Altilium, a UK-based clean technology group focused on supporting the transition to net zero, has announced that it has secured over £700 000 in UK government innovation funding for two collaborative research projects focused on the recovery of copper and Rare Earth Elements (REE) from mine waste.
Building on its pioneering work to recover lithium and other critical battery materials from end-of-life EV batteries, Altilium is partnering with CPI and Camborne School of Mines (CSM) for the two projects, which aim to develop new environmentally-friendly processes for the recycling of REE and other battery metals from mine tailings, transforming what was once considered waste into a valuable resource.
Both projects will focus on utilising mine tailings controlled by Altilium in Europe, supporting the shift to a circular economy, mitigating waste and reducing new mining. Instead of sourcing metals from mining of virgin mineral resources, which are increasingly carbon and resource intensive to extract and refine, Altilium is exploring new opportunities to recover these metals from existing mine waste, and provide these in a form that can be utilised by the UK battery supply chain.
Altilium COO Dr Christian Marston commented: “We are committed to pushing the boundaries and leading UK innovation in green technologies to enable a sustainable energy transition. By reprocessing mine waste, we are not only reducing the harmful environmental impact of traditional mining, but also providing a sustainable solution to meet the growing demands for copper and rare earth elements, as well as fostering economic growth. By efficiently recycling resources, we’re contributing to job creation and economic development.”
Altilium has exclusive rights to reprocess materials from the largest mine tailing site in Eastern Europe. Detailed analysis has already confirmed significant residues of copper, iron, aluminium, and other metals in the mining waste. Hydrometallurgical processing of the tailings will be carried out a new solvent extraction pilot plant at Altilium’s Technology Centre in Tavistock. This work will focus on developing innovative leaching techniques and efficient separation methods, while minimising waste generation and environmental impact.
In partnership with CPI, Altilium has been selected for funding under round 6 of UKRI’s Faraday Battery Change, which aims to accelerate the development and commercialisation of state-of-the-art battery technologies in the UK and support growth of the supply chain in the UK battery sector.
The 12-month project aims to establish the feasibility and environmental impact of processing tailings from Altilium’s site in Europe to extract copper, aluminium, and other battery materials for use in the UK EV battery supply chain (for example, to produce copper foils for use as current collectors). The aim is to develop clean and efficient methods that can be scaled for industrial application, reducing reliance on traditional mining practices. Copper makes up around 11% of an NMC battery by weight, while aluminium typically makes up 19%. These metals are also used extensively in other EV components. While these metals are not conventionally considered rare, the growth of green transport and energy markets will greatly increase demand and require new supply options. ‘The Future of Copper’ report in 2022, warned: “Unless massive new [copper] supply comes online in a timely way, the goal of Net-Zero Emissions by 2050 will remain out of reach”.
Altilium is also working with the Camborne School of Mines on a Feasibility Study exploring the recovery of rare earth elements from mine tailings using innovative hydrometallurgical processes, thus supporting the development of a resilient and sustainable supply chain for REEs in the UK.
The project has secured funding from Innovate UK under the Critical Materials for Magnets Competition, part of the circular critical materials supply chains (CLIMATES) programme. Announced in February, The CLIMATES programme, has committed £15 million of government funding for cutting-edge research to strengthen the supply of critical materials. As well as evaluating the technical and economic viability of the process, the study will also include an environmental impact assessment to ensure sustainable practices and minimise ecological footprint. Geochemical and mineralogical characterisation of tailings will be carried out by CSM, while Pensana Plc will provide commercial feedback on the recovered materials. Pensana is establishing an independent, sustainable rare earth supply chain with midstream processing to produce magnet metal in the UK.
Identified in the UK Government’s Critical Mineral Strategy, REEs are vital to the UK’s electrification ambitions, forming a critical part of the technology for EV motors and offshore wind turbines, as well as other technological applications. With the increasing adoption of EVs and growth of offshore wind, demand for REEs is forecast to grow seven-fold by 2050.
This supply chain represents a huge opportunity for UK businesses; the global market for rare-earth elements (REE) is projected to grow from US$2.5 billion to US$5.5 billion by 2028 according to Fortune Business Insights. However, their extraction and production often have negative environmental impacts, while China currently dominates over 90% of the supply chain for permanent magnets.
Source: Global Mining Review