Lithium-ion batteries are important for the low-carbon future. But they require a lot of energy to produce, especially when it comes to mining and refining metals.
According to a recent report by the US Department of Energy, the global lithium battery market is expected to grow tenfold in the next decade, with everything from electric vehicles to power storage for renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.
The good news is that while the cathode components that store electricity in the battery are depleted, the components that make them up are not depleted. They are infinitely reusable. Although several companies are already in the battery recycling business, one claims that they are not only recycling but also “upcycling”, returning directly to the supply chain from discarded lithium-ion batteries.
Massachusetts-based Ascend Elements captures battery metals and builds new battery components instead of recycling whole components. Ascend can then sell those materials directly to manufacturers.
The process seems pretty simple but it took decades to perfect. Ascent sheds produce waste as well as batteries and turn them into black sand. It then removes all fragments of plastic, aluminum and copper and removes impurities, leaving behind precious nickel, cobalt and lithium which form the cathode component of the battery.
“We’re effectively doing urban mining, bringing that component together and turning it into a very usable component for battery makers; so we’re offsetting the amount of mining we need,” said Michael O’Cronley, CEO of Ascend Elements. “We’ve been able to reduce that carbon footprint by 90 to 93% by recycling these batteries and creating new cathode components.”
A study in the scientific journal Jules, co-authored by Ascend’s scientist who co-authored the recycling technique, found that batteries made from the cathode-recycling method not only work like batteries made from scratch, but are also durable and charged. Fast
There are other battery recyclers on the market, but they do not break down all parts of this high-value cathode component.
“That’s really the core of our intellectual property. That’s what we’re commercializing now,” O’Connell said, adding that he expects to double his staff of about 100 this year as the company opens its first commercial-scale facility in Georgia. . It has three small advantages in Massachusetts and Michigan.
Ascend has so far raised $ 95 million from investors including Jaguar Land Rover’s Inmotion Ventures, Hitachi Ventures, Arabia, Doral Energy, as well as At One Ventures, TDK Ventures and Trumpf Ventures. It is currently in another round of fundraising.