Progress in EV Battery Recycling – Kinsbursky Brothers

DSC_8707Some of you may have seen the guest blog on Tesla’s battery recycling program I contributed to Michelle Lynch’s new “Enabled Future” website last month. There is always more to pieces like this than meets the eye as, usually, more time is spent on research than on the actual writing of a new report. Traditionally, Tesla has been quite transparent in such matters but a lot of time has passed since the conception and launch of their “Gigafctory” in Nevada. Apparently, the company is working on novel approaches to the topic that they don’t want to see released prematurely.

So I contacted Kinsbursky Brothers to check if the information provided by Tesla in 2008 is still accurate. Daniel Kinsbursky, Vice President at Kinsbursky Brothers, kindly answered a set of questions I submitted.

gm-ev1Kinsbursky has been in business since the mid 1980’s, focusing on battery recycling from the start. Their first exposure to electric vehicle (EV) battery recycling came in the late 1990’s, when the lead acid batteries from General Motor’s iconic “EV1” had to be recycled. The company subsequently expanded into Li-ion by becoming the largest shareholder in Retriev Technologies with locations in Lancaster, OH, and Trail, BC (Canada).

With respect to the company’s overall business vis-a-vis the recycling of Tesla batteries, Kinsbursky explained: “We offer our battery recycling services to a number of different brands, across multiple applications beyond just EV and hybrid vehicles. For instance, we receive a significant volume of Li-Ion batteries from consumer applications, such as cell phones, laptops/tablets, power tools, and really almost any modern device that requires mobile power. That being said, we expect the largest growth area for our recycling services to be in the automotive sector.”

As a privately held company, Kinsbursky does not share information on recycling volumes or revenues. They did, however, confirm seeing a significant increase in EV batteries year over year, and expect volumes to increase at much higher rates once more of the Li-ion powered EV and hybrid vehicles reach the end of their life cycles. Kinsbursky points out that a recent market study estimates the worldwide Li-ion battery recycling market volume to be US$ 1.78 billion (in 2017) with a projection to reach US$ 23.7 billion by 2030.

Their process for battery recycling hasn’t changed significantly from what I described in my blog. However, Kinsbursky points out that “our goal is to be the first company to commercialize a battery-to-battery recycling process, whereby materials like lithium and cobalt recovered from a used battery can be reutilized in a new battery without any additional intermediary steps.”

With respect to the amount of material sent to landfill (25% according to Tesla’s 2008 blog), the good news is that this has been reduced to below 10%. Kinsbursky explained: “The amount of materials sent to the landfill from our process is largely dependent on the feedstock. Our process is capable of recovering all battery metals, including cobalt, nickel and lithium. Nevertheless, many battery packs utilize different grades of plastic and separator materials, which can consist of mixed quality grades of little recycling value in this commingled form. This is typically less than 10% of the battery mass. … It should also be noted that 10-15% of the battery mass is an electrolyte solvent which is digested within our process.”

Asked to comment on the pros and cons of their recycling method compared to ultra-high temperature incineration, Kinsbursky responded: “There are two common methodologies for the recycling and management of lithium ion batteries. hydrometallurgical and pyrometallurgical. Umicore’s process utilizes pyrometallurgical. Each type of system has its own benefits and deficiencies. As you stated, the UHT process would be more energy demanding than a hydrometallurgical process, and the hydrometallurgical system would be more forgiving in the type of material that can be processed.

Our current physical/mechanical process removes any electrical hazards and shreds and separates the batteries into usable commodity feeds. We are essentially a pre-processor for pyrometallurgical downstream processors. The advantage of our process is that it separates the metals into more concentrated feeds for the pyrometallurgical processes, thereby increasing efficiency and energy usage. Our long-term goal of producing battery materials will utilize additional hydrometallurgical processes on the back-end of our existing processes. We think over-all this will provide a lower energy pathway to closing the loop on lithium ion battery recycling when compared to the pyrometallurgical route.”

In conclusion, a lot of progress has been made, and new developments (David Kinsbusrsky did not want to comment on these) are on the horizon. Closed loops, or nearly closed recycling loops, seem possible provided that manufacturers and recyclers continue working together towards this goal.

Cobalt – from secret ingredient to superstar

Cobalt started coming into focus when the industry became aware of its crucial importance to lithium-ion technology. Since then, several Tech Metal Insider articles on Kitco News have dealt with the subject:

Cobalt – the secret ingredient in lithium ion batteries: https://bodoalbrecht.com/2015/10/02/cobalt-the-secret-ingredient-in-lithium-ion-batteries/

BYD (Build your Dreams) – cobalt vs iron oxide technology: https://bodoalbrecht.com/2016/04/28/byd-disrupting-the-markets-for-lithium-and-cobalt/

Ethical concerns on cobalt mining raised by Amnesty International: https://bodoalbrecht.com/2016/10/10/cobalt-prices-on-the-rise-amidst-ethical-concerns/

mitch-smithThe latter topic in particular raised the question of ethical alternatives for cobalt mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country that just declared it had to postpone democratic elections for lack of funds. One company promising such an alternative is Global Energy Metals of Vancouver, Canada. Mitchell Smith, president and CEO of GEM who is also a very active supporter of alternative energy in social media, told me more about the company and its plans. Click here to read the interview on Kitco News.

