Will "Black Mass" become the new black gold?

Los Angeles, CA — Geneva, CH
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Will "Black Mass" become the new black gold?
Nicolas Jourdain -- December 21, 2023

We've just come out of COP28, where the transition to the end of fossil fuels was only half-heartedly mentioned. The famous BLACK GOLD.

But there's another Black Matter that deserves our attention. The energy transition will only be possible with the circularity of metals and minerals, and the global deployment of EV batteries will become the necessary source of critical materials in the decades to come.

The Renewable Energies Revolution

Approximately 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions originate from the energy sector, encompassing electricity production, heating, and transportation. Predominantly reliant on carbon-intensive sources like coal, oil, and natural gas, this sector faces a significant challenge.

Achieving the 2015 Paris Agreement objectives, which aim to limit global warming to 1.5°C, necessitates a swift decarbonization of the energy sector. Renewable energy production, storage, distribution, optimization, and accelerated digitalization are critical in meeting these goals. This shift is expected to dramatically increase demand.

The Mineral Revolution

A World Bank report predicts a need for over three billion tons of minerals by 2050 to meet the energy production and storage demands for a two-degree warming scenario. In Europe only this includes a staggering increase in demand for lithium (3500%), rare earth elements (2600%), and cobalt (330%). This shift marks an unprecedented and urgent industrial revolution, pivoting towards minerals like graphite, lithium, nickel, copper, cobalt, aluminum, vanadium, and indium, emphasizing a circular approach.

Challenges in Supply Chain and Resource Sourcing Balanced by Circularity

Current focus is on financing the transition, but a major challenge lies in the supply chain and sourcing necessary resources. The issue is not material scarcity, as known reserves are sufficient for the coming decades (except for few minerals such as iron, cobalt, and indium), but rather their availability to meet the soaring demand.

Establishing new mines from discovery can take 10-15 years, and increasingly regulated impacts on nature and biodiversity make opening new sites more challenging.

Access to resources is gaining strategic and political importance, with major deposits in a few countries like China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Australia, Chile, and Russia.

Europe and the USA, heavily dependent on foreign supply, have begun securing their resource needs, one of the solutions being Circularity in Renewable Energy Metals:

Unlike fossil fuels, renewable energy metals offer the possibility of circularity. In Europe, regulations will require up to 80% recycled materials in new battery production, enhanced by the implementation of Digital Product Passports (DPP).

The "Black Mass" Phenomenon

This black powder, obtained from grinding end-of-life battery cells, contains essential metals and minerals for new batteries. It's poised to become the new "black gold," crucial for meeting growing demands, reducing exploration impacts, and addressing raw material scarcity.

Mining has a significant environmental footprint, affecting nature, biodiversity, water, and energy resources. Recycling presents a superior alternative. Although current hydrometallurgy processes to produce the “Black Mass” are complex and costly, future battery designs and technologies are expected to simplify recycling.

The market for battery recycling is nascent due to a lack of end-of-life batteries. Ironically, circular solutions like reusing batteries for storage or industrial applications further restrict access to large-scale recycling.

Significant volumes of end-of-life electric vehicles, expected to increase starting from 2030 and peaking by 2050, will boost recycling capabilities. Studies predicts that China will meet its internal needs using batteries recycling by 2060, a decade ahead of Europe and the USA.


It has become clear that battery recycling is not just a booming industry, but an essential element in the historic energy transition humanity has embarked upon.

The transformation of production waste and end-of-life products, particularly the "black mass", into valuable resources can lead to an environmental revolution. This industry doesn't just process waste; it redefines it as the "new gold", essential for a cleaner, greener world. So, the successful integration of battery recycling is more than an environmental imperative; it's an opportunity to redefine the value of what we've discarded, setting a new standard for the circular economy.