Battery recycling in Europe: Black mass from Sweden to Schwarzheide
3/1/2024 Chemicals Article

Battery recycling in Europe: Black mass from Sweden to Schwarzheide

Is electromobility the future? Only if the necessary batteries can be recycled. The chemical company BASF and Stena Recycling, a leading European recycling company, are laying the foundations for recycling the material. Black mass from mechanical battery recycling in Sweden will in future be further processed at BASF Schwarzheide.

Prototype plant for battery recycling from a bird’s eye view In the prototype plant in Schwarzheide, black mass from mechanical battery recycling is turned back into pure metals for new cathode material.
Black mass piled up as powder The raw materials for lithium-ion batteries are limited. Black mass is an important intermediate product in the recovery of high-purity lithium salt.
BASF and Stena Recycling, headquartered in Gothenburg, Sweden, are working together to establish a European value chain for the recycling of electric vehicle batteries. The partners aim to enhance the recovery rates of lithium, nickel, cobalt, and other globally scarce metals. In particular, an improved process for the production of black mass, a mixture of anode and cathode active material, is to be developed. The mechanical production of black mass is one of the first steps in the battery recycling process.

Used batteries are shredded

Stena Recycling will produce black mass from spent lithium-ion batteries and production waste in Halmstad, Sweden. One of Europe's most modern battery recycling plants went into operation there in September 2023, in which the company has invested around 22 million euros. The plant currently has an annual recycling capacity of 10,000 tonnes. Used batteries from Sweden and, in future, other European countries are collected there. These are mechanically dismantled and shredded in a large-scale process, producing plastic, aluminium, and high-quality black mass. If the market grows, Stena is ready to expand its capacity, says Marcus Martinsson, Product Area Manager Batteries at Stena Recycling, adding: "We assume that we will be able to manage a volume five to ten times higher within the next ten years."

With metallurgical recycling to cathode material

The black mass is to be chemically processed in BASF's prototype metal refinery in Schwarzheide. Commissioning of the plant with an annual processing capacity of 15,000 tonnes is planned for the beginning of 2024. It will treat the metal-containing mixture hydrometallurgically. The process developed by BASF ensures that the lithium it contains is also recovered in a high-purity form and high yield.
BASF will use the valuable metals recovered in this way to produce new cathode materials at the same site. The fully automated large-scale plant there went into operation in June 2023. It is the first production facility for high-performance cathode materials in Germany and is already sold out for years to come.

Basis for BASF's metal refinery

In future, BASF and Stena will transfer the model to the metal refinery planned by BASF for battery recycling on a commercial scale in Europe. The use of recycled metals reduces the CO2 footprint in the production of new batteries. Stena Recycling's extensive battery collection network in Scandinavia will thus become the basis for BASF's plans to expand its range of circular solutions for battery producers and electric vehicle manufacturers in Europe.


Ulla Reutner

Dr. Ulla Reutner

Chemist and freelance specialised journalist