June 10, 2020

VTT boosts EU’s self-sufficiency in critical metals

Batteries
Europe is presently almost completely reliant on imports to satisfy its demand for one of the primary battery metals in the world, cobalt.
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A VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland-coordinated EU project has demonstrated that critical and economically significant metals such as cobalt, nickel and zinc can be recovered profitably from low-grade ores and metal refining waste.

The METGROW+ project sought to develop new and combine existing recovery methods to increase Europe’s self-sufficiency in valuable metals required for the production of batteries, wind turbines and stainless steel. The continent is currently almost fully reliant on imports to satisfy its need for cobalt, a key component of batteries.

The methods and material streams studied in the project were found to boost self-sufficiency in cobalt, nickel and zinc by 10–20 per cent. The methods were also found to be suitable for recovering metals from other material streams.

“We paid particular attention to the profitability and environmental impact of the methods,” said Päivi Kinnunen, the project coordinator at VTT.

The Finnish research centre and the 19 participating companies, universities and research organisations from nine countries discovered that some of the materials left over from the recovery processes are chemically and mechanically resistant and structurally suitable for building materials such as concrete.

The 7.9 million-euro project also yielded a web-based calculator that can be used by mines, mining technology providers, policy makers and other stakeholders to explore the options for utilising raw-material streams at local waste and energy prices.

“The potential of low-grade ores, wastes and side streams is now easier to discern as we know the kind of metal concentrations they have and which methods are suitable for recovering those metals,” told Kinnunen.

“Even a smaller side stream from a large mine or metallurgical plant can prove to be a significant business for another company.”

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