Glencore, Li-Cycle eye boost in recycled battery metal supply with major Italy plant

Glencore and major battery recycler Li-Cycle intend to build a hub in Italy which was expected to be Europe’s largest source of recycled battery-grade lithium, the two firms said on Tuesday May 9

The recycling hub, to be located in Portovesme, southern Italy, was expected to have processing capacity for as much as 50,000-70,000 tonnes per year of black mass, the equivalent of as much as 36GWh of lithium-ion batteries, they added.

A letter of intent has been signed to jointly start a definitive feasibility study for the project and, subject to final investment decisions, the plant will be commissioned in late 2026 or early 2027, the firms said.

It was expected to be the “largest producer of sustainable battery-grade products in Europe,” they said, and would produce recycled battery metal including cobalt, lithium and nickel products from black mass using hydrometallurgical technology.

More EU processing capacity could be game changer

If it is commissioned, the plant would be a key part of Europe’s transition toward greater local capacity for the post-treatment of black mass.

At the moment, the shredded battery scrap material is often exported outside of the EU to major black-mass markets such as South Korea, because there was insufficient local capacity to handle the material, according to market sources.

“From 2026-27, [most] black mass will be able to be processed in Europe. [But] in the meantime, [most] of it would still be exported from Europe,” a South Korean recycler source told Fastmarkets on Tuesday.

In response to greater market interest in recycled battery raw materials, Fastmarkets is proposing to launch weekly price assessments for black mass payable indicators in the South Korea market from mid-May 2023.

The difficulty of sourcing black mass or scrap batteries is a common complaint among European black-mass market participants, but the Glencore-Li-Cycle tie up will benefit from supply coming out of Li-Cycle’s network of smaller ‘spoke’ plants in Europe, as well as through Glencore’s large commercial network, the firms said.

“Establishing a hub through the re-purposing of our Portovesme site, which could become the first Glencore asset to produce battery-grade lithium, will enable us to truly close the loop for our European original equipment manufacturer and gigafactory customers across all aspects of the supply chain,” Kunal Singha, Glencore’s global head of recycling, said.

“The planned Portovesme hub is a landmark project for Europe’s battery recycling industry and is expected to be the largest source of recycled battery-grade lithium on the continent,” Tim Johnston, co-founder and executive chair of Li-Cycle, said.

Glencore and Li-Cycle’s partnership on the project comes roughly one year after the firms announced a strategic partnership in which Glencore subscribed for $200 million of the convertible debt in Li-Cycle, and the firms becoming preferred partners in the lithium-ion battery recycling sector.

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