Glencore, one of the world's largest mining companies and a leader in nickel and cobalt materials has entered into a partnership with cobalt producer Managem to process black mass from waste batteries in Managem's hydrometallurgical plant in Guemssa, 37 km from Marrakech in Morocco.
The plant which currently is used for production of cobalt cathodes will be modified to be able to receive recycled batteries through the use of a process developed by Managem's subsidiary Reminex. The plant will produce cobalt metal, nickel hydroxide and lithium carbonate at a production rate of 1,200 tonnes of cobalt per year which equates to 3,000 to as much as 30,000 tonnes of black mass depending on chemistry composition, or 6,000 to 60,000 tonnes of battery cells. This will take the operation to a capacity similar to several of the larger Asian recyclers. This will also be the first time Glencore is involved in lithium recycling.
Glencore is already today one, if not the, largest processors of black mass in the West, feeding its smelting operation in Sudbury, Ontario with black mass produced in both North America and Europe. In Sudbury a matte is produced from both primary and secondary feed stocks which then is shipped to Kristiansand in Norway for production of high purity cobalt, nickel and copper. A limiting factor has been the requirements to eliminate almost all organics in the black mass which therefore usually has to be calcined before delivered to Glencore. Not all black mass producers have access to this process. With a new hydrometallurgical process in which black mass is fed and leached directly this requirement will likely be less stringent although other requirements might be raised. Still this may be an advantage for Glencore which already has a one of the strongest upstream networks in Europe and North America. The shorter distance will also make it more attractive for European processors.
A challenge that may remain though is the actual cross border transportation of the black mass. As Morocco is not a OECD country several EU member states would not allow export of black mass as the material by some countries is considered hazardous waste and falls under the Basel agreement.
Managem is today the supplier of cobalt to BMW's electric vehicles, through the battery suppliers CATL and Samsung SDI. Whether the volume from Glencore will be sold to the German car maker has however not been mentioned in the communication from the companies.
The partnership which is set to last at least 5 years is conditional on a feasibility study to assess the commercial viability of modifying and deploying the Managem's refinery for recycling. The feasibility study will focus on achieving high recoveries and a low carbon footprint and is expected to be completed by the end of Q1 2022. The companies did not shared an expected starting date for the operations.
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