It’s not every day that a start-up can personally brag about its number three process in the US administration. By hosting Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Lithion Recycling appears to have won over a potential ally at a time when the North American lithium-ion battery industry is booming.
“Let’s say we’re probably going to get calls and we’ve already started getting some when it was announced. [la visite], says Yves Noël, Vice-President and Chief Business Development Officer, after the event. It’s great visibility. I’m not nervous, but it doesn’t happen often [ce genre d’évènement]. »
For about an hour on Friday – and under very high surveillance – the company established in the Montreal borough of Anjou welcomed Mr. Blinken, on the last day of his visit to Canadian soil. He was accompanied by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Mélanie Joly.
It was Mr. Noël who had the opportunity to do what many entrepreneurs dream of: presenting, in detail, the process developed in the Lithion demonstration plant. The company says it recovers up to 95% of battery components, such as lithium, which can then be reused by manufacturers.
The company founded in 2018 is in the last link in the battery chain, the recycling stage. This is a crucial step in the chain to reduce the environmental footprint of manufacturing lithium-ion batteries. In the longer term, it will also contribute to the efforts of the North American auto industry to reduce its dependence on China for the supply of critical minerals like lithium and graphite.
If he did not answer questions from the media present on the spot, the American secretary of state seemed impressed by his visit, believing that companies like Lithion contributed to creating a “virtuous circle”.
“Having a technology and a process that allows up to 95% of batteries to be recycled […] it’s extraordinary,” said Mr. Blinken, before leaving the place to complete his Canadian tour in Montreal.
A special visit
How did a high-ranking Biden administration set foot on the premises of a company at the dawn of its growth phase? It was not possible to find out, even if Mr. Noël offered some clues.
“In organizing the trip, they [les responsables] asked some people [de nommer] stops [potentiels], he said. There are people who know us well and who recognize its importance. I owe this person a call. »
This visit by the American Secretary of State was not accompanied by promises of investment. Lithion has nevertheless already scored points south of the border after welcoming General Motors as a shareholder last month. The automotive giant will also help the company accelerate the implementation of its process with its battery suppliers.
In the industry, the passage of Mr. Blinken is likely to be noticed, believes Louis Hébert, professor of strategy at HEC Montreal.
“It’s the kind of free publicity that’s exceptional,” he says. It’s the kind of thing where the US government can say, “This is something.” For such a high-ranking person to take the time to pause underlines that this is a promising technology. »
Lithion has still not unveiled the site that will host its first commercial plant in the greater Montreal area. The site should be able to process 7,500 tonnes of batteries per year, the equivalent of 25,000 electric vehicles, in order to extract a chemical concentrate.
Towards the middle of the decade, a second plant — a $300 million project — will refine this chemical concentrate in order to extract graphite, nickel, lithium, cobalt and manganese, which are found in batteries.
- 22.5 million
- Amount injected into Lithion by Investissement Québec, the financial arm of the Québec state, last April
Source: Government of Quebec