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Recycling & Waste Management

Neometals to Tackle Huge European Demand for Battery Raw Materials

Neometals Ltd. started a joint venture with the SMS group in Germany to demonstrate and commercialize an innovative lithium battery recycling process. Germany Trade & Invest has been providing investor support and site selection services to Neometals.

Germany Trade & Invest spoke to Jeremy McManus, General Manager, Commercial and Investor Relations of Australian Stock Exchange-listed company Neometals Ltd. (ASX:NMT)

GTAI: Neometals has joined forces with SMS group to establish Primobius, a company that plans to commercialize an environmentally friendly recycling solution for end-of-life and scrap lithium-ion (LiB) cells. What are your special competences and how will your technology make a difference?

Jeremy McManus: Neometals is a project development business.  Along with the Primobius flagship lithium battery recycling joint venture, there are three other core projects and some mineral exploration and R&D activities. All the projects intersect along the electric vehicle (“EV”) and energy-storage supply chains – with Neometals being immersed in upstream mineral development, value adding to make advanced materials and recycling at the back end to close the loop. So the Neometals path to recycling was a natural extension from other activities where we knew cell producers were going to face raw material supply challenges and the future demand for lithium-ion batteries (LiBs) would create huge end-of-life disposal issues. Neometals brings significant intellectual property to Primobius. Our 50-50 partner, SMS group, complements those skills as an industrial-scale project delivery partner with global plant building, operating and maintenance experience. Neometals has been working on battery recycling for nearly four years, leveraging in-house metallurgical and process engineering skills. Primobius sees a need for better LiB recycling and an extraordinary opportunity exists with big market tailwinds demanding a more comprehensive and sustainable solution than that offered by today’s recycling market incumbents. The Primobius process offers a sustainable process where the majority of battery constituents can be recovered, fire risk is drastically reduced and the decarbonization objectives of our OEM partners can be met using a closed loop integrated solution.  

GTAI: What is your contribution to electric vehicle (EV) technology so that it can deliver significant environmental benefits?

Jeremy McManus: Battery and EV value chains are being forced to decarbonize. Global climate concern is supporting greenhouse gas net zero targets, together with the phasing out of internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. Enormous industry investments have followed and the LiB industry will be the big beneficiary when EV/ICE purchase price parity is achieved. The reality however is that EVs have a very large CO2 footprint – due primarily to the battery raw materials – during the ‘production phase’ which prolongs the EV/ICE CO2 break-even point during the ‘use phase.’

Hydrometallurgical recycling stands poised to play a big role in reducing the current high carbon footprint of LiBs used by the world’s biggest brand names. Furthermore, with countries looking to stimulate economies out of recession with green economy initiatives, battery recycling and its ability to support strategic supply chain resilience represents an opportunity for companies to demonstrate ESG strategies and preparedness for change. One of the Primobius points of technical differentiation revolves around the flowsheet that has been designed to produce high purity chemicals for re-use in the next generation of LiBs. In so doing, Primobius aims to use finite resources more efficiently and close the materials loop to contribute to the circular economy.

GTAI: What is your expectation on the development of electric vehicles in Germany and Europe?

Jeremy McManus: Primobius sees huge growth of electric vehicle adoption in Europe. This will drive greater demand for LiBs, expansions and more plants to make cells and it will generate enormous demand for battery raw materials. In recent years Europe has been leading the globe in e-mobility investments – 3.5 times higher than in China in 2019 with €60 billion compared to  €17 billion. Europe has been playing EV and energy storage catch-up in an emphatic way. The decision by Primobius to incorporate its joint venture in Germany reflects the importance of Germany in this European growth.

GTAI: Why did you decide to engage in the German market?

Jeremy McManus: Notwithstanding the fact that SMS group is headquartered in Germany, Primobius had several site alternatives for the construction of its showcase demonstration plant (DP). Germany made the most sense when you combine the existence of a location site to the proximity of cell and car manufacturers as well as potential off-takers for the materials we recover. The confluence of regulation, subsidies, funding and penalties creates the perfect environment and makes the economic proposition of EV ownership too good to pass up for the European consumer. Germany also has significant tax exemptions and subsidies for the purchase of new EVs and provides significant support in terms of assistance for companies bringing inbound investment. With Germany at the center of Europe, geographically and from a car and battery manufacturing perspective, the importance of a local footprint with SMS representatives speaking the same first language with OEMs was also critical.

GTAI: What further plans do you have in Germany and Europe?

Jeremy McManus: Primobius will soon start construction of its showcase DP in Germany. A dedicated 2,000m2 facility at the SMS manufacturing center in Hilchenbach is ready for plant installation activities and operating permit applications are being processed. The commercial scale battery shredding equipment from the Neometals North American pilot is being integrated with a new beneficiation and refining plant. The DP will be operated continuously, fully integrated from battery cells to high purity chemicals from a commercial-scale shredding circuit (20,000 tpa) coupled to a refining section. The DP will process batches of battery feed materials sourced from potential battery industry customers and will deliver cathode intermediate materials that will be used in evaluation activities with potential off-takers. Importantly, the DP will provide an opportunity for vehicle, battery and consumer electronics manufacturers to see first-hand, the process capability to ethically dispose of hazardous LiBs and generated re-usable materials for the production of new batteries.  Perhaps most importantly, the DP will provide a showcase for partners to ‘touch and feel’ while their spent batteries go in one end and high purity chemicals come out the other end for supply chain evaluation and life cycle (carbon footprint) analysis. In parallel with the DP activities, Primobius is focused on securing feed sources and off-take partners for future commercial roll-out.

GTAI: Thank you for the interview.

About Jeremy McManus
GM – Commercial & Investor Relations


SMS group GmbH/Jeremy McManus SMS group GmbH/Jeremy McManus | © SMS group GmbH/Jeremy McManus

Jeremy has 20+ years’ experience in the resources and technology materials sectors. Prior to Neometals, Jeremy was the Commercial Manager for advanced materials company Talga Resources and held earlier corporate finance and funding advisory roles in the investment banking and accounting sectors. Having attained MBA and postgraduate qualifications in applied finance and corporate governance, Jeremy is well versed in strategy management, technology commercialisation, capital markets, ESG stewardship  and IP management.

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