Electra Battery’s nickel refinery plans starting to take shape

12th September 2022 By: Mariaan Webb - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online

Electra Battery’s nickel refinery plans starting to take shape

Electra Battery CEO Trent Mell

Canadian firm Electra Battery Materials has announced the highlights of a scoping study for an integrated nickel refinery, as part of its vision of creating an electric vehicle (EV) battery materials park in Ontario.

The integrated park will ultimately include nickel, cobalt and manganese refining, recycling of battery black mass material and precursor cathode active material (pCAM) manufacturing.

The scoping study assessed the economics and carbon footprint of various nickel feed options to develop an integrated facility producing 10 000 t/y of battery grade nickel sulphate and nickel equivalent pCAM - components essential to production of EV batteries.  

“With US electric vehicle manufacturers moving swiftly to reduce reliance on Chinese and Russian critical minerals in order to qualify for the $7 500 EV credit under the Inflation Reduction Act, Electra is capitalising on the opportunity to provide secure domestic supply of EV battery materials,” said CEO Trent Mell.

“The scoping study supports our view that an integrated refining-recycling-pCAM battery materials complex in Ontario would deliver compelling economics, emit low carbon emissions and address the onshoring of battery materials needed by the North American automotive industry.”

The scoping study examined the construction of a battery grade nickel sulphate refinery in Ontario by 2025/26, with three feed baseloads: nickel sulphides, Class 1 nickel metal and ferronickel, supplemented with recycled battery black mass and nickel-rich mixed hydroxide precipitate.

Capital costs have been estimated at between $550-million and $650-million.

Electra reports that operating costs for a 10 000 t/y refinery will be between $13 000/t and $13 600/t of nickel sulphate produced (excluding byproduct credits), configured for NMC 811 EV battery chemistries.

“The benefits of an integrated recycling, refining and pCAM facility identified by the scoping study provide a significant opportunity for Electra to further leverage its Ontario refinery location and assets,” said Electra VP of engineering Dave Marshall

“By using a phased approach towards project development and exploring collaboration opportunities for manganese and pCAM production, we will now look towards reducing capital and operating costs as we launch our engineering prefeasibility study.”

The scoping study was conducted in partnership with the government of Canada, the government of Ontario, Glencore and Talon Metals.

The consortium is collaborating on engineering, permitting, socio-economic and cost studies associated with the construction of a nickel sulphate plant, as well as a pCAM plant adjacent to Electra’s cobalt refinery and recycling plant. 

Electra is pursuing a multi-phased approach to build an integrated battery materials park. The first phase consists of commissioning a battery grade cobalt sulphate refinery in the spring of 2023, followed soon after with the commissioning of a battery recycling plant once a demonstration currently slated for the fall of 2022 is successfully completed.

The third and fourth phases will consist of developing an integrated nickel sulphate refinery and pCAM manufacturing facility. Manganese refining is also under consideration.