Interview with Co-founders of MiniMines-Anupam Kumar and Arvind Bhardwaj

Anupam Kumar and Arvind Bhardwaj delve into MiniMines’ breakthrough Hybrid-HydrometallurgyTM process and its pivotal role in shaping a sustainable future for battery technology and waste management.

1.MiniMines’ Hybrid-Hydrometallurgy process boasts a remarkable 96% efficiency and a significantly lower carbon footprint compared to traditional methods. Can you elaborate on the science behind this innovative technology and how it achieves such exceptional results?

MiniMines is focused and committed to extracting and recycling critical elements sustainably and strives towards reducing CO2 emissions. This sustainable approach not only aligns with India’s net-zero emissions goals but also positions the nation as a frontrunner in eco-friendly technology. 

MiniMines’ Hybrid-HydrometallurgyTM is a patented technology that systematically disassembles lithium-ion batteries and extracts critical elements such as nickel and cobalt through a meticulous three-step process: After initial shredding, Extraction, selective separation, and final beneficiation. The process starts with the Lithium-ion batteries being safely dismantled and shredded. The resulting black mass is separated from plastics, copper and aluminium foil. From the left-over material, a critical black mass is extracted which contains all the important elements like nickel and cobalt. It is then processed to recover the elements in a singular medium where all components are present. The selective separation works on the principle of solubility of metal ions in water at different pH, temperature and pressure.

2. Moving beyond simple recycling, MiniMines envisions a circular economy for battery materials. Can you explain how your approach contributes to a more sustainable future for energy storage devices?

India’s booming electric vehicle market is still heavily dependent on countries like China and South Korea for importing minerals like lithium. To prevent this dependence and circumvent the traditional mining practices which are also hazardous to human health, it is of vital importance that we move towards battery recycling for extracting useful elements and contribute in creating a circular economy.

MiniMines is working towards a paradigm shift towards a closed-loop system where materials are continually reused and recycled. Our technology is equipped with the capability of recovering elemental compounds with minimal CO2 emissions. This unique competency sets us apart and reduces the dependence on imported fresh raw materials, bolstering national resilience and security. Moreover, our efforts align with global sustainability goals, offering a blueprint for other industries to follow suit.

3. One of MiniMines’ key strengths is achieving a carbon-neutral footprint through zero discharge and minimal emissions. Can you delve deeper into how your process minimizes environmental impact?

Our core philosophy is aimed at committing to minimal CO2 emissions and saving water throughout our recycling process. We employ a comprehensive methodology to mitigate the environmental impact of battery recycling at every stage. Our significant operational scale also ensures minimum environmental burden. Currently, we are standing at a capacity of recycling 1,500 tonnes of battery waste with a planned expansion to 3,000 tonnes within the next 10-12 months.

We are also committed to zero discharge means that any residual waste or by-products from our process are safely managed and treated, preventing environmental contamination. This comprehensive approach not only minimizes our environmental footprint but also contributes to the creation of a circular economy, where resources are reused and recycled, paving the way for a more sustainable future. Our complete process if zero direct CO2 emission process.

4. How does this translate into generating carbon emission reduction units?

At MiniMines, our Hybrid HydrometallurgyTM technology for recycling waste lithium-ion batteries and extracting valuable elemental compounds plays a pivotal role in generating carbon emission reduction units and contributing to a more sustainable future.

By recovering critical materials such as lithium, cobalt, and nickel from end-of-life batteries, our process reduces the need for extracting and processing virgin resources from mines. This translates into significant energy savings and a substantial reduction in the carbon footprint associated with mining operations, mineral transportation, and refining processes.

5. Securing a patent for your Hybrid-Hydrometallurgy process highlights its effectiveness. Can you discuss the specific elements recovered through this technology and how it compares to existing recycling methods?

Compared to existing recycling methods, MiniMines’ process offers several key advantages. Firstly, our approach achieves a remarkable 96% recovery rate of elemental compounds with more than 99% purity, far surpassing traditional methods. This ensures that valuable resources are not wasted and can be reused in battery manufacturing, reducing the need for new material extraction. Through our complete operational process, we are able to recover compounds of Lithium, Cobalt, Nickel, Manganese etc. Apart from this we are also getting additional byproducts like Aluminium, Iron, Copper, plastic and high-quality Graphite. 

Furthermore, our process minimizes environmental impact by sidestepping conventional mining practices, which are often associated with significant ecological disruption and carbon emissions. By recycling existing materials, we conserve energy and resources while mitigating the environmental footprint of battery production.

Moreover, our selective separation techniques allow for the precise extraction of desired elements, ensuring high purity and usability in battery manufacturing. This level of precision and efficiency sets our technology apart from existing methods, making it a game-changer in the field of battery recycling.

