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Mercedes to fork out $30.7m for Neometals JV recycling plant

Updated: Apr 23


Mercedes moves to closed-loop EV battery recycling to reduce resource consumption. Credit: File

Mercedes Benz has put in a €18.8 million (AU$30.7 million) purchase order for Neometals’ joint venture (JV) company Primobius to build a hydrometallurgical “hub” to complete the motoring giant’s new lithium-ion battery recycling plant in the German town of Kuppenheim.


The order for the fabrication, installation and commissioning of the innovative plant continues a growing relationship between Primobius and Mercedes. Primobius is a JV vehicle held equally by Neometals, an Australian sustainable battery materials producer, and global plant manufacturer SMS group.


The new recycling plant represents a significant philosophical and operational shift for Mercedes, as it will be the company’s first foray into the recycling sphere of operations. It says it intends to reduce resource consumption and establish closed-loop recycling of battery raw materials as it moves towards exclusive electric vehicle (EV) production.


Neometals managing director Chris Reed said: “We are proud to partner with Mercedes and to lead the closed-loop recycling of lithium batteries by supplying plant and offering technology licences so OEMs can retain their battery materials from scrap and end-of-life batteries. Primobius looks forward to working with Mercedes to scale up the technology and provide an industrial scale recycling solution to meet their future needs.”


The company says the supply certainty, low operating costs and low carbon footprint offered by its technologies are key value drivers for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and that its approach to delivering scalable solutions with its plant building partner SMS group augurs well for penetrating the new market.


Under the arrangement with Mercedes, Primobius is responsible for the engineering, supply, installation and commissioning of a fully-integrated, closed-loop pilot-scale recycling plant comprising a feeder “spoke” facility, to be followed by a processing “hub”. Together, they will comprise Mercedes’ recycling pilot plant.


The “spoke” facility was the subject of an order placed by Mercedes last August and is currently undergoing fabrication. Installation began in last year’s final quarter and commissioning is slated for the current quarter.


Once completed, the “spoke” feeder plant, which shreds expired batteries into their component chemicals and inert casing materials, is expected to have an annual capacity of 2500 tonnes per year and is designed to primarily recover lithium, cobalt, nickel, manganese and other chemicals, with other materials being further recycled separately.


The recovered chemicals will then be recycled via the hydrometallurgical “hub” into the production of a planned 50,000 battery modules to be installed into new Mercedes’ EVs.

Neometals says the spoke design is product-ready and can be supplied to existing licensees and new customers, while the planned Mercedes hub is scheduled to be product-ready this quarter.


The combined Mercedes orders also represent a major milestone for Primobius, as they constitute its first commercial recycling plant supply agreement to a global EV manufacturer. It is also the JV’s first significant revenue collection.


Additionally, the game-changing installation for Mercedes is seen by Neometals as a strong validation of Primobius’ scaleable technology being able to meet the needs of global manufacturers and the wider automotive industry. Early last month, Primobius revealed it had produced industry-leading quality in its trial production of battery-grade nickel sulphate from recycled lithium-ion batteries.


Neometals says the purity of its nickel sulphate produced from recycled nickel-manganese-cobalt lithium-ion batteries exceeds specifications from Chinese cathode producers for the same product from their recycling of EV batteries. It says the results confirm Primobius’ ability to produce high-quality battery-grade nickel sulphate and validates the product from its 2019 pilot trials in Canada.


The company believes its patented technology has immeasurable implications for sustainability through the recycling of expired batteries, which have largely unchanged components that can be recovered and turned into new batteries. It is supported by a recent independent life-cycle assessment into Primobius’ lithium-ion battery recycling plants, which was undertaken by environmental impact mitigation company, Minviro.

The study focused on the JV’s production of key battery pre-cursor materials, including lithium fluoride, nickel sulphide hexahydrate and cobalt sulphate heptahydrate.


In comparisons with current mainstream EV supply chains that begin with primary mined raw materials from nickel, cobalt and lithium resources, the study showed the JV’s hydrometallurgical refining process to recycle the key components of lithium-ion batteries can potentially achieve an 85 per cent lower overall carbon footprint.


The JV says a successful commissioning and ramp-up to steady-state operations will significantly de-risk the next level of scale, which is planned to be up to 21,000 tonnes per year.


Once Mercedes’ pilot recycling plant is up and running smoothly and has proven itself, Primobius says it will focus on engineering an industrial-scale solution for the iconic motoring brand.


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