Pilot plant planned to recover valuable materials from spent EV batteries

Watercycle Manchester team

Watercycle Technologies has made a key breakthrough in recovering materials from spent electric vehicle batteries.

Manchester-based Watercycle is a deep tech company focused on developing sustainable, high-yield, low-cost, mineral extraction and water treatment systems. It was spun out of the University of Manchester.

It has, for the first time, recovered commercial grade lithium carbonate and near 100% pure graphite from Black Mass, a solid black powder containing a complex mixture of metals and impurities recovered from the recycling of end-of-life lithium-ion batteries.

Conducted in partnership with globally renowned Sheffield-based precious metal recovery specialists, RSBruce, the test work on one kg of Black Mass validates Watercycle’s ground-breaking technology and underpins the major contribution that deep tech university spin-outs are playing in championing the UK’s ambitions for the energy transition and the attainment of a Circular Economy.

Watercycle is advancing its partnership with RSBruce to develop a tonnage-scale field trial to fulfil its strategy to deliver the UK’s first environmental solution to critical mineral recycling and supply.

It marks the first step forward in commercialising Watercycle’s technology.

Dr Ahmed Abdelkarim, Watercycle co-founder and CTO, said: “Atoms were first split in Manchester by Ernst Rutherford and likewise, the WCT team is the first in the UK to extract both lithium carbonate and graphite from Black Mass.

“These results demonstrate that our ground-breaking technology can recycle critical minerals from Black Mass cost effectively, sustainably and with little waste.

“We expected to produce high grade lithium carbonate, but the addition of the recovery of nearly 100% graphite is extremely exciting and a potential game changer.”

He added: “Graphite represents between 30-40% of the minerals in an EV battery and the demand forecasts, as with lithium, are extremely pronounced as the world looks to decarbonise.”

Watercycle co-founder and CEO, Dr Seb Leaper, said: “The battery recycling market is estimated to grow from $17.2bn in 2020 to $23.2bn by 2025, at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 6.1% from 2020 to 2025.

“There is, therefore, a fantastic commercial opportunity for companies that can recycle Black Mass and, having proven that we can extract multiple high-grade materials, we can now not only potentially generate significant revenue, but also aid the transition towards a circular economy.”

RSBruce Battery Recycling business manager, Sam Haig, said: “We are very pleased with these ground-breaking results, which demonstrate the potential to increase material recovery from end-of-life batteries and ensure a reliable harvest of valuable raw materials for battery manufacturing.

“Accordingly, we look forward to continuing the collaboration with Watercycle and are now exploring plans to develop a pilot plant project.”

Watercycle and RSBruce are now working towards finalising plans for the development of a pilot plant.