BASF opens prototype metal refinery for battery recycling

BASF has put its prototype metal refinery for battery recycling into operation in Schwarzheide, Germany. The chemical company intends to develop and optimise processes and procedures there in order to recycle the raw materials from old batteries and production waste.

Image: BASF

The technologies optimised in the pilot plant will later be used in a larger recycling plant to “enable optimum recovery of valuable metals such as lithium, nickel, cobalt, manganese and copper”, according to BASF. A commercial-scale refinery is to be built in Europe in the next few years – where and when exactly is not yet known.

BASF already operates its cathode material production at the Schwarzheide site, which the company also refers to as the centre for battery material production and recycling. Later this year, the battery recycling plant for the production of black mass will also be put into operation. BASF will then be able to carry out and optimise all the important steps at one site: Used batteries and production waste can be mechanically shredded and processed on site, with black mass being the end product alongside materials such as copper and aluminium. In the newly opened metal refinery, this black mass can be broken down into its individual components – the valuable active materials of the battery. And in cathode material production, these raw materials can be reintroduced into new cathodes.

BASF emphasises that the recovery of valuable metals is “of strategic importance for the reliable supply of important battery raw materials”. The company is therefore actively involved in battery recycling “to improve Europe’s self-sufficiency and fulfil the requirements of the EU Battery Regulation”. And batteries made from recycled materials are more sustainable, as recycled metals have a significantly lower CO2 footprint.

“With the expected rapid growth of the electric vehicle market, battery recycling provides competitive and sustainable access to critical metals,” said Dr Daniel Schönfelder, President of BASF’s Catalysts division, who is also responsible for the company’s battery materials and battery recycling business. “We will use the extracted metals to enable a truly local circular economy for the battery value chain.”

Just a few days ago, BASF’s battery material plans were dealt a blow. The German company has officially shelved its plans for a precursor factory in Finland, which had been announced in 2018, and has entered into negotiations with the employees. BASF wanted to produce cathode material precursors there from the metal raw materials, which were then to be further processed into cathode materials in Schwarzheide. As the Finland project had already been severely delayed, BASF pushed ahead with the procurement of materials from other sources. Production in Schwarzheide should therefore not be jeopardised.


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