Swedish technology start-up Northvolt – which counts on the backing of industry heavyweights such as VW, BMW and Vestas – has launched a recycling programme targeting the use of 50% of recycled materials in new cells by 2030.
As a first step, the company’s recycling programme ‘Revolt’ will establish a pilot recycling plant in Västerås, Sweden, in 2020, with an initial capacity of 100 tons per year, handling NMC and NCA lithium-ion chemistries.
“The pilot plant will build on work undertaken over the last two years and provide us the necessary tools to take us to the next level – from research laboratories into the real-world,” Northvolt chief environmental officer Emma Nehrenheim said.
“What we learn at the pilot plant will be key to optimising the design, build and ultimately the operation of a much larger capacity recycling plant which will be established at Northvolt Ett.”
Northvolt Ett (Swedish for one) in Skellefteå, Sweden, will be the company’s first gigawatt-scale battery production facility that it plans to establish by 2022 in order to supply the European market on a massive scale with lithium-ion cells that have a minimal environmental footprint. The plant’s initial battery cell capacity is slated to be 16GWh.
Next to Northvolt, several companies or consortia are currently in a race to build Europe’s first lithium-ion gigafactories, among them US electronic car producer Tesla, which has recently announced plans for a massive manufacturing site close to Berlin.
Northvolt itself already has plans a second gigagfactory in Germany’s Lower Saxony state, the home of Volkswagen (VW) headquarters.
Among Northvolt's industrial partners and customers next to VW are ABB, BMW Group, Scania, Siemens, Vattenfall, and wind turbine OEM Vestas.
VW, BMW, and Goldman Sachs were among the companies leading a $1bn equity capital raising process in Northvolt earlier this year. The companies funding is also supported by the European Investment Bank (EIB).
Northvolt claims it has been developing methods for key processes required for the recycling of lithium-ion batteries, which are commonly used in cell phones, solar storage systems or batteries for electronic cars.
The recycling process supported by EIT InnoEnergy will be used to recover valuable metals from end-of-life batteries, including lithium, nickel, manganese and cobalt, Northvolt says.
“Revolt opens up a very exciting chapter for Northvolt and will demonstrate how the environmental benefits of batteries can be pushed even further than we currently see with their use to replace fossil-fuels,” Nehrenheim adds.
“For the customers, this also means we are able to offer assurance and services for sustainable handling of end-of-life batteries they are bound to by European law.”
Europe according to the company currently hosts a battery recycling capacity of around 33.000 tons per year.
But the existing capacity is neither well-suited to effectively recover valuable metals found in lithium-ion batteries, nor of sufficient capacity to handle the volumes of batteries which will be placed on the market as electrification ramps-up, Northvolt claims.