Company to commercialise world’s first sustainable lithium iron phosphate battery recycling solution for truly clean lithium batteries
Deeptech start-up, NEU Battery Materials has raised a total of S$800,000 in seed funding from Momentum Venture Capital (the corporate venture arm of SMRT Corporation Ltd) and Se-cure Waste Management (a battery recycling & processing company in Singapore).
This seed round also includes angel investments from two business angels in the energy storage and sustainability sectors, as well as earlier funding from the NUS Graduate Research Innovation Programme (GRIP).
A flagship initiative of the NUS Industry Liaison Office, GRIP consists of three months of intense venture hothousing followed by nine months of incubation support, enabling NUS researchers, inventors, and students to transform the university’s world-class research into deep tech start-ups. NEU Battery Materials will use this seed funding to build a pilot recycling plant in Singapore to recycle lithium from used lithium batteries.
Lithium batteries are a type of rechargeable battery. They are composed of cells where lithium ions move from the negative electrode to a positive electrode during discharge, and back again during the recharging process.
Lithium iron phosphate batteries are a type of battery that uses lithium iron phosphate as the cathode material. They typically are lower in cost, with a long cycle life and low toxicity. Lithium iron phosphate batteries are used in many products, including Electric Vehicles (EVs) and energy storage systems.
“The demand for lithium batteries is high, due to their everyday use. This demand will continue to increase drastically as EVs become mainstream. However, mining for lithium used in batteries is not an environmentally-friendly process. Furthermore, most lithium batteries are dumped into landfills at the end of their lifespan, creating environmental waste. We want to further develop and bring to market a method for producing sustainable lithium, resulting in clean and sustainable lithium batteries,” said Bryan Oh, CEO and Co-founder of NEU Battery Materials.
World’s first redox targeting technology for lithium iron phosphate battery recycling
NEU Battery Materials is bringing to market a patented electrochemical redox flow recycling process that was originally invented by Associate Professor Wang Qing, Deputy Head, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, NUS College of Design and Engineering. Assoc Prof Wang is Co-Founder and Advisor to NEU Battery Materials.
“I’ve been conducting research in the area of electrochemistry and flow batteries for the past 20 years, and believe that electrochemical battery recycling is the future, set to replace hydrometallurgy and pyrometallurgy. This recycling process is the first time that it has been demonstrated to be possible to recycle lithium from the cheapest battery type – which is the lithium iron phosphate battery. I am delighted that NEU Battery Materials will be commercialising this technology, and demonstrating its use in battery recycling,” said Assoc Prof Wang, Co-founder of NEU Battery Materials.
In order to recycle used lithium batteries, the batteries are first discharged and dismantled. A series of crushing procedures reduces and sorts through the key components of the battery. The remains of the battery are called ‘black mass’ and this then enters the electrochemical redox flow recycling process, which involves the following steps:
- The black mass is put into an anodic reactor tank, which is filled with a proprietary mix of chemicals. These chemicals will react with the black mass, to extract out the lithium. Unlike traditional battery recycling methods, this proprietary mix of chemicals does not include harsh acids (which leads to problems such as waste water). Furthermore, the chemicals are regenerative, allowing multiple cycles using the same batch of chemicals, significantly lowering pollution levels.
- The solution is circulated between the tank and the electrolyzer. Electricity facilitates the movement of lithium across to the cathodic reactor tank.
- The cathodic reactor tank is filled with water, which reacts with the lithium to form aqueous lithium hydroxide.
- The lithium hydroxide is dried, resulting in battery-grade lithium hydroxide powder. This can be sold to battery manufacturers.
To translate this technological process which was developed in a laboratory setting and demonstrate how this technology can be scaled and used to recycle lithium batteries, NEU Battery Materials will use their seed funding to build a pilot plant.
