A Hong Kong-based start-up is in talks to form the city's first plant to clean up waste produced by plants processing rare-earth metals for electric-vehicle batteries.
Achelous Pure Metal is seeking up to $5.1 million to build a pilot research and refining facility in the new industrial complex inside of Tseung Kwan O Industrial Estate. Co-founder and technical director Alan Wong Yuk-chun added that a similar facility could be built elsewhere in the region.
"For the best part of the past two decades, the rare-earth industry has primarily used the chemicals-heavy solvent extraction technique to do large-scale processing," explained Wong to the South China Morning Post. "In recent years, the emphasis has shifted to quality rather than quantity."
Wong managed recovery and purification projects in mainland China before founding Achelous in 2020.
China's control of the global market share in rare-earth metals output was 60% last year compared to 81% in 2017, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Stricter regulations in China have contributed to the decline in market share control.
Achelous, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Hong Kong, developed ion exchange methods for extracting and purifying terbium from rare-earth processing waste. Battery metals such as cobalt and nickel can also be purified through this process and the start-up is in the process of patenting this invention. It will be fully tested at the pilot project at the Tseung Kwan O site.
If the pilot project is successful, Achelous has plans to create a larger refining facility in mainland China. The planned area is in the Songshanhu technology park in Donnguan, approximately 74 miles from Hong Kong.
There's a facility in Inner Mongolia where Achelous has deployed its technology. That facility is a joint venture with a Beijing-based electronic waste recycling firm, Huaxin Environmental. The goal for that facility is to process 15,000 tons of waste annually once completed in early 2023.
Achelous is a participant in the start-up mentorship and partnership program that's led by the Federation of Hong Kong Industries. The Chinese government has also been interested in the recycling of rare-earth metals and waste produced by effects to reduce carbon emissions and research into electric vehicles.