers a range of solutions tailored to specific needs. The flowsheet process can be customized based on factors such as feed composition and desired end products, with a possible phased approach, starting with recovering the most valuable metals.

"For instance, when dealing with lithium recovery from black mass, customers may request products ranging from technical grade lithium carbonate to fully purified lithium hydroxide,” says Madeleine. “Depending on these specifications, we can adjust the process accordingly."

Lower footprint, higher efficiency

With a rising demand for zero-emission vehicles and the need to create a circular economy, Metso remains at the forefront of sustainability efforts. There are also regulatory considerations, such as local initiatives that support the development and production of sustainable batteries. Metso's Battery black mass recycling represents sustainable practices, facilitating the recycling and recovery of raw materials back into the battery value chain.

"Our biggest impact is demonstrated through our customers, when they utilize our technologies and services to achieve their sustainability and productivity targets," says Madeleine.

There are numerous sustainability advantages to lower the environmental footprint of operations due to the black mass recycling process, including a reduction in CO2 emissions compared to mining of primary raw materials. Thus, the process is labeled a Planet Positive process.

Other benefits include:

  • >60% reduction in embedded carbon
  • >30% CO2 emissions
  • >20% energy
  • >20% water pollution
  • >20% air pollution

Additionally, Metso prides itself on its Planet Positive portfolio, which comprises specific equipment and technologies designed to minimize negative impact to the environment. The flowsheet for Battery black mass recycling integrates Planet Positive core equipment, including the VSF® X Solvent Extraction Plant Unit, various filters (such as Larox® PF filters, Dual Media (DM) filter, LSF filter), and Thickeners.

These end-to-end solutions further highlight a commitment to excellence and sustainability, driving efficiency and innovation across the value chain.

Our biggest impact is demonstrated through our customers, when they utilize our technologies and services to achieve their sustainability and productivity targets.
Madeleine Scheidema, Technology Manager, Battery Recycling

Shaping the future with sustainable battery recycling

Designed from comprehensive testing and research capabilities – and utilizing Metso’s growing Planet Positive portfolio – Battery black mass recycling is quickly emerging as a vital process for the future.

“This is such a fast-moving field that it’s hard to predict the future,” says Madeleine. “Of course, there will be a lot more electrification and electric cars, and policies are moving towards more electrification. But one thing is for sure: There will be a lot more batteries coming for recycling.”

As the need for a circular economy drives mineral and metal reuse and recycling, Metso continues to innovate sustainable solutions in this field, ensuring a seamless transition towards energy efficiency. Meeting the evolving needs of customers and contributing to a more sustainable future through our processes is our core expertise. That is why we are the partner for positive change.

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