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Swedish battery producer Northvolt has produced its first fully recycled battery cell.

The company’s recycling program known, slightly unfortunately as Revolt, uses 100% recycled nickel, manganese, and cobalt in its cells and electromechanical performance testing has demonstrated performance on-par with cells produced with newly mined materials.

All recycling and production processes are carried out at Northvolt Labs in Västerås, about 62 miles west of Stockholm.

“What we have shown here is a clear pathway to closing the loop on batteries and that there exists a sustainable, environmentally-preferable alternative to conventional mining in order to source raw materials for battery production,” says Emma Nehrenheim, Northvolt’s Chief Environmental Officer and head of the Revolt program.

“The recycling process can recover up to 95% of the metals in a battery to a level of purity on par with fresh virgin material,” she continues. “What we need now is to scale-up recycling capacities in anticipation of future volumes of batteries requiring recycling.”

The nickel, manganese, and cobalt used in the battery were recovered from battery waste through a low-energy hydrometallurgical treatment which involves the use of an aqueous solution to isolate the metals and separate them from impurities.

However, this isn’t simply a technical exercise for Northvolt. The company is aiming to scale-up the production of recycled batteries and aims to recycle 125,000 tons of batteries per year, amounting to an approximate 30 GWh of battery production per year.

Revolt Ett
Revolt Ett plant

By 2030, the company is aiming to produce cells with 50% recycled material. To achieve this, Northvolt is constructing a new site – Revolt Ett – next to the Northvolt Ett gigafactory in Skellefteå.

Construction of the site is expected to begin early next year, with operations commencing in 2023. The plant will receive incoming material for recycling from end-of-life batteries from existing EVs and production scrap from the main Northvolt Ett factory. The company expects that 30 GWh worth of batteries will be sent to the main Northvolt Ett factory – equivalent to half its total output. 

Revolt Ett will also recover lithium, copper, aluminium, and plastics from the batteries and materials it recycles – all of which will be recirculated back into manufacturing through local third parties. 

“As the electric vehicle revolution gains speed,” continues Nehrenheim, we should be mindful that some 250,000 tons of batteries will reach their end-of-life in Europe by 2030.

“In this, some see challenges and obstacles. At Northvolt, we see opportunity. Similar to how we’ve found novel, sustainable solutions for the handling of salt byproduct at Northvolt Ett – treating it as a valuable product and not waste – the same is true with end-of-life batteries. Ultimately, a commitment to circularity will not only significantly reduce the environmental impacts of the battery industry, but also contribute to our vision to set a new benchmark for sustainability in manufacturing.”

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