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Transforming Mine Waste for Green Battery Supply Chains

Altilium secures UK government funding for innovative projects to recover copper and rare earth elements (REE) from mine waste, advancing sustainability in EV battery and critical materials supply chains.

Maria Guerra, Senior Editor-Battery Technology

November 28, 2023

3 Min Read
Rare earth elements for green batteries.
Sustainable EV batteries.lixu/iStock / Getty Images Plus

Altilium, a UK-based clean technology group, has successfully obtained over £700,000 in innovation funding from the UK government for two collaborative research initiatives. These projects are dedicated to recovering copper and REE from mine waste. The primary emphasis of both endeavors will be leveraging mine tailings controlled by Altilium across Europe. The projects also highlight the substantial potential of circular economies in addressing waste management and minimizing environmental impact.

ReTail project

The first of these projects, ReTail, in collaboration with CPI, aims to extract copper, aluminium, and other battery metals from mine tailings for use in the UK EV battery supply chain. With the growth of green transport and energy markets, the demand for these metals is set to skyrocket, and Altilium has the potential to address the critical need for sustainable supply options. The 12-month project will explore the feasibility and environmental impact of processing tailings, reducing reliance on traditional mining practices and supporting the goals of the Faraday Battery Challenge.

Copper and aluminium are integral to the electric vehicle (EV) industry, they comprise a significant portion of nickel manganese cobalt (NMC) batteries. In fact, Altilium states that copper makes up around 11% of an NMC battery by weight, while aluminium typically makes up 19%.

Related:Cyclic Materials on Recycling REEs, Critical Battery Materials

‘The Future of Copper,' a report made by S&P Global, warned that the goal of Net-Zero Emissions by 2050 could remain out of reach without a massive new copper supply, emphasizing the urgency of such initiatives. Altilium's commitment to developing environmentally friendly processes is not only environmentally responsible but could also be economically advantageous, contributing to job creation and economic development.

Recovery of rare earth elements project

The second project, recovery of rare earth elements (ReREE), will be conducted in partnership with the Camborne School of Mines, focusing on recovering REEs from mine tailings using innovative hydrometallurgical processes. REEs are essential to the UK's electrification ambitions, playing a critical role in EV motors, offshore wind turbines, and various technological applications. The project aligns with the UK government's Critical Mineral Strategy, recognizing the importance of securing a domestic and sustainable supply chain for these critical materials.

The funding from Innovate UK under the Critical Materials for Magnets Competition demonstrates the government's commitment to fostering cutting-edge research that strengthens the supply of critical materials. The environmental impact assessment included in the study reflects Altilium's dedication to sustainable practices and minimizing its ecological footprint, addressing concerns associated with traditional extraction and production methods.

Related:GM Ultium EV Motors Reduce Rare Earth Metals for 2022 Hummer SUV

Altilium COO Dr Christian Marston stated: “We are committed to pushing the boundaries and leading UK innovation in green technologies to enable a sustainable energy transition. By reprocessing mine waste, we are not only reducing the harmful environmental impact of traditional mining, but also providing a sustainable solution to meet the growing demands for copper and rare earth elements, as well as fostering economic growth. By efficiently recycling resources, we're contributing to job creation and economic development.”

According to Altilium, the global market for rare earth elements is projected to double by 2028, allowing the UK to establish itself as a critical player in this growing industry. The current dominance of China in the supply chain for permanent magnets underscores the urgency of diversifying sources and promoting sustainable practices.

Altilium's innovative projects represent a shift in mining and resource extraction approaches. By transforming mine waste into valuable resources, Altilium is advancing green technologies and laying the foundation for a more sustainable and economically viable future.

About the Author(s)

Maria Guerra

Senior Editor-Battery Technology, Informa Markets Engineering

Battery Technology Senior Editor Maria L. Guerra is an electrical engineer with a background in Oil & Gas consulting and experience as a Power/Analog Editor for Electronic Design.  Maria graduated from NYU Tandon School of Engineering with a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering (MSEE). She combines her technical expertise with her knack for writing. 

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