Western Australian battery recycling startup, Renewable Metals has raised $8 million in Seed funding to address low levels of lithium battery materials recovery.
The round was led the Investible’s Climate Tech Fund, with support from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) through Virescent Ventures, which tipped in $2.5 million, and US VC the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment.
The capital is earmarked towards a pilot plant in Perth, and bring forward the construction of a larger scale demonstration plant capable of recycling up to 1,500 tonnes per year of lithium-ion battery waste, as well as adding to the startup’s headcount and looking offshore for growth.
While rechargeable Li-ion batteries have come to the fore in recent years in everything from e-bikes to electric vehicles and smartphones, just 10% of Australia’s Li-ion waste was recycled in 2021, compared to 99% of lead battery waste.
Renewable Metals has developed technology with the potential to recover more critical minerals, including around 20% more lithium than existing recycling methods. The hopes to be at the forefront of a battery recycling industry expected to be worth $3.1 billion. Renewable Metals uses an alkaline leaching process that eliminates the need to pre-process to black mass (crushed battery cells), simplifies the extraction process, and reduces the cost by up to 30%compared to competitors without creating a secondary waste problem (disposal of sodium sulfate).
The process has achieved metal recovery rates of greater than 95% at pilot scale, and can also be applied to numerous battery chemistries, which will become increasingly critical as LFP (lithium ferro phosphate) batteries become a larger portion of the market.
Renewable Metals CEO, Luan Atkinson said this creates one of the most important technological breakthroughs in the development of renewable energy technologies.
“To decarbonise quickly, the world needs cost-effective recycling solutions that maximise recovery for all types of lithium batteries – not just the higher-value ones with nickel and cobalt,” he said.
“We’re thrilled to be backed by Investible, the CEFC, Virescent Ventures and Grantham Foundation. Their support will accelerate our scale-up plans and help create 2 to 3 times more value than the current Australian practice of exporting batteries or black mass for recycling overseas.”
Demand for batteries is forecast to increase 18-fold over 2020 levels driven by rapidly-growing demand for EVs and stationary storage, while li-ion battery production capacity is expected to reach 5terra-watt hours (TWh) in 2030.
Recycling will play a crucial role in supply because current mines are only capable of producing enough lithium (685,000 tonnes) for 15.5 million EVs – just 18% of all light vehicle production today
Investible investment manager, Ben Lindsay said recycling startup’s proprietary closed loop system is reducing the initial carbon footprint of EVs while helping address a bottleneck and major anti-EV argument, all at a lower cost.
Virescent Ventures partner Blair Pritchard said battery recycling that extracts valuable metals and materials is an important part of building Australia’s circular economy as demand for batteries grows.
“There is a growing global need for effective waste management strategies as demand for lithium-ion batteries rises, driven by the increasing electrification of transport and the renewable energy generation storage sector,” he said.
“By developing end-of-life battery systems, Australia can participate across the battery value chain, from critical minerals extraction, refining, processing operation and maintenance and the eventual repurposing and recycling of batteries and components.”
Renewable Metals was founded last year by a team are metallurgists, including Gary Johnson, a 40-year veteran of mining, metal extraction and metallurgy. The company is chaired by former BHP CFO Peter Bevan.