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The mining industry continues to be a hotbed of patent innovation. Activity is driven by the need for improved productivity, safety, cost control and sustainability, and the growing importance of recycling in order for sufficient metals and materials to be available to support the global energy transition. In the last three years alone, there have been over 62,000 patents filed and granted in the mining industry, according to GlobalData’s report on Environmental sustainability in mining: battery metal recyclingBuy the report here.

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According to GlobalData’s Technology Foresights, which uses over 70,000 patents to analyze innovation intensity for the mining industry, there are 40+ innovation areas that will shape the future of the industry.

Battery metal recycling is a key innovation area in environmental sustainability

Batteries contain a number of heavy metals including some precious metals. Recycling of batteries to extract these metals is a fast-growing industry, especially in growing economies. For example, the nickel in nickel-metal hydride batteries is recovered to make steel. Cobalt, nickel, and copper can be recovered from lithium batteries. Mercury is recovered from mercury cell batteries and the decontaminated steel fraction is used to make steel. Battery recycling industry leaders are offering low-carbon mechanical and hydrometallurgical technologies to recycle battery materials in order to recover lithium, cobalt, manganese, and nickel for reuse in the production of new batteries.

GlobalData’s analysis also uncovers the companies at the forefront of each innovation area and assesses the potential reach and impact of their patenting activity across different applications and geographies. According to GlobalData, there are 20+ companies, spanning technology vendors, established mining companies, and up-and-coming start-ups engaged in the development and application of battery metal recycling.

Key players in battery metal recycling – a disruptive innovation in the mining industry

‘Application diversity’ measures the number of applications identified for each patent. It broadly splits companies into either ‘niche’ or ‘diversified’ innovators.   

‘Geographic reach’ refers to the number of countries each patent is registered in. It reflects the breadth of geographic application intended, ranging from ‘global’ to ‘local’.  

Patent volumes related to battery metal recycling

Company Total patents (2010 - 2022) Premium intelligence on the world's largest companies
ENEOS 236 Unlock Company Profile
Proterial 40 Unlock Company Profile
JFE 38 Unlock Company Profile
Nippon Steel 29 Unlock Company Profile
POSCO 25 Unlock Company Profile
Hyundai Steel 20 Unlock Company Profile
Jinchuan Group 17 Unlock Company Profile
Outokumpu 16 Unlock Company Profile
China Energy Investment 16 Unlock Company Profile
Barrick Gold 16 Unlock Company Profile
Vale 15 Unlock Company Profile
Metso Outotec 15 Unlock Company Profile
AEM Canada Group 12 Unlock Company Profile
Dowa 11 Unlock Company Profile
Voestalpine 10 Unlock Company Profile
Heraeus 10 Unlock Company Profile
RecycLiCo Battery Materials 7 Unlock Company Profile
Ausmelt 6 Unlock Company Profile
Lixivia 6 Unlock Company Profile
Hyundai Motor 5 Unlock Company Profile
Kobe Steel 5 Unlock Company Profile
Kia 5 Unlock Company Profile
Corporacion Nacional del Cobre de Chile 5 Unlock Company Profile
State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council 4 Unlock Company Profile
Outotec 3 Unlock Company Profile
Rio Tinto 3 Unlock Company Profile
Aluminum Corporation of China 3 Unlock Company Profile
Jeffery Steel 2 Unlock Company Profile

Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics

Leaders in battery metal recycling innovation include ENEOS, Proterial and RecycLiCo Battery Materials (RecycLiCo). RecycLiCo, a battery materials company specializing in lithium-ion battery recycling and materials production, has developed advanced technologies for recovering battery-grade materials from lithium-ion batteries, addressing the global demand for environmentally friendly energy storage solutions. In October 2023, the company obtained two additional patents in Japan and Australia for the battery recycling process, bringing the company’s patent portfolio to ten granted patents, with a further six applications pending. Furthermore, granted patents cover separation of graphite and carbon from ground battery concentrates, the treatment of fluoride from the electrolyte solution, and the separation of aluminum from the cathode active material.

ENEOS has pioneered the recovery of high-purity metal salts from automotive lithium-ion batteries. In 2020, the company began operating bench-scale equipment installed in its Hitachi Works Technology Development Center for technological and system development for closed-loop recycling, in which resources are recovered from used automotive lithium-ion batteries and reused as raw materials for new automotive lithium-ion batteries. Furthermore, in 2021, the company started trials for nickel sulphate recovery and introduced a new process at its Tsuruga Plant based on this bench-scale equipment.

ENEOS collaborated with Redivivus, a lithium-ion battery recycling startup, in January 2023 to accelerate the development of Redi-Shred®, a passivation technology to safely process end-of-life batteries at any state of charge or health.

In May 2023, Proterial announced the development of a technology to manufacture cathode materials for lithium-ion batteries without having to convert nickel to nickel hydroxide. The technology also enables lowering of CO2 emissions during the production by more than 20% compared to solid phase reaction method.In terms of application diversity, Hyundai Motor leads the pack, while Kia and Hyundai Steel stood in the second and third positions, respectively. By means of geographic reach, China Energy Investment held the top positions, followed by Barrick Gold and Vale.

To further understand the key themes and technologies disrupting the mining industry, access GlobalData’s latest thematic research report on Sustainability in Mining.

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GlobalData, the leading provider of industry intelligence, provided the underlying data, research, and analysis used to produce this article.

GlobalData’s Patent Analytics tracks patent filings and grants from official offices around the world. Textual analysis and official patent classifications are used to group patents into key thematic areas and link them to specific companies across the world’s largest industries.