Boyer product’s role in lithium battery recycling

The first batch of Cyrene exported to the US from Norske Skog
Boyer earlier this year.

A REVOLUTIONARY product made in the Derwent Valley is being used in England to assist in the industrial-scale recycling of electric-vehicle batteries.

Since earlier this year, the Norske Skog Boyer paper mill has been producing a non-toxic solvent from byproducts of the papermaking process. In January, the first batch was exported to the US for testing.

Called Cyrene, the bio-based solvent is being produced in a prototype plant built at Boyer in a joint venture between Norske Skog and the Circa Group that aims to replace harmful fossil-fuel-based chemicals.

The product is now being used in a project aimed at developing the UK’s industrial scale capability to reclaim and reuse the most valuable components of electrical vehicle batteries. With the world’s electric car fleet passing 5.1 million last year and expected to reach at least 130 million by 2030, this will lead to millions of tonnes of spent batteries in need of recycling.

Trials involving the University of York are using Cyrene to recover polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) from lithium-ion batteries, instead of the previous method using a toxic solvent. Cyrene, by comparison, is made at New Norfolk from cellulose extracted from radiata pine.

A 2.5kg bottle of Cyrene.

“A wide range of solvents have been investigated for the dissolution of battery grade PVDF,” said  Rob McElroy of the University of York. “Very few have proved able to dissolve this high molecular weight polymer, with Cyrene being one. Early results looking at recovery from spent electrodes have indicated Cyrene’s unique properties are proving useful in separating PVDF from other black mass materials,” Dr McElroy said.

Circa Group chief executive Tony Duncan said the business was proud to be part of a project looking to create a more sustainable automotive economy. “Our bio-based solvent Cyrene is once again proving to be a high-performing and more sustainable alternative to traditional solvents,” he said.

With grant funding from Innovate UK, the product has also been involved in tests of its suitability in the removal of paint and graffiti.

Earlier this year, Tasmanian Senator Richard Colbeck welcomed news that Cyrene had been approved for sale in the European Union, noting that the Federal Government had provided Norske Skog with $1.5 million to support the development of the non-toxic, bio-based solvent, matching a contribution from the State Government. “That funding established the feasibility of building a commercial-scale advanced manufacturing facility in Tasmania to produce platform and specialty biochemicals from certified, renewable plantation forest biomass wastes,” Senator Colbeck said.

The Cyrene pilot plant at Boyer.

He said the Boyer facility was the first of its kind and had created new high-skilled jobs. “Like Cyrene, products from the new facility will be destined for global export into pharma and agrichemical industries with a need to replace a range of existing toxic, fossil-derived chemicals with safer alternatives.

“The European Union is cracking down on some hazardous chemicals and approval for these new products shows how our innovative forestry industry can tap into these types of markets. It also demonstrates how the emerging global forest economy is creating opportunities for the Australian forest and wood products industry to use all parts of the tree to create innovative bioproducts.

“The development of new and innovative uses of timber and wood  confirms the importance of the Government’s National Forest Industries Plan. “New uses will create new demand for timber and confirms the need to plant a billion more trees also confirms how global demand is projected to quadruple by 2050,” Senator Colbeck said.

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