Critical Nth Cycle Mineral Refining, Recycling Technology Reduces Emissions – Study

A Boston-based metals refining technology startup, Nth Cycle, began commercial operations in September and announced this month an independent review of its low-emissions refining technology, called electroextraction.

According to the independent study, the company’s refining capabilities are 92% lower in emissions than traditional mining and refining processes and 44% lower in emissions than more advanced critical mineral recycling technologies.

The company says it can take any material, any kind of scrap that contains cobalt and nickel, and turn it into usable material that can go back into the supply chain.

Nth Cycle’s first product is a mixed hydroxide precipitate that contains nickel and cobalt. The production of MHP by refining laterite ore is becoming increasingly popular as a precursor chemical for battery cathode manufacturers. However, 81% of today’s MHP supply is refined in Indonesia, by Chinese companies, through a carbon-intensive hydrometallurgical refining process called HPAL (high pressure acid leaching), Nth Cycle said in a news release.

This HPAL-based supply of MHP is harmful to the environment and, as a foreign supply, is not a compliant supply of critical minerals for domestic battery production under the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act.

CEO Megan O’Connor co-founded Nth Cycle in 2017 while completing her PhD in civil and environmental engineering at Duke University with professors Chad Vecitis, the company’s chief scientist and former Harvard professor, and Desiree Plata, advisor and current professor at MIT.

“We thought this could be a game changer for the refining world because there really hasn’t been any innovation for so many years because there hasn’t been an incentive,” O’Connor told MINING.COM, adding that the company works with some of the most major US scrap recyclers and North American mining and refining companies in the cobalt-nickel space.

“Around the same time I was researching all things circular economy, specifically metals. When I was reading about this and I really didn’t see a lot of attention around the fact that we’re not going to have enough of these critical minerals to make a full transition in the necessary time frame – it was quite shocking to me that we’re all about clean energy and the transition, but nobody was talking about the metals crisis.’

O’Connor said the technology behind what Nth Cycle does was originally developed for wastewater treatment, and that electrowinning is a cleaner way to do hydrometallurgy.

“When we looked at the market and said ‘we need x-tonnes of metal per year’, we’re not going to have enough recycled material to reach those volumes in terms of demand, so we need to figure out what other sources we can extract from, whether it’s possible a word on mining, tailings or other types of scrap besides batteries – I think that’s a huge step to focus on,” she said.

O’Connor said the technology is thriving because it has a much lower capital cost and smaller footprint, and the company can bring the machine on-site to smaller mines.

“We combine chemical precipitation with solvent extraction and electrowinning in one technology, which is our electroextraction unit, which is how we manage to achieve really high efficiency in terms of energy use and then in turn a 75% reduction in emissions.” of greenhouse gases,” she said.

“The ultimate mission and vision of Nth Cycle is really to get enough material in circulation so that we don’t have to mine so much material in the future and to get better at developing the circular economy concept so that we can just we recycle and reuse materials over and over again.”

“I don’t think people realize that these important minerals that are mined every day are the building blocks of clean energy. If you want to move away from fossils [fuels] we have to get these metals. There’s really no way around digging,” she said.

“We need to figure out where we’re going to get these materials in the country,” she said. “But if we can create a cleaner, more efficient way to do this — we can help make it a better process so that we don’t have as much [permitting] push back with people saying “not in my backyard”.

The company plans to launch its first field device in Q123.

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