6. MiniMines’ technology achieves a 96% recovery rate for raw materials from lithium-ion batteries. What are the potential implications of this for the future of battery production and waste management?

MiniMines’ achievement of a 96% recovery rate for raw materials from lithium-ion batteries heralds a transformative shift in both battery production and waste management. This breakthrough not only ensures the conservation of valuable resources by efficiently extracting and reusing materials but also brings about significant cost efficiencies in battery manufacturing processes. By embracing the principles of a circular economy, wherein recovered materials are reintegrated into new battery production cycles, MiniMines’ technology pioneers a sustainable approach that minimises dependence on finite resources and reduces waste generation. Moreover, by enhancing the stability of the battery supply chain through consistent access to recycled materials, it mitigates risks associated with raw material shortages and fluctuations in global markets. Beyond economic advantages, the environmental benefits are profound, as the technology helps curtail pollution and greenhouse gas emissions linked to traditional mining, processing, and disposal practices, thus fostering a more sustainable future for battery technology and the planet as a whole.

7. India aims to achieve 30 % Electric Vehicles by 2030. This is definitely going to pile up the E-waste. How prepared is the country to tackle e-waste generated from renewable energy storage and EVs? 

In India, the majority of e-waste recycling takes place in the informal sector, utilising crude and hazardous processes. With the EV sector experiencing a boost worldwide, the surge in battery demand raises alarming concerns about the disposal and environmental impact of spent batteries, as well as the ethical sourcing of energy transition materials for battery manufacturing. 

From a policy point of view, India has introduced E-waste (Management) Rules, 2016 and 

Battery Waste Management Rules, 2022, which requires every manufacturer, producer, bulk consumer, collection centres, dealers and e-retailers to collect e-waste for channelising the e-waste to the recycler and play the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) role. Also, India is one of the first few countries to have come up with a proposed Battery Swapping Policy, and apart from the central government, more than 20 Indian states have already announced their EV policies/policy drafts. 

8. Can you shed some light on the current recycling infrastructure and how capable is it reduce e-waste?

According to a recent report by MeitY, about 95% of the e-waste in India is being recycled in the informal sector. These informal units collect reusable parts and components from rag-pickers and waste collectors which are then chemically treated to recover precious metals. 

This method of recycling not only has low efficiency but also is harmful to the environment but also important elements such as tantalum, cadmium, and zinc cannot be recovered from this process. 

India needs more intervention from the formal sectors to carefully extract and recycle important elements. For adequate recovery of these elements, more investment in proper technology, Govt. support in policies like PLI schemes in recycling infrastructure and economically viable equipment is needed.

9. Is there any recycling policy in India? What kind of consideration does it need? 

The Government of India has forwarded some steps to help the lithium-ion battery recycling ecosystem with the Ministry of Power releasing the Battery Waste Management Rules 2022, which calls for Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) to the manufacturers. Additionally, the government has taken steps to regulate e-waste recycling like the policy of The E-Waste (Management) Rules, 2016. The policy aims to establish a robust regulatory framework for the proper management of e-waste in India, aligning with international best practices and sustainable development goals. 

The new e-waste policy, implemented in April 2023, significantly expanded in scope. It included more items like solar panels, acknowledging the need for responsible disposal as demand for renewable energy sources increased. It policies are drafted but the implementation part is where everyone needs to focus to achieve the complete circularity in the ecosystem.

10. Looking ahead, what kind of glimpse can MiniMines provide into the future of sustainable battery recycling? Are there any exciting developments or applications on the horizon?

Looking ahead, MiniMines is positioned to offer a comprehensive suite of solutions to battery and cell manufacturing OEMs, leveraging its cutting-edge tech platform and robust R&D capabilities. Our key focus areas include the advancement of recycling technologies to achieve higher efficiency and recover a wider range of chemistries and materials from lithium-ion batteries, including complex variants like lithium iron phosphate, LTO, and nickel manganese cobalt oxide, as well as emerging chemistries such as Na-ion and Solid-state batteries. Notably, MiniMines is pioneering battery-to-battery recycling, streamlining the process and maximizing resource utilization for enhanced sustainability and cost-effectiveness. Additionally, the company is exploring the integration of second-life battery materials into green energy storage solutions like grid-scale batteries and stationary storage systems, contributing to the transition towards renewable energy and grid stability. Through strategic partnerships with industry stakeholders, research institutions, and governmental agencies, MiniMines aims to accelerate innovation, establish regulatory frameworks, and drive market adoption of recycled battery materials, thereby shaping a more sustainable future for battery technology and the planet.

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