Veolia’s EV recycling centres are ‘urban mines’

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Urban mining will help protect raw materials used for electric car batteries.

French resource management company Veolia is expanding across Europe a new battery recycling facility in the UK which it says will be able to process 20 per cent of that country’s end-of-life battery supply.

The firm believes ‘urban mining’ – the process of recovering precious metals from recycled materials – is the next step to reducing the use of raw materials, and that the process will “unlock” lithium ion battery reserves.

Urban mining is a process which involves retrieving valuable metals from discarded electronic equipment, often through chemical treatments. Valuable elements such as cobalt, nickel and lithium are hard to dispose of due to their toxicity.

The company will build a new facility that will discharge and dismantle batteries before a chemical separation recycling process, “to create an ethical and sustainable supply chain for batteries that will be increasingly necessary as we transition to a greener economy,” said Gavin Graveson, senior executive vice president of Veolia in Northern Europe.

“We will not reach carbon neutrality without increasing our investment and development of new technologies and recycling opportunities.

“Urban mining is essential if we are to protect raw materials and will in turn create a new, high-skilled industry,” Graveson said.

Veolia suggets some 90 per cent of electric vehicle battery metals will ultimately be recycled through urban mining, and claims the combined efforts of urban mining and the use of recycled materials could significantly reduce water consumption and cut greenhouse gas emissions in battery production by as much as 50 per cent.

Battery production uses a significant amount of water and energy, with 500,000 gallons of water needed for each tonne of lithium mined.

Veolia recently partnered Renault and Solvay to build a prototype plant in France. It will explore different recycling processes to dismantle, extract and purify EV batteries, while improving existing mechanical and hydro-mechanical recycling processes.

Jack Warrick

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