Canadian battery recycling company Li-Cycle Holdings Corp. LICY-N and Glencore PLC GLNCY, the Swiss commodities giant that is trying to merge with Vancouver’s Teck Resources Ltd. TECK-B-T, are planning to build Europe’s biggest battery recycling plant as electric vehicle sales take off.
The plant would be built in Sardinia, Italy, on the old Portovesme site that Glencore uses to smelt lead and zinc. The plant’s overhaul, subject to a feasibility study, comes as recognition that mining alone cannot produce enough of the critical metals, including cobalt, needed to convert the European car fleet from gasoline and diesel engines to electric power.
The overhauled plant would make Li-Cycle and Glencore key players in the European race to control the critical metals needed for the green revolution.
Glencore last year invested US$200-million for a 10-per-cent stake in Li-Cycle, whose headquarters are in Toronto, and the Swiss company’s mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo produce some 20 per cent of the global supply of cobalt. Glencore’s Horne smelter in northern Quebec is North America’s largest recycler of metals, such as copper, that are removed from electronic scrap.
“This project, combined with our existing footprint in primary supply as well as recycling of battery metals, underpins our ambition to become the circularity partner of choice for the European battery and electric vehicle industry,” said Kunal Sinha, Glencore’s recycling chief.
Neither company disclosed how much redeveloping the Sardinia plant would cost, though the price would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Li-Cycle is building a “black mass” processing hub in Rochester, N.Y., at a cost of US$485-mllion. While the Sardinia plant would be much bigger, its capital costs would probably be lower because much of the infrastructure is already in place, along with the land and port facilities.
Black mass is the industry term for the waste made from crushed and shredded battery cells. The recovered metals from the cells include lithium, manganese, cobalt and nickel.
The precise ownership of the Sardinia plant is yet to be determined, though Glencore would probably emerge as the majority owner after having financed Li-Cycle’s share of the project. The new plant would be commissioned in by early 2027 – about the time when the first generation of EVs will go to recycling sites – and would have the capacity to process 50,000 to 70,000 tons a year of black mass.
Li-Cycle, which would provide the engineering know-how to get the Sardinia site running, has predicted that about 10 per cent of Europe’s lithium demand will come from recycling by 2030. The European Union will institute thresholds that would ensure that 10 per cent to 20 per cent of the key metals used in EV production come from recycled supplies.
“The planned Portovesme hub is a landmark project for Europe’s battery recycling industry and is expected to be the largest source of recycled battery-grade lithium on the continent,” said Tim Johnston, Li-Cycle’s co-founder and executive chairman.
Listed in New York, Li-Cycle has a market value of US$900-million after a one-year decline of 22 per cent.