 

Cobalt Prices On The Rise Amidst Ethical Concerns

Tesla Model X Launch 2015-09-29As predicted a while ago, the world’s insatiable hunger for battery materials is beginning to affect prices, in a big way. The increase may not hurt small electronic devices as much but it will definitely be felt by buyers of electric vehicles which employ large amounts of the metal.

This good news turns sour for at least some investors, though, in light of new reports about unsafe conditions and child labor in the mines that produce cobalt. Please click here to read my full report on the topic, which was published by Kitco News today.

Emergency Offshore Summit in Panama

With the “Live and Invest Overseas” conference just finished, the next event is already on the horizon. Lief Simon’s “Emergency Offshore Summit” is aimed at investors worried about the political future of the United States after the elections in November. One way or another, instability may be a result, and the conference focuses on legal precautions private investors have at their disposal to hedge against such effects.

The conference will be from October 24-26 in Panama City, Panama, and I will be speaking on two topics: physical investments in strategic metals, and in precious metals. Let’s not make it one of these:

To register for the event please click here. Looking forward to seeing you in Panama!

Platinum Group Metals: staring down a cliff?

TecDay Road to the Future – Drive TrainOne topic of my annual “Metal Megatrends” paper at the recent IPMI conference in Phoenix was sustainable mobility, and its impacts on metal consumption. In fact, if you read the story of how my column for Kitco News started four years ago (see the “Welcome” page of this blog), we have now reached a point where we can answer the question: “What if all cars in the world were electric?”.

The answer is now online on Kitco News (click here to read).

While my paper (available through the IPMI in a little while) was also critical regarding Tesla executives’ role in trash talking hydrogen it should also be disclosed that I am on the long list of people having pre-ordered a Model 3, and I share the admiration of Elon Musk by those who say he is shaping the world by his visions, perhaps in more significant ways than Steve Jobs ever has.

As a result of adding up all the facts in front of us the only logical conclusion is that the era of the internal combustion engine is coming to an end. There will be a long tail, of course, with cars being passed on from some regions of the world to others, and with heavy duty engines as an unresolved issue. What about collector’s cars? Will a “boutique” style infrastructure emerge where we buy fuel in new ways, or is it back to the pharmacy like in the early days of the automobile?

Last but certainly not least: what will happen to pgm markets in the meantime? Assuming that the fuel cell will eventually gain traction, the loss of platinum on emission control catalysts might be offset by the growth of the FCEV. Palladium, which is already used in some fuel cells, might once again play a role as a substitute. Only for rhodium the direction is unclear in this environment.

That said, the unique properties of precious metals have always made them desirable, if not irreplaceable, in technology applications. I am optimistic that new uses will emerge as technologies advance further.

BYD -disrupting the markets for lithium and cobalt

A few weeks ago, during the hype of hundreds of thousands of Tesla Model 3 pre-orders, I saw a report on BYD (“Build Your Dream”), a Chinese car and battery manufacturer. While Tesla are scrambling to determine how they will meet the large demand they just created, BYD is already producing very large amounts of battery-electric vehicles today. I was drawn to their YouTube video (link below, the Spanish title seems to be an error on their part) in which BYD are demonstrating the safety of their lithium iron phosphate batteries.

These batteries are interesting because they are likely to do two things to metal markets:

  1. They will remove the issue of a cobalt shortage which is imminent – standard Li-ion batteries contain about 10% of cobalt, that’s 50kg per Tesla. Arithmetically, there just isn’t enough cobalt available in the world to prevent a market crash. See my earlier report on the topic here, and an excellent analysis by John Petersen titled “EV batteries and the cobalt cliff” here.
  2. The effect on lithium will be inverse: the metal, unchained from cobalt, can now be used more widespread than previously possible.

BYD-E6_3Intrigued by this scenario, I requested an interview with BYD which was promptly granted. I wish other companies were this forthcoming when it comes to asking about their technology. The resulting article was just published on Kitco News today, and it can be viewed here. Hope you will find it interesting.

Tesla Model 3: the car that is

You may feel about Tesla in whichever way you like, but there is no denying that today is the day people will remember as the day when the paradigms of selling cars changed forever. Thousands of people are waiting in line to pay down $1,000 on a car they have never seen, a car that may or may not be shipped in 2017, a car that – according to its creator – doesn’t even exist in its final design yet.

IMG_20160331_095433The picture shows people waiting at a factory owned store in a shopping mall (Short Hills Mall in New Jersey, USA). The line, which security estimated to be at least 200 people, winds throughout the mall and out the door. The line in the other picture shows people waiting for the new iPhone, also released today in what can only be called a marketing blunder. IMG_20160331_095110It is not the Tesla Model 3 other EV manufacturers have to worry about, it’s the way in which Elon Musk and the Tesla brand excite the masses. The Model 3 presale takes thousands of committed EV buyers off the market for at least 4-5 years (1.5 years of waiting time plus a 3 year lease). Whichever product or marketing strategy other brands may come up with, from hereon the market has been captured by Tesla for a very long time. A VERY smart move.