The European Union (EU) is committed to the Green Deal aiming to achieve carbone neutrality by 2050. This objective supposes the decarbonation of priority sectors emitting the most greenhouse gases (GHG), starting with transport. The electric vehicle (or EV) offers an alternative to the use of carbon-intensive fossil fuels and looks to be a sustainable solution for climate, particularly in France, where 90% of the electricity generation is decarbonized.
In France, about 40% of cars would be electric (either all-electric “BEV” or plug-in hybrid “PHEV”) by 2030. Worldwide, the number of electric vehicles on the road is expected to reach 100 million, from 10 million today. This surge in the volume of electric vehicles will generate strong growth in demand for lithium-ion batteries, the main technology used to replace today's internal combustion engine. Therefore, battery production capacity in Europe should be 500GWh by 2028, or even 1TWh by 2030 (compared to a few GWh today). These batteries contain many strategic and expensive metals necessary for their operation.
In anticipation of the end of life of these batteries, it is crucial that a viable recycling industry emerge in order to recover these high value metals, a resource controlled largely by Asian players, and lacking in Europe in regard to the high demand expected in the upcoming years. Efficient recycling processes will help "close the loop" so that materials from used batteries can be reused in new batteries, while creating sustainable jobs in France and Europe to strengthen the EU's strategic autonomy.
A revised regulatory framework should be in place by the end of 2022, foreseeing the recycling of 70% of batteries on the European market by 2030 with a high recovery rate for metals. The proposed regulation on batteries and in particular induced waste is an indication of the scale of the challenge facing Europeans to build a sustainable value chain. The aim is to move towards a virtuous circular economy in which Orano group is already committed in its nuclear-related industrial activities.
The Orano group has over 40 years of recognized expertise across the entire nuclear fuel cycle (mining, chemistry/conversion, recycling, transportation, engineering, etc.), in the chemistry of materials and in hydrometallurgy, with proven capacity in industrializing advanced processes.
Faced with rapidly growing demand, several major French and European players operating in the automotive and/or recycling sectors are developing an active interest in the Li-ion battery electric vehicle recycling market.
In 2019, Orano launched an ambitious R&D program (named Recyvabat) together with CEA Liten, a laboratory specialized in energy transition technologies, to develop the innovative REsolutION process.
The project is financially supported both at the French level, through the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region and the France Relance plan, and at European level with two grants from the EU Horizon Europe framework program dedicated to research and innovation (Batraw, Respect projects).
REsolutION has undertaken the construction of two industrial pilots on Orano’s site in Bessines-sur-Gartempe (Vienne, France). The objective is to validate the feasibility and performance of the new low-carbon recycling process to be able to shift the process to an industrial scale from 2025.
The successful completion of the REsolutION project will be also the opportunity for Orano to contribute to France’s reindustrialization drive, by bringing high-value technological know-how of environmental value on a rapidly growing European and global market.