Montreal-based Lithion Recycling has raised $125 million in first-round funding to build a lithium-ion battery recycling plant and Technology Development Center in Quebec, with more Canadian and international facilities to follow
Lithion Recycling, a Quebec-based electric vehicle battery recycling company, has secured up to $125 million in first-round funding to begin its commercial operations in the province for both lithium-ion battery recycling and battery technology R&D.
The group of investors includes South Korea’s IMM Investment Global Ltd., Quebec-based labour-sponsored fund, Fondaction, along with its managed fund, the LCC Fund. The capital will be used to build and commission Lithion’s first commercial mechanical separation plant and the company’s own Technology Development Center in Montreal.
“We’re very excited and very proud to bring in the capital so we can deploy and commercialize our [battery recycling] solution. We know what we do makes a lot of sense for society — today and tomorrow,” says Lithion’s CEO Benoit Couture in an interview with Electric Autonomy Canada.
“Everyone is facing exactly the same challenges of needing to recycle strategic materials.”
With no time to lose and the first hurdle cleared, Lithion is already looking ahead to its next round of funding.
The company relies on a hub-and-spoke model for its factories — the separation plant is a “spoke,” while a hydrometallurgical plant acts as the “hub.”
Lithion’s next funding initiative will focus on bringing up to $300 million in investments to develop a hub in Quebec. The company is planning to start building its hub plant in 18 months and have it operating in less than four years.
Battery recycling process
At Lithion, the process of recycling batteries is twofold. It begins at the spoke plant, where battery packs are dismantled and put into a shredder to separate flakes of metal and plastic from the “black mass” powder containing strategic minerals such as graphite, lithium, cobalt, nickel and manganese.
The black mass is then moved to the hub facility, where the strategic minerals will be recovered. Currently, in the battery recycling industry, materials from the black mass can be recovered either through a pyrometallurgy or hydrometallurgy process.
Using pyrometallurgy, the strategic minerals are extracted through a process involving heat. The problem with that in Lithion’s view, explains Couture, is that graphite and lithium are lost during this process and there may only be a 50 per cent recovery rate of the battery materials.
Lithion, instead, uses a hydrometallurgical process, where the black mass is put into a solution that can separate and purify the materials into forms that make them suitable to be recycled. The company claims to have a recovery rate of 95 per cent.
“Our purpose is to create the circular economy around the strategic materials that are required to produce lithium-ion batteries,” says Couture. “We purify these battery materials so they can loop back into the supply chain and provide us with the capacity to produce new green batteries.”
Keeping up with market demand
In recent years, Couture says, the lithium-ion battery industry has been ramping up.
“A lot of investments are being made around the world right now to improve [battery recycling] technology and to make it evolve faster so it suits the needs of the electrification of transportation.”
For the past two years, Lithion has been testing and developing its technology using end-of-life lithium-ion batteries from electric buses, e-bikes, cell phones and laptops at its pilot demonstration plant in Montreal.
The purposes of the demo plant were to demonstrate capacity and to also bring in new capital to be able to commercialize its technology and establish relationships with the market.
Now with the funding in place to build a commercial-scale facility, Lithion sees the value of establishing a technical centre for its dedicated research, too.
“It became clear for us that we have to be able to follow market evolution and make sure that our technology stays the best and relevant,” says Couture. “That’s why it’s very pertinent that we built a very strong technical team, and we installed them in a technical center so we can keep on developing our technology to suit future requirements of the market.”
Developing global strategic partners
In tandem with the funding announcement, Lithion is also working on licensing its lithium-ion battery recycling technology to companies in global markets.
In a first-ever partnership announced this week, the company is granting exclusive operating rights to IS Dongseo Company Ltd. of South Korea to use its technology in its that market.
The South Korean company plans to start construction this year on its first commercial plant capable of processing around 7,500 tonnes of end-of-life batteries per year, or, the equivalent of around 20,000 electric car batteries per year. IS Dongseo will then move on to developing a hydrometallurgy plant based on Lithion technology.
“We’re giving other operators the right to use our technology and operate it. We are also providing them with the technical support and all the enhancements and every evolution of the technology so they can serve their market properly and safely with a very sustainable solution,” says Couture.
In addition to licensing its technology, Lithion is interested in building its own facilities in the three major markets — North America, Europe and Asia. For for every hub built in a market sector, four spokes need to feed it, explains Couture. In the next 15 years, the company is planning to build two hubs and eight spokes in both North America and Europe and one hub and four spokes in Asia, for a total of 25 battery recycling plants across the globe.
“The market is pulling on us very hard. Societies everywhere around the world have exactly the same goals as we have in Canada to electrify our transportation so we can succeed with the energy transition,” says Couture.
“The need is huge. Everywhere markets are ready for us, we’ve got to be ready to serve.”