The US company Ascend Elements has announced plans to invest up to one billion US dollars in a factory for the production of sustainable battery materials for electric vehicles in southwestern Kentucky. Production is scheduled to start at the end of 2023.
The Hopkinsville facility, which is expected to begin construction this year and be operational by the end of 2023, will use the company’s “hydro-to-cathode” technology, which processes black mass from recycled electric vehicle batteries directly into new cathode materials – without the usual intermediate step of hydrometallurgically splitting the black mass into the individual materials to then produce new cathode materials.
An investment of 310 million US dollars (currently 304 million euros) is to be made in the first stage of the plant, which is called “Apex 1”. What production capacity this first stage is to offer is not clear from the announcement.
The investment of one billion dollars or 980 million euros will not come together until the last of “several possible” phases. Then the plant should be able to produce enough lithium-ion cathode material for up to 250,000 electric vehicles. It is not known by when this final expansion is to be achieved. Up to 400 jobs are to be created in the final expansion, from engineers and chemists to employees in production and in the warehouse.
Ascend Elements describes its self-developed process technology as a closed manufacturing system. Compared to conventional processes for cathode production, this should produce only “minimal waste and CO2 emissions”. Apex 1 will also have its own chemical recycling facility and a waste-water treatment plant.
According to CEO Michael O’Kronley, the company considered more than 50 sites for the plant – Commerce Industrial Park II in Hopkinsville was the only site that met all the requirements. Here, the company cites such things as easy access to transportation, clean energy and a potential workforce. Proximity to electric vehicle manufacturers and lithium-ion battery factories in the southeastern United States was another important requirement. Relative accessibility to the company’s Covington, Georgia, facility (350 miles) was also a factor, he said.
In Covington, Ascend Elements operates a battery recycling facility called ‘Base 1’. The black mass produced at Base 1 (i.e., the end product of most battery recycling processes before hydrometallurgical processing) is a key feedstock for the new Apex 1 plant in Kentucky.
“We’re in the middle of a global energy transformation and it’s critical that we produce lithium-ion battery material in the United States. Our future energy independence and national security depend on it,” says O’Kronley. “This new facility in Hopkinsville will produce sustainable, active battery material for approximately 250,000 EVs per year. That will go a long way toward making electric vehicle batteries cleaner.”
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