Chief Technology Officer Prof. Hans Ferkel of SMS group about the joint venture with Neometals Ltd., the plans for a pilot plant and why SMS group is focusing on battery recycling
Hans Ferkel: Yes, we have founded a 50:50 joint venture with project developer Neometals Ltd., based in West Perth, Australia. The new company is named Primobius GmbH.
Hans Ferkel: The company’s business purpose is the commercialization of a joint recycling technology for lithium ion batteries. This technology provides a very sustainable way of recovering valuable substances from vehicle batteries and rechargeable batteries for electronic devices. In this joint venture, SMS group merges its comprehensive mechanical engineering and service expertise with Neometal’s process know-how.
Primobius is another step along SMS group’s strategic path of developing ever new business models as a system supplier – also with a view to making value chains more sustainable every time. There had been a lot of research and development activity before we signed the joint venture - activity that has resulted in a new pilot-tested, patent-pending process. This process is based on hydrometallurgy and is capable of recovering more than 90 percent of the alloying elements in batteries. The recovered elements can be reused as input material in battery production. In other words: we are closing a process circle here. Scrapped batteries become new batteries again – in a highly efficient and environmentally friendly way.
Hans Ferkel: As early as in 2019, Neometals and SMS group had signed a Memorandum of Understanding under which we performed the technical Due Diligence and determined that the future pilot plant was to be built at SMS group in Hilchenbach, Germany. As the project was evaluated positively by both partners, the MoU was transferred into a joint venture. Neometals contributes the technological know-how, which includes its recycling technology, and SMS group the engineering and the construction of the future recycling facilities.
Hans Ferkel: The technology is specifically designed to meet the requirements of lithium battery producers worldwide and of the global e-vehicle sector. The market entry of Primobius coincides with the current boost in e-mobility. Our recycling solution supports this trend in that it provides the possibility of recycling batteries sustainably and recovering substances - in an ethically responsible way - from old batteries to make new ones. In this way, we reduce the carbon-footprint of battery production and make an overall contribution to more sustainable supply chains in the lithium battery industry.
Hans Ferkel: The first step will be the construction and start-up of the pilot plant in Hilchenbach with a capacity to recycle 1,000 tons of batteries per year. Then we will optimize the technology from this industrial pilot plant to a full-scale facility. We will invite potential customers to see for themselves how the demonstration plant recovers valuable substances from their own or third-party battery scrap material.
We see great potential in this sector. With our metallurgical expertise and our plant engineering know-how, we will contribute to a soon-to-come start of commercial operation. Also the timing is good for the new technology to win ground, last but not least among OEMs who have recognized the potential provided by the closing of this gap in the battery value chain. The world over, we have been observing growing awareness of environmental issues and the willingness to promote sustainable acting and new forms of circular economies. This is why we are absolutely convinced of the Primobius project. We plan to commission the pilot plant in the second half of 2021 and look forward to enquiries from potential customers wishing to test the recycling of their batteries in the new facility.