Automotive News Canada caught up with Kochhar to discuss the growing importance of recycling to the EV market. Responses have been edited for clarity and length.
ON LI-CYCLE’S PLACE IN THE EMERGING BATTERY RECYCLING MARKET:
There are two parts to what we do. There’s the pre-processing and post-processing — spoke and hub is what we call it.
On the pre-processing side, there will be a good number of companies around, some localized, some mom-and-pop style, taking batteries and shredding them. That makes black mass for cathode and anode material.
Where I think the market will be thinner is going to be the post-processing side, which is what we’re building with our hub. There, you need capital, you need the team, you need the sophisticated base of hydrometallurgy.
We want to be a player in both, but particularly in the second, we want to be the go-to leader.
ON THE SCALE OF THE BATTERY RECYCLING MARKET:
In 2030, we expect there to be three million tonnes, give or take, of lithium-ion battery materials requiring recycling. Today, we’re at 20,000 tonnes of capacity. There’s a massive step up to go, and next year’s 2023. We’re not that far away from there. These things take time to build.
ON WHAT MAKES THE COMPANY’S RECYCLING PROCESS STAND OUT:
A lot of hydrometallurgical operations in China, which is really the only place this has been done for black mass, tend to take a pretty narrow range of material as feedstock. They also have a lot of requirements in terms of what can’t be in it — think potential heavy metal contamination, which can come from shredding consumer batteries. That narrows their ability to take a range of material.
We’ve done a lot of work to deal with those potential variabilities that lets us take whatever gamut of material is in the market.
The other big differentiator is lithium.
Even other approaches that have taken black mass directly into a hydrometallurgical process have been traditionally nickel and cobalt facilities. They’ve tacked on lithium recovery at the end, but because of those other factors like impurity control, it’s kind of trying to put a square peg in a round hole.
We have designed from a blank page, from the ground up, fit to purpose to be able to be robust but also make sure that we get a key and critical component in lithium.
ON ‘CLOSING THE RESOURCE LOOP’ THROUGH BATTERY RECYCLING:
We’re already getting there in the next one to two years.
We have LG as a customer. We’re getting a variety of battery scrap from them, and we have an offtake with them for nickel sulfate from our hub. That’s like a first true closing the loop setup — we get a variety of materials and then we’re allocating a lump of metal to them based on what we’re receiving.
The interesting evolution is as the quantities go up and groups have way more material to be dealt with. Then, it also lends itself to other strategies. So, for example, do we look at dedicated facilities, where closing the loop is really taking material from somebody and giving them back their same material?
That’s the real closing the loop, and I would say the scale probably in the later 2020s and 2030s is going to get to that level.