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“Recycling technology is the best option” – Mobility Moments with Peter Cowan, Director of Gigamine

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Gigamine is a UK-based startup developing technology to efficiently and effectively recycle used battery electric vehicle (BEV) batteries. Peter Cowan is the operations director of Gigamine. He joined in 2021 to help scale the company.

In this week’s Mobility Moments, Cowan explains the urgent need to recycle lithium-ion batteries and details Gigamine’s recently announced partnership with Slovakian InoBat.

Describe Gigamine’s key services.

One of the biggest challenges manufacturers face is that their batteries use many critical materials – dependent on provisional supply chains and limited global supplies. By recycling existing batteries, we hope to alleviate this supply pressure by making the technology truly viable as we transition to a greener economy.

What technologies do you offer to enable the cradle-to-cradle economy?

Manufacturers will come under pressure in the coming years to find a solution to the enormous amount of waste created by increased investment in these batteries. Gigamine’s recycling plants will be crucial in the cradle-to-cradle circular economy where BEV battery components are processed and refined for reuse, ultimately saving costs and returning materials back into the economy without requiring further exploitation of natural resources .

Why is there an urgent need to recycle lithium-ion batteries?

Across Europe, many advanced economies have set targets for net zero for the next ten to thirty years; in all cases, wider use of recycling is needed to achieve these goals.

Lithium-ion batteries are a viable alternative to the combustion engine and an important step towards finding a green energy source for consumers. However, like most renewables, the technology still relies on critical materials to function. Since these are very scarce worldwide, the technology is unsustainable unless we find a way to salvage metals such as nickel and cobalt from used batteries.

Demand for European countries to reduce dependence on Russia in recent weeks has shown how difficult it is for countries to find an alternative to fossil fuels in the short term. The same goes for the metal market; 51% of cobalt reserves are located in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Even if we found a new cobalt mine today, it could take 20 years or more before production can begin.

The increased demand for renewable energy sources only makes this supply problem worse. However, investing in recycling technology is the best option to make clean energy sources viable in the long term.

How can waste lithium-ion batteries be used?

End of life BEV batteries are currently ‘shredded’ into a black mass – a powder full of metals and minerals that can be recovered and reused for another battery or something else. The problem at the moment is that this process is very expensive and inefficient.

You can put the powder through pyrometallurgical refining, which uses large amounts of heat, or hydrometallurgical refining, which uses solvents to bind and separate the metals.

At the moment there is no way to get out 100% of the metals that have been put in. Our main challenges today are to find a way to automate these processes to reduce costs and to find new ways to maximize efficiency.

Explain your partnership with InoBat.

We announced our partnership with InoBat in April 2022. The partnership between Gigamine and InoBat will focus on recycling BEV batteries – initially targeting lithium-ion batteries and waste materials from the BEV battery manufacturing process. The goal is to be able to handle all EV battery recycling as new battery technologies develop.

We are also committed to delivering significant impact to achieve net zero and other sustainability themes such as raw material sourcing and sourcing, logistics and supply chain effectiveness, as well as material recycling and reuse.

InoBat wants to expand their mission to include a third gigafactory in Western Europe, and candidate countries are those of the UK and the EU – the decision should be made later in 2022. This partnership will also be an important part of Gigamine’s expansion as we strive to develop the technology with the means for sustainable recycling of battery component parts across Europe.

InoBat

How will Gigamine use its seed capital round?

Gigamine will use its funding round in three key areas: 1) to begin construction on its first site later this year. 2) to assess the best recycling technologies. 3) to hire the best technical and battery engineering team (if interested in applying email: [email protected]).

What will urban mobility look like in 2030?

Investments in lithium-ion battery recycling make it possible to mass-produce batteries for transport in all shapes and sizes.

Current systems such as London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) are encouraging those who frequently drive in metropolitan areas – such as taxi drivers – to use hybrid vehicles, creating increased demand for investment in better technology for small, mobile transport.

However, we can expect that as technology improves, it will be easy to tailor batteries for different types of vehicles. Recycling these batteries will ensure that the components of materials remain affordable for developers to innovate. It is conceivable that by 2030, all types of transportation to and from cities – cars, trucks, trains, planes, boats, ships, motorcycles – will benefit from low-cost battery-powered technology in advanced countries.