The Korean zinc smelter Youngpoon will invest in a 2,000 tpa pyrometallurgical pilot plant for recycling of EV batteries. The company announced the 18th May that they have filed a patent for a method for smelting of battery modules which enables recovery of Ni, Co and Cu with a 95% yield and 90% of the lithium. The plan is to expand the capacity after 2023 to up to 25,000 tpa.
While Youngpoong's representatives pointed out the advantages of pyrometallurgical methods compared to the hydrometallurgical route (which in fact is not an alternative but a subsequent step) the company did in January initiate a project with the leading Korean recycler Sungeel which operate a hydrometallurgical reycling process for production of nickel sulphate, cobalt sulphate and lithium carbonate.
The use of pyrometallurgy has for a long time among researchers and industry representatives been described as inferior to the combination of mechanical and hydrometallurgy. It is however difficult to disregard from its advantages in terms of efficiency and lately US-based Redwood Materials started up operations relying on a pyro process just like Umicore in Belgium. Interestingly there have in 2020 and 2021 also been several new published papers about pyrometallurgical processes which show that there is a lot of potential to improve the processes and that the Achilles heal of the process, the recovery of lithium, might not be as limiting as it is often is described.
Learn more about Youngpoong here.