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Working Together to Solve the Global End-of-Life Lithium-ion Battery Challenge

Updated: Jan 25, 2022

Bioindustrial Innovation Canada (BIC) is a nationally focused not-for-profit business accelerator based in Sarnia, Ontario. BIC is focused on enabling Canada to become globally recognized leaders in sustainability by:

  • converting renewable resources, such as agricultural and forestry by-products and residues, into value-added bioenergy, biofuel, biochemical and biomaterials

  • efficiently using the world’s limited resources (eg. water, energy) through innovative technologies

  • recovering and reusing the world’s limited resources within the circular economyfor use in a wide range of commercial applications along the chemistry value chain to advanced manufacturing, automotive and aerospace.

A tactic to accomplish global leadership has been the development of sustainable chemistry clusters across Canada. For example, the hybrid chemistry cluster in Sarnia-Lambton is well positioned to become a North American leader in industrial bioproducts manufacturing. BIC has played a key role in developing biomass supply chain capability and attracting anchor companies to the region, which form key assets in the cluster's chemistry value chain. BIC, from its inception, has focused on sustainable chemistry innovation. In 2015, BIC established the Centre for Commercialization of Sustainable Chemistry Innovation (COMM SCI) with a $12-million contribution from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario). COMM SCI supports businesses across southern Ontario with critical investment, strategic advice and services to advance commercialization and accelerate new sustainable chemistry products and bio-based innovations. In 2019, FedDev Ontario provided BIC with an additional $15 million to extend its proven COMM SCI model to establish the Ontario Bioindustrial Innovation Network (OBIN) and support a sustainable chemistry cluster in the St. Lawrence Corridor in eastern Ontario. The network continues to build strong innovative companies in the sustainable chemistry sector, supporting them to commercialize their products and services and to scale up to gain access to regional, national and global markets. BIC’s work is having positive impacts on the sustainable chemistry and clean tech sectors across the province, giving companies access to two diverse cluster sites with a wider range of expertise and resources. This means more innovative companies are developing products that reduce environmental impacts.

Li-Cycle Corp., is one such company supported by BIC. Founded in Toronto in 2016, Li-Cycle is an industry-leading lithium-ion battery resource recovery company on a mission to leverage its innovative Spoke & Hub technologies to provide a customer-centric, end-of-life solution for lithium-ion batteries, while creating a secondary supply of critical battery materials. Lithium-ion rechargeable batteries are increasingly powering our world in automotive, energy storage, consumer electronics, and other industrial and household applications. From its beginning, BIC has supported Li-Cycle’s commitment to develop an improved technology and accelerate supply chain innovation to better recycle lithium-ion batteries, while also meeting the rapidly growing demand for critical and scarce battery-grade materials through a closed-loop circular solution. Visionary Investment through the Sustainable Chemistry Alliance Investment Fund (SCA Fund) Sustainable chemistry is playing an important role in the development of solutions to the impacts of climate change, peak oil, energy security, the need for safe water, and the use of scarce natural resources. The increasing global demand for green and safer products offers the opportunity to create thousands of new jobs for Canadians. BIC utilizes the Sustainable Chemistry Alliance Investment Fund (SCA Fund) to make equity investments. To date, BIC has invested over $17 million in 30 early-stage companies through the SCA Fund. BIC was one of the earliest equity investors in Li-Cycle formally commencing in 2017. BIC was first introduced to Li-Cycle when the Company presented at Cleantech North, a regular Toronto based sustainable technology seminar. BIC staff has deep technical and operational experience in many fields, among them extractive metallurgy. The potential for Li-Cycle to play an important and significant role in the global move to electrification was immediately recognized. At once, Li-Cycle became a candidate for BIC’s support. Through BIC’s due diligence process, the Li-Cycle team were able to demonstrate their technical and business acumen as well as their vision for the future. As a result, BIC invested $500,000 as part of the $3 million Series A round. Enabled by BIC’s support and SCA investment, Li-Cycle completed the design, construction and ramp-up of their pilot plant (known as Spoke 1) which is located in Kingston, Ontario. This was followed by a subsequent investment in 2019. BIC met with other potential investors for the Series B round at the Li-Cycle facilities in Kingston to provide its affirmation of the Company, its technology, and its leadership. BIC participated as the sole Canadian investor with an additional $500,000 as part of the Series B round which totalled $15.6 million. All other investment partners were from Europe.

