A new US plant will soon offer a solution for tight supplies of critical metals: Pull them out of dead batteries in a process that produces fewer emissions than competitors.
Recycling startup Nth Cycle is opening its first full-scale plant in Fairfield, Ohio, to produce a mix of nickel and cobalt — key ingredients of the lithium-ion batteries that power smart phones and electric vehicles. The company will hold a “sneak peak” of the plant for members of the community Monday, with full commissioning planned this fall, said Chief Executive Officer Megan O’Connor. The company hasn’t disclosed a precise cost for the plant, but says it’s investing $25 million to $30 million in the facility.
It’s part of a wave of plants under construction across the US to bolster the supply chain for batteries, a critical component of the global energy transition. The vital technology is now mostly made in China, but the Biden administration’s sweeping climate legislation has driven federal dollars toward boosting US output.
“We’re trying to bring back an entire industry,” O’Connor said in an interview.
Nth Cycle’s process involves dissolving the shredded remains of spent batteries in a water-based solution, then using a series of electrified filters to extract specific metals. It also works with electronic waste, metal scrap and mine tailings. And it’s designed to be modular, so individual customers can deploy Nth Cycle’s processing unit — dubbed the Oyster — at their own factory or mine. The company boasts far lower greenhouse gas emissions than standard recycling methods.
Nth Cycle hasn’t yet named any of its customers, but O’Connor said they include automakers, battery producers and consumer electronics makers. She added that there’s currently no domestic producer of Nth Cycle’s nickel-cobalt product, known as mixed hydroxide precipitate. So working with Nth Cycle will give customers a way to take advantage of “buy-American” incentives in the federal Inflation Reduction Act, she said.
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