To do this, they have partnered with one of their investors, Se-cure Waste Management, a company that handles the recycling of metal waste and scrap materials. NEU Battery Materials will build and operate a 150 square-metre pilot plant at Se-Cure Waste Management’s facility. This pilot plant will be able to process approximately 150 tonnes of lithium batteries a year.
“Our partnership with NEU Battery Materials and the setting up of the pilot plant allows Se-Cure Waste Management (SWM) to now handle the recycling of all types of lithium batteries, including lithium iron phosphate batteries, which has never been done before.
We have already started sourcing for used lithium iron phosphate batteries, letting our industry contacts know that such recycling is now possible. As lithium is a valuable material, we foresee battery manufacturers interest in this development. With NEU Battery Materials’ recycling process available, recycling lithium batteries is now cleaner and greener,” said Vince Goh, Managing Director at SWM.
NEU Battery Materials’ entrepreneurial journey
NUS graduates, Bryan Oh (Bachelor of Business Administration, NUS Business School) and Kenneth Palmer (Bachelor of Engineering, NUS College of Design and Engineering), co-founded NEU Battery Materials in mid-2021, after completing the NUS Graduate Research Innovation Programme (GRIP). After hearing about Assoc Prof Wang’s lithium recycling technology, Bryan and Kenneth joined GRIP, to help commercialise this NUS technology. NEU Battery Materials was initially incubated for a few months on NUS campus, before expanding and setting up its own office and R&D laboratory in Bukit Batok.
“We are focusing our lithium battery recycling solution on meeting the needs of the Electric Vehicles (EVs) market. We see this as critical to tackling climate change and reducing our carbon footprint. The transport sector contributes 16 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and the use of EVs can reduce this significantly. The challenge is that the current EV value chain is not sustainable. Our lithium battery recycling solution has the potential to overcome this, creating a clean and sustainable EV value chain,” explained Bryan Oh.
“The setting up of our pilot plant will demonstrate that we can create a commercial system for this novel battery recycling technology. We look forward to working with EV automotive OEMs to solve their lithium battery recycling problems, making clean, sustainable lithium batteries a reality.”
“The GRIP programme has been helping to translate cutting-edge NUS research into deeptech start-ups driven by the mission of solving real-world problems. NEU Battery Materials is set to play a key role in the battery recycling value chain and positively impacting the Electric Vehicle industry. I believe NEU Battery Materials is well positioned to be a critical enabler of the Singapore Green Plan 2030, as well as to boost Singapore’s status as a global hub for sustainable development,” said Professor Freddy Boey, Deputy President (Innovation & Enterprise), NUS.
About NEU Battery Materials
NEU Battery Materials aims to produce clean and sustainable lithium, through its patented electrochemical technology, which enables battery recycling. This technology is the world’s first sustainable redox targeting battery recycling solution. By bringing this technology to market, NEU Battery Materials will help to meet the surge in demand for lithium batteries in a clean and sustainable manner. https://www.neumaterials.com/
About Momentum Venture Capital
Momentum Venture Capital is the corporate venture arm of SMRT Corporation Ltd, investing in early-stage start-ups that are strategic and potentially transformational for the Group. Its focus areas are in deeptech and engineering, new transport technology and improving the commuter experience. https://momentumvc.sg/
About Se-cure Waste Management
Singapore-based Se-cure Waste Management Pte. Ltd. specialises in the processing and recycling of electronic scrap and waste (“e-waste”) with the use of innovative technology to yield the highest possible recycling rate with minimal environmental impact. It is poised to lead the forefront for battery recycling innovation. www.se-curewaste.com
About NUS Graduate Research Innovation Programme (GRIP)
GRIP is a flagship venture creation programme developed by the NUS Industry Liaison Office. It is a comprehensive step-by-step guidance programme to enable postgraduate students and researchers to transform research into deep technology start-ups. The programme provides participants the knowledge and skill sets necessary to create their own start-ups, the industry linkages to real world problems, mentorship, funding and other support necessary to take start-ups off the ground. https://nus.edu.sg/grip/