Tackling Barriers to Commercialization with Strategic Advice and Services As part of BIC’s due diligence process, barriers to commercialization are often identified that when addressed can accelerate an early stage company’s commercialization path. BIC together with the Li-Cycle leadership identified such barriers and worked collaboratively to address them.

In 2017 through its Centre for Commercialization of Sustainable Chemistry Innovation (COMM SCI), BIC supported Li-Cycle by networking directly with an engineering firm with expertise in lithium, lithium-ion batteries, and hydrometallurgy to validate the scalability and viability of their technology. This independent third party engineering firm were able to confirm Li-Cycle’s technology claims which lead to its successful Series A funding raise. Again in 2018 through its COMM SCI, BIC provided additional support to conduct a third-party site assessment on two prospective Ontario locations where Li-Cycle could establish commercial hydrometallurgical operations. The study assessed the Industrial Park in Maitland Ontario and the Bioindustrial Park in Sarnia, Ontario. These locations were compared to determine which communities and sites best fit the business needs of Li-Cycle based on location quality, operating cost modeling and economic incentives. The report provided guidance to select the optimum locations for Li-Cycle to build commercial facilities. The short and long-term benefits of BIC’s support enabled execution of the first commercial plant, commissioning and ramp up of its lithium-ion battery lifecycle services. This support attributed to Li-Cycle’s success in Ontario, which then led to global attention. Solving the World’s EV Battery Problem led to Global Attention and Investment Over the last 12 months, Li-Cycle achieved all of its major milestones to become the largest recycler of lithium-ion batteries in North America. In 2020, Li-Cycle announced its Spoke 2 facility at Eastman Business Park (EBP) in Rochester, New York. The company’s fully operational Spoke 2 facility produces intermediate mixed battery material product (known in the industry as ‘black mass’) from all types of spent lithium-ion batteries. This is in addition to the black mass currently being produced at its Spoke 1 facility in Kingston, Ontario. The new Rochester facility has the capacity to process up to 5,000 tonnes of spent lithium-ion batteries per year, which brings Li-Cycle’s total recycling capacity to 10,000 tonnes/year between its two North American Spoke locations. Both Spokes will supply black mass to Li-Cycle’s future Hub, which will be constructed at Eastman Business Park in Rochester by 2022. The Hub will process black mass in order to produce critical, battery-grade materials from recycled sources, as well as other recycled materials that can be reused in the circular economy. Li-Cycle’s patented, proven and scalable technology has demonstrated commercial scale success by recovering up to 95% of all materials from lithium-ion batteries. This success has led to Li-Cycle now being a publicly traded company and listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) under the symbol LICY with a valuation above $1.4 billion USD. In continuing their journey towards success, the Li-Cycle team is expanding towards their strategic goal of 20 Spokes and 4 Hubs by 2025.

Li-Cycle and BIC Together Lead to a Canadian Success Story By working together, Li-Cycle has created a unique and dependable approach to solving the global battery recycling problem. The investment and support from BIC has enabled Li-Cycle to take the first steps to meet the demand for critical battery materials and ensure a sustainable circular future for the planet.

Today, Li-Cycle’s Canadian operations process 5,000 tonnes of spent lithium-ion batteries per year, employing over 100 highly qualified personnel and having reduced GHG emissions by 4,000 tonnes CO2e. The future looks bright for Li-Cycle in Canada with fast employment growth anticipated (over 150 employees by 2023) and significant GHG emission impacts expected (more than 1.8 MT CO2e reduction in Canada by 2030). With the support of FedDev Ontario, BIC continues to provide critical investment, advice and services to business developers of clean, green and sustainable technologies. As investors and consumers increasingly look for cleaner products, BIC with the support of government will continue to work to ensure that Canada attracts investments and creates good jobs and future opportunities in a globally competitive economy.

About FedDev Ontario

For more than 12 years, FedDev Ontario has worked to advance and diversify the southern Ontario economy through funding opportunities and business services that support innovation and growth in Canada’s most populous region. The Agency has delivered impressive results, which can be seen in southern Ontario businesses that are creating innovative technologies, improving their productivity, growing their revenues, and in the economic advancement of communities across the region. Learn more about the impacts the Agency is having in southern Ontario by exploring our pivotal projects.

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