Despite ongoing work to extract lithium from the geothermal brines of California and the hard-rock spodumene deposits of Quebec, North America’s first major new source of the valuable battery metal may come not from a mine, but a recycling plant run by a Canadian company in unassuming Upstate New York.
Li-Cycle Holdings CEO Ajay Kochhar said he never would have expected the company’s lithium-ion battery recycling plant, scheduled to open in Rochester, NY., next year, to be leading the way on North American lithium production, but that the cautious permitting process for new mines has allowed the Toronto-based firm to keep ahead of resource firms.
The Li-Cycle plant uses a process called hydrometallurgy to separate valuable metals like lithium and cobalt from a sooty mix of materials from shredded batteries known as black mass. It will be capable of producing as much as 8,500 tonnes of recycled lithium carbonate each year, in addition to tens of thousands of tonnes of other key battery metals.
The company is also building out a network of feeder plants to process spent EV batteries and battery manufacturing scrap from partners such as General Motors, LG Energy Solution and Mercedes-Benz. It has three such facilities up and running, and another four in development in North America and Europe that will supply its Rochester “hub” with black mass.