InvestEU: EIB invests in PBT’s eco-friendly battery material production in Germany

The European Investment Bank (EIB), backed by the InvestEU programme, is granting a €36.7 million loan to Königswarter & Ebell, a fully-owned German subsidiary of Australia’s Pure Battery Technologies (PBT). The project concerns an innovative first-of-its-kind commercial demonstration plant for the manufacturing of precursor cathode active material (pCAM). pCAM is used in the production of advanced lithium-ion cells with nickel, manganese and cobalt (NMC) chemistry. The project relies on an environmentally friendly processing technology developed at the University of Queensland in Australia that leads to reduced costs and lower carbon emissions.

The commercialisation of PBT’s technology will strengthen the European Union’s battery production capacities, which are required for the transition to a low-carbon economy. The PBT process can use recycled battery material known as black mass as feedstock, thus reducing the need for primary nickel, manganese and cobalt, in line with the European Union’s circular economy approach. In the near future, larger volumes of end-of-life and off-spec batteries will become available following an increased uptake of electric vehicles and the expanding battery manufacturing industry. Battery recycling will also make the European Union more autonomous regarding the need for cobalt, a critical raw material in the battery supply chain.

The EIB financing comes in the form of a venture debt loan, supported by the InvestEU Green Transition programme, which is the successor of the Energy Demonstration Projects Facility under Innovfin.

Founded in 2017 and headquartered in Brisbane, Australia, PBT is commercialising a technology developed by the University of Queensland in 2011. The company currently has approximately 50 employees globally, 35 of which are based in Germany.

PBT plans to convert a brownfield industrial site owned by Königswarter & Ebell in Hagen into its first commercial production plant. Its patented processing technologies make it possible to produce pCAM in a cost-effective way and with a low level of emissions from both primary and recycled materials. The NMC Direct™ approach utilises PBT’s Selective Acid Leaching and Combined Leach processes for the production of NMC precursor cathode material.

The main difference between this process and conventional processes is its simplicity. PBT’s NMC Direct™ approach avoids the conventional energy-intensive, complicated, costly and emissive steps of separating the nickel, cobalt and manganese to produce metals and metal salts before recombining them to produce pCAM. The technology instead uses an innovative combination of selective leaching and purification processes to produce pCAM directly from the primary or recycled feed material. As a result, carbon emissions in the pCAM production process are reduced by 70% when compared to the current industry average.

European Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni added: “By investing in an innovative, environmentally friendly and cost-effective technology, we can truly accelerate the mass production of electric vehicle car batteries. This project is an excellent example of how InvestEU can contribute to achieving our shared climate objectives.”

EIB Vice-President Ambroise Fayolle, who has oversight of lending operations in Germany, said: “With its resource-friendly and innovative approach, the PBT refinery in Germany is well positioned to become a key player in the electric vehicle battery market in Europe. As it stands, the skyrocketing demand for electric vehicle batteries is likely to cause a major pCAM supply bottleneck. We are proud to support a technology that will provide environmentally friendly pCAM in the European Union using a high proportion of recycled materials.”

CEO of PBT Bjorn Zikarsky said the EIB loan was an important confirmation that Europe’s business and investment community could see the value of PBT’s simple, smart and clean technology. “We are bringing important technology to market and provide a solution for electric vehicle manufacturers wanting cleaner battery materials for their cars. I am excited the EIB sees the potential of our technology for the industry and the European Union as a whole,” he said.

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