Did you know that India reportedly generates over 50,000 tonnes of Lithium-ion battery waste every year? While Lithium-ion batteries form the core requirement for switching to electric mobility, what happens to the increasing e-waste generated once the batteries have run their due course?
The concerns are not only limited to battery waste but also involve looking out for environmental hazards as Lithium is a non-renewable resource. Excessive and uncontrolled mining of Lithium can end its supply but it is important to fuel our electric vehicle vision.
With a much-needed focus on adopting electric vehicles, mining, and depleting Lithium could pose a great challenge.
Gurugram-based BatX Energies is working to solve this particular gap. It has developed an in-house proprietary net zero waste and zero emission process for recycling depleted Lithium-ion batteries.
Founded in 2020 by Vikrant Singh and Utkarsh Singh, BatX Energies claimed to have recycled about 220 million batteries to date.
These batteries which are not only required for electric vehicles but also used in our daily use gadgets such as mobile phones, laptops, etc, are recycled to extract the metals such as Lithium, Nickel, Cobalt, and Manganese from black mass (powder extract from the batteries).
All the extracted metals can be reused by several other businesses from sectors such as pharmaceuticals.
BatX has a capacity of 3000 metric tonnes of black mass production on a yearly basis and is planning to build a larger chemical plant. The startup has been in the beta stage and commercialized its black mass since August 2022. Since then, it has clocked in a total of Rs 18 crores in revenue.
How did the journey begin
Utkarsh and Vikrant’s work on battery recycling has been going on since their college days at BML Munjal University back in 2016. While building an electric vehicle innovation for college competition, the founders realized that a major problem lay in access to Lithium-ion batteries.
Speaking with Compass, Vikrant, Co-Founder, Director & CTO of BatX, reveals that since Lithium-ion batteries were not readily available in India at that time, they had to ask a vendor to import them from Korea.
Realizing the challenge especially related to the higher cost of imports, the duo took it upon themselves to build their own indigenous Lithium-ion battery cell. But even after building the cell, the problem was not solved as Lithium as raw material needed to be imported from other countries.
That’s when it all began with an idea of recycling an old and spent battery to a new one. “When we got into recycling, we realised that this is a bigger market than battery cell manufacturing and that if we are able to build the technology for recycling, it can be a breakthrough in the whole supply chain. We call electric vehicles a sustainable model but actually it is not. Recycling is the one section in the whole ecosystem where complete sustainability is possible,” he adds.
But technology and innovation alone are never enough to build a sustainable business. To ensure that, both the founders took a year break to work for other companies and learn the best ways to establish a business. They officially registered BatX Energies in 2020.
Understanding process and business
BatX’s battery recycling process can be understood in three steps.
The first step involves the collection, storage, and safe transportation of the batteries to their chemical plant in Bulandshahr, Sikandrabad.
“The batteries are highly flammable and it is important to ensure safe transportation of the batteries. Once they reach the factory, the first process is to neutralize the existing charge from the discarded batteries,” he adds. Since batteries come in different sizes with different compositions, they need to be neutralized using different processes.
The second step involves sending the batteries into the mechanical unit where it gets transformed into a powder form called black mass. The process includes 16-17 steps such as cutting, shredding, crushing, and grinding of the battery, air loop separation, and electromagnetic separation among others.
“We have two things in these batteries, one is the packaging material that forms the outer case of the battery and then is the material used to produce the charge such as Cobalt, Nickel, Manganese, and Lithium. We extract the black powder containing these charge producing metals and the second is we extract Copper, Aluminum, Steel, and plastic using the mechanical process. The packaging and charge producing material get segregated separately,” Vikrant says.
BatX sells the packaging material to the local market meanwhile the black mass is carried to the chemical unit where it undergoes a 24-hours long hydrometallurgical process that leads to the extraction of high-grade salts of Lithium, Cobalt, Nickel, and Manganese. These core metals can be sold to other industries and also to Lithium-ion cell manufacturers.
The startup sells the black mass and base extracted metals to intermediaries who then refine them for the manufacturers.
But what makes the process more unique is its zero waste and zero emission nature enabling a safe and sustainable recycling process. BatX has built the process based on negative pressure where we treat our emissions inside the factory itself.
While at present, BatX incurs a 5-6 percent loss in the recovery of the metals from the recycling process, it is aiming to achieve 99 percent recovery. BatX has filed for two international patents for their recycling process and is planning to file about 15 more patents in the coming year.
Challenges and plans
While such innovative technology is being built out of India, the demand for the extracted metals mostly comes from foreign markets. At present, BatX exports its extracted metals to Singapore and also European countries such as Belgium, among others.
“The biggest challenge is that in India there are not many companies in the commercial battery manufacturing space. So the batteries in our mobiles, laptops, and watches are mostly not manufactured in India but are imported from other countries like China. Electric vehicle companies are also relying on battery imports from other countries. So the material consumption and demand creation come from countries where cell manufacturing is done. Also for other industries such as pharmaceuticals, they have value-added products but recyclers only produce the basic materials, and India at present lacks the infrastructure to refine these materials,” he says.
However, BatX continues to be bullish about the battery manufacturing market in India and believes that the domestic demand for the metals would increase in a few years.
The startup is now focused on making the cathode or battery-grade material through recycling and directly selling it to the manufacturers. It is planning to expand its mechanical unit across the countries to scale up operations and is also working with the Ministry of Heavy Industries for furthering its growth. BatX had earlier raised its Seed funding round and is raising another round to set up its new plant and scale up its operation and research.
“BatX wants to become a mega refining nano-science company. Our vision is to grow and become scalable so that we do not need to import even a single gram of material from other countries,” Vikrant says.
[The article was first published on LetsVenture Compass]