This feasibility study is assessing the economic, technical and environmental opportunity to develop a value chain for the recycling of niobium products. This project aligns with themes 1, 3 and 4 for the Circular Economy Centre for Technology Metals, Met4Tech.
Niobium is a transition metal, used in varying amounts in a wide variety of materials, including steels and superalloys. In steels, only a very small amount (~0.1%) is used to greatly improve performance. More recently, niobium is being used in new applications, including batteries. Although the volume of niobium consumed by these products is relatively small, its impact is high through improving the performance of steels and batteries. Globally only about 0.3% of niobium is recycled back to a niobium product, mainly derived from high content niobium products such as superconducting electromagnets.
The project had three areas to consider:
- the understanding of the niobium product flows into and out of the UK and Europe;
- the development of a cost model for recycling of niobium from battery materials;
- the exploration of business models that could support a market in secondary niobium products to provide an alternative material source.
The project has developed an understanding of the material flows and has highlighted where additional data is required.
The detailed cost model for the recycling of niobium from battery material shows there is potential for the economic recycling of niobium alongside other battery materials.
Current opportunities for recovery and recycling of niobium is mainly in the superconducting electromagnet applications. In the future however and assuming that the market for niobium batteries increases considerably, the opportunity for recovering niobium from spent batteries is significant.
Stakeholders along the value chain have been engaged and an outline business model is being developed.
The project has a LinkedIn Group – “Circular Niobium” and a project page provides an introduction to the activities: https://www.betatechnology.co.uk/circular-niobium
The next phase is to develop key parts of the value chain and understand the waste stream availability.