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New standard for crude nickel cobalt hydroxide facilitates Chinese import of battery waste

Updated: Apr 19, 2022

The Chinese ministry of industry and information technology, MIIT has adopted a new standard for crude nickel cobalt hydroxide, a product usually originating from intermediary processing of waste batteries. The new standard with the code YS-T 1460-2021 will facilitate import of the product as well as its use in the precursor industry.

Crude nickel cobalt hydroxide has since a few years become an increasingly common intermediary product in the battery recycling industry. The product which requires leaching and purification of black mass and subsequent co-precipitation of nickel and cobalt is after the process sold to precursor producers or other refiners of nickel and cobalt chemicals. The advantage compared to a full process, in which the black mass is turned into sulphates, is primarily a higher allowance of impurities and fewer steps in the recycling process. Especially in a market that still is highly fragmented with small volumes available for each recycler this is important as it facilitates its trade.

Previously standards have been available for both crude cobalt hydroxide and nickel hydroxide but not in a combined form. This has caused confusion not least in customs as the required amounts of cobalt and nickel under their respective standards (20%), can't reach the same level as it in a nickel cobalt hydroxide rather is the combined amount that make up the share. The new standard may therefor have significant importance for the international trade of waste materials.

Import of waste batteries and non-standardized products from recycled batteries has for a long time been banned in China. The new standard will however open up for hydro metallurgical recyclers not least in Southeast Asia and South Korea which now safely can export their nickel and cobalt products to China alongside lithium carbonate. This may indirectly affect the trade of batteries from the rest of the world and make more batteries, or processed battery waste, gravitate towards China as prices for recycled batteries are record high with recyclers paying as much as 120% of the price for nickel and cobalt contained causing an extremely risky situation as contracts and payment terms differ upstream and downstream. This has lead to an outcry among Chinese recyclers which have invested large amounts in large-scale recycling plants and which are already suffering from high reuse prices, often paid by smaller local players.

Discussions about permitting free import of black mass have therefor become more and more common during conferences and consultations. Chinese recycling companies are now also saying to us that they are able to import black mass as long as the Ni Co Li content exceeds 25% and that a larger scheme for direct import of black mass might be a next step.

We are currently planning a new section of CES Online where standards, legislation and other policies affecting the use, reuse and recycling of batteries will be published. The ambition is to have it up and running in June.

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