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⚡ "Recovering Minerals from E-Waste"


Photo by Elly Filho / Unsplash

Host: James McWalter
Guest: Megan O'Connor | CEO and Co-Founder | Nth Cycle
Category: ⚡ Renewable Energy

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[0:14] “Nth Cycle’s mission is to really enable a very clean streamlined supply of the critical minerals we need for the energy transition. So we're really trying to recover as much cobalt, nickel, really the main battery materials will need from any type of feedstock. So we're looking at mining and the different ores we have around North America, as well as the spent materials, like the laptops, the cell phones, even the EV packs that come off the road, trying to recycle those to get those materials back into the supply chain.”

[2:34] “Over and over again, I kept hearing, waste management and recycling is very much needed and will become an even larger issue as more cell phones come out of consumers hands, as more EVs come off the road. This is just going to be a growing problem that we currently have no solution to. And the main reason that is, is that there's really no economic way to recycle these materials. The other problem that I kept hearing over and over again, was supply chain delays and management of that. […] Where are we going to get all this material from, especially when the EV boom happens?”

[5:03] “The technology works for many different metals across the periodic table. So we actually started the company off with a huge focus on rare earth. So rare earths are another group of critical minerals that are in the magnets and big wind turbines, and they're the magnets that power the motors in EVs. So they're using similar technologies that you find batteries. But the rare earth supply chain is quite difficult to get into because the majority of it is over in Asia. And so while we have sort of the end of life feedstocks here, we learned very early on that it might not be the best market for us, at least to start off in.”

[5:55] “We primarily work with folks collecting different types of scrap, in this case, scrap lithium ion batteries. So they can come directly from some of the OEMs if they're, if they have manufacturing defects or things like that. Or if they're just simply cell phones or laptops that consumers bring it into like a Best Buy, or any sort of drop off location for electronics. It ends up at a big recycler, and then we partner with them to actually chemically recycle that back to the individual metals that go into manufacturing again.”

[7:23] “We work with folks that take the batteries, and they shred them down into this material that's called black mass. […] And it contains all the valuable metals. It contains the cobalt and nickel, and then some graphite, which is the anode of a battery. So we take that black mass, and we put it through our process, which is called electro extraction. And you can think about it as an electrified Brita filter. So it's a carbon filter that we push an electrical current across. And while we're pushing the dissolved black mass through, the electrical current helps select or recover the individual metals out at that specific voltage. So that's how we're able to select and remove the metals that we want, while the rest of the stuff goes through to the next stage.”

[10:44] “I think mining has a very negative connotation, for good reason. That the technologies in the process of these today are very dirty. They're very carbon intensive […] and a lot of the mining space is seen as not really wanting to move forward and evolve. And, sadly, we do need to find more material, we simply do not have enough cobalt, nickel and all the other critical minerals needed within the waste streams that we have to be able to continue on this path to […] a clean energy economy. So we do need to rethink mining. And that's the other side of Nth Cycle’s business is sustainable mining of actually pulling these metals out of the ground in a much more sustainable way with a much lower carbon footprint. So we can go on site with these mine operators to help them pull the cobalt and nickel out of the ground. And we can reduce their carbon footprint by 75%. So no more of these very hazardous chemicals or anything that is traditionally thought of when you think of mining.”

Rating: ⚡⚡⚡

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify
🕰️ 40 min | 🗓️ 11/29/2021
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