Founded by IIT Roorkee alumni Shubham Vishvakarma, Saurav Goyal, and Manikumar Uppala in 2021, Metastable Materials currently claims to be able to extract 90% of materials from Li-ion batteries
Recently, the cleantech startup raised Seed funding from Sequoia Capital’s Surge and other climatetech, deeptech venture capitalists like Speciale Invest and Theia Ventures
Metastable Materials is setting up a 21,000 sq ft battery recycling facility in the Ramanagara district of Karnataka, on the outskirts of Bengaluru
While the use of lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries is on a sharp rise across the world, with the growing number of electric vehicles (EVs) and increased usage of electronic devices, there is still no robust and economically viable process to recycle such batteries.
As the world today talks about reaching net zero emission goals, with EVs paving the way for their future aspirations, global studies suggest that 95% of Li-ion batteries end up in landfills and become an environmental hazard.
This very challenge raises a big question about the progressive steps towards a sustainable carbon-emissions-free future. Interestingly, while many are only talking about the much-desired green future, Karnataka-based startup Metastable Materials claims to have walked the talk with its integrated carbothermal reduction process technology in the Li-ion battery recycling space.
Founded by IIT Roorkee alumni Shubham Vishvakarma, Saurav Goyal, and Manikumar Uppala in 2021, Metastable Materials claims to be able to extract 90% of materials from Li-ion batteries, including plastics, with the use of its technology, which is yet to be patented.
The founders of Metastable Materials told Inc42 that they have developed ‘the world’s first chemical-free integrated carbothermal reduction process’ for recycling and extracting materials, such as copper, aluminium, cobalt, nickel, and lithium, from Li-ion batteries.
The process has already been tested at the industrial level, and the technology, if scaled up, can help India and other countries in the Li-ion battery recycling space.
Metastable Materials competes with companies like Lohum, Attero, and ACE Green Recycling in the Li-ion battery recycling space in India.
According to a JMK Research report, the segment, which stood at 2.9 gigawatt-hour (GWh) in 2018, is expected to reach a size of 132 GWh by 2030.
Breaking Down Li-ion Batteries For Industrial Use
Apart from lithium, Li-ion batteries comprise cobalt, nickel, bauxite, manganese, aluminium, and natural graphite,
As of today, two main Li-ion recycling processes have found their way into industrial usage globally – hydrometallurgy and pyrometallurgy. There is very low recovery efficiency in pyrometallurgy, and hydrometallurgy comes with higher material costs and a lot of complexity.
While many technologies are being tested globally, not many have found their way into industrial usage so far.
Speaking with Inc42, Vishvakarma said that Metastable Materials has developed a one-of-its-kind mechanism to make the Li-ion battery extraction process more economical and efficient.
He claimed that the materials extracted in the process are decently pure and not altered, which is sharply in contrast with the two other widely used methodologies across the world.
The seed of this technology was sown when Vishvakarma was still in his college. He said that the science behind it was worked upon during the final years of his college, but Metastable Materials made the process ready for industrial use in the last one and a half years only.
Besides being able to ensure more sustainability by recycling EV batteries, which can be potentially harmful if dumped in landfills year after year, the startup has taken a 360-degree approach to cleantech.
After extracting the materials from Li-ion batteries, Metastable Materials looks at giving them back to battery manufacturers and other industries.
“If we look at the typical journey of recycling, the idea is to make new batteries out of old ones. That’s how a typical circular economy works. We believe that’s an outdated idea. Our focus is not on making new batteries out of the old ones,” said Vishvakarma, adding that the materials extracted from Li-ion batteries can be used in various industrial applications.
A Li-ion battery comprises 2% lithium and 98% other metals and minerals. Metastable Materials’ technology aims to extract all materials from batteries in their commodity form and supply those raw materials to different industries as per their respective requirements.
For instance, lithium is used in lubricants, so it can go to lubricant manufacturers. Similarly, nickel is used in making stainless steel.
Ready To Recycle Yet?
Metastable Materials was part of the eighth cohort of Sequoia Capital’s accelerator programme, Surge. Recently, it was able to raise Seed funding from Surge as well as other climatetech, deeptech venture capitalists like Speciale Invest and Theia Ventures.
Angels like Akshay Singhal and Kartik Hajela of Log9 Materials, and cofounder of fwdSlash Capital Archana Priyadershini also participated in the round.
While the startup has not disclosed the funding amount, the founders said the funds will be used to make the cleantech’s urban mining facility production-ready. Metastable Materials is setting up a 21,000 sq ft battery recycling facility in the Ramanagara district of Karnataka, on the outskirts of Bengaluru. It has almost completed all its R&D processes.
Vishvakarma said that the startup is in talks with multiple companies to procure scrapped batteries and sell the extracted materials.
“Since we are now setting up the facility, we haven’t gotten into any formal agreements,” said Metastable Materials’ cofounder and COO Saurav Goyal.
Besides, the startup has already filed for a patent for its technology, which is expected to take a few years before it gets approved.
Meanwhile, EVs are on a rise in the country, leading to an increased number of batteries, and hence, more demand for lithium. But the country has to largely depend on countries like China for the import of the metal, as India is yet to establish itself as a lithium producer.
However, industry experts, including Vishvakarma and Goyal, opine that if India can extract lithium from used batteries, the country can build its urban mine and reduce its dependence on importing the new ‘white gold’.