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UK centre looks at recycling key battery materials

Business news |
By Nick Flaherty

The University of Exeter in the UK is setting up a research centre on sourcing and recycling materials for battery and technology applications.

The Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Centre in Technology Metals, led by the Camborne School of Mines in Cornwall will look at sustainable sourcing and recycling of key materials including lithium, rare earths and cobalt. Lithium can potentially be sourced from sites in Cornwall for UK battery manufacturing.

The centre at Exeter aims to develop a new cycle from the first stages of extraction, to enable secure and environmentally-acceptable circulation of these crucial materials within the UK economy. Battery manufacturers such as Northvolt and Tesla are looking to exclusively use recycled cobalt in cells.

“We have been looking for this opportunity to join up across the value chain for a while. Individual research projects can only go so far in solving the problem of sustainable supply and use of these specialist materials,” said Professor Frances Wall, the centre lead at Exeter.

“This opportunity is really exciting because we bring together all the disciplines ranging from geology, chemistry, engineering to social science and business to consider the whole system. Together with our project partners we will make a new road map for a technology metals circular economy centred on the UK.”

The Centre will bring together experts from the Universities of Exeter, Birmingham, Manchester, Leicester and the British Geological Survey, as well as 40 partner companies and organisations.

The research will start with a case study of the industry ecosystem in Cornwall. With its exploration projects for the technology metals, lithium, tin and tungsten, the region has the opportunity to lead in whole systems circular economy actions for these metals.

The Centre is one of five being set up by the UK government as part of a £22.5m (€25m) project also covering the textiles, construction, chemical and metal industries

Another of the centres, the Interdisciplinary Centre for Circular Metals, led by Brunel University London, aims to make the UK the first country to fully circulate metals by 2050. Seven major metals accounting for 15% of global energy demand and 12% of global emissions, and the centre will look at how metals can be recycled for use in sectors such as aerospace, automotive and electronics.

“We want to further the UK’s status as a world-leader in finding green solutions to industrial challenges, and projects like these are excellent examples of placing manufacturers at the forefront of the green industrial revolution,” said UK Energy Minister Kwasi Kwarteng. “I am pleased to support these new cutting-edge research centres that will transform the way industry reuses and recycles materials – another great step forward as we build back greener from coronavirus and achieve net zero emissions by 2050.”

www.exeter.ac.uk

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