Swedish manufacturer Northvolt has announced it has produced its first lithium-ion battery cell using 100% recycled nickel, manganese and cobalt in which the recycling process can recover up to 95% of the metals in a battery to “a level of purity on par with fresh virgin material.”

“What we have shown here is a clear pathway to closing the loop on batteries and that there exists a sustainable, environmentally-preferable alternative to conventional mining in order to source raw materials for battery production,” said Northvolt chief environmental officer Emma Nehrenheim, who heads the company’s Revolt recycling programme.

A statement from Northvolt — which is part-owned by Volkswagen, BMW and Goldman Sachs — said the development “stands as a breakthrough for the battery industry and a milestone for Northvolt in its mission to establish a sustainable supply of batteries to support the decarbonisation of society”.

A new facility, named Revolt Ett — “Ett” meaning “One” in Swedish — will be the only large-scale plant in Europe capable of recycling lithium, nickel, manganese, cobalt, copper, aluminium and plastics.

“With construction beginning in early 2022 and operations from 2023, the recycling plant will receive incoming material for recycling from two sources: end-of-life batteries from electric vehicles and production scrap from Northvolt Ett,” the statement said.

“Recycled nickel, manganese and cobalt metals used in the battery cell are recovered from battery waste through a low-energy hydrometallurgical treatment, which involves the use of an aqueous solution to isolate the metals and separate them from impurities,” the statement continued.

It will also recover lithium, copper, aluminium, and plastics from the batteries and materials it recycles – all of which will be recirculated back into manufacturing through local third parties.

“As the electric vehicle revolution gains speed,” says Nehrenheim, “some 250,000 tons of batteries will reach their end-of-life in Europe by 2030.

“In this, some see challenges and obstacles. At Northvolt, we see opportunity. Similar to how we’ve found novel, sustainable solutions for the handling of salt by-product at Northvolt Ett – treating it as a valuable product and not waste – the same is true with end-of-life batteries. Ultimately, a commitment to circularity will not only significantly reduce the environmental impacts of the battery industry, but also contribute to our vision to set a new benchmark for sustainability in manufacturing.”