Australian companies are increasingly looking at how to recover materials for battery storage as the global focus on ethically and sustainably sourced minerals heats up. Keen to shake our reputation as a global quarry, a number of Australian groups are progressing promising plans which range from recovering storage minerals from tailings (essentially mining waste), to creating scaleable, efficient and sustainable recycling processes, as well as low-emission lithium extraction.
Having transitioned from a traditional mining outfit to today focussing on recycling and closed loop mineral recovery, Neometals has quietly been forming partnerships across the world to establish a handful of core projects. Yesterday, the company announced the completion of its Primobius battery recycling plant, which is a 50:50 joint venture with Germany’s SMS Group, and is based in Hilchenbach, north of Frankfurt. Trials of the plant are expected to begin in the coming weeks and be completed by the end of November.
The project has reached the final round of the prestigious German Sustainability Award for 2022, gaining attention for its recycling processes which don’t produce waste water, reuse gas byproducts and have ammonia tailings to be used by the fertiliser industry.
Neometals is also working on a project which is seeking to recover high purity vanadium from stockpiled slag from Scandinavian steel mills. The company’s general manager, Jeremy McManus, told pv magazine Australia, that despite the project still being in its early stages, it has received significant interest from potential customers eager to secure the greenest possible version of the budding battery storage material.
Queensland-Japan ethical cobalt project
The Queensland government yesterday announced it will be pursuing a joint venture with Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC) and the University of Queensland to examine whether cobalt can be retrieved economically from old copper mine tailings.
As part of the three year international study, samples from the tailings of Copper Resources Australia’s Rocklands copper mine in north west Queensland will be studied at the University of Queensland’s Sustainable Minerals Institute and at JOGMEC’s laboratories in Japan.
“Queensland is renowned for having a large endowment of cobalt, however extracting and processing this mineral is often difficult due to costs and resources,” the state’s resources minister, Scott Stewart, said in a statement. “It could also revolutionise how Queensland copper mines operate by turning their waste into a revenue stream.”
The study is part of the Queensland government’s $23 million New Economy Minerals Initiative, and is expected to be completed by 2024 with a public report and data set.
Queensland-based Alumtek Minerals is also looking to recover materials including gallium, titanium, scandium and other rare earth elements from mined tailings, recently announcing a partnership with US aluminium producer Alcoa.
Finally, Sydney-based startup Novalith has managed to catch the eye of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) with its novel low carbon, sustainable approach to lithium production.
The government-backed green energy fund has invested $1.5 million into Novalith’s $2.5 million seed round, which it says will go towards the building and operation of a pilot plant in Sydney.
What is novel about the startup is that its process for extracting lithium consumes carbon dioxide as a reagent, reducing emissions, eliminating the need for conventionally consumed chemicals and minimising waste footprints. The approach also cuts out extensive offshore processing, enabling Australian-produced lithium ore to be processed closer to mine sites, further strengthening the sustainability of the supply chain.
“The Novalith technology has the potential to change the nature of lithium production by using less energy and creating less emissions than current alternatives. It also offers an exciting opportunity for Australia to become a major processing, manufacturing and trading hub for lithium resources rather than merely exporting raw materials,” CEFC CEO Ian Learmonth said.
Global battery uptake is expected to grow at least nine-fold over the next decade as the world increases renewable energy use. According to analysis from Future Battery Industries, a diversified battery industry using onshore materials processing could create more than 34,000 jobs and increase the value of the Australian battery industry by $7.4 billion by 2030.
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