EU loan supports sustainable production of vital battery raw material
A European investment loan has helped ILA Member KCM to develop a more environmentally sustainable lead production technique, which also improves worker health and safety, says Mr. Rumen Tsonev, CEO and Chairman of the Board of Directors of KCM 2000 Group.
Achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, will require the rapid acceleration of decarbonisation and diversion away from fossil fuel heavy industries. The expansion of renewable energy and widespread e-mobility will be key to meeting zero carbon targets.
Battery energy storage will play a central role in the transition as will access to secure and sustainable sources of raw materials for manufacturing.
The European lead battery value chain is well placed to deliver on this ambition. It is strategically autonomous and is already delivering on the principles of circularity with a well-established end-to-end recycling process. 100% of collected batteries are recycled and each new battery contains more than 80% recycled materials. The European lead battery industry is served by a comprehensive network of battery recyclers and primary lead producers that deliver the raw materials necessary to manufacture advanced lead batteries that are utilised in many applications from hybrid and full electric vehicles, to supporting clean energy storage.
Producing lead – the building block for these advanced batteries – in the most environmentally sustainable way whilst enhancing the protection of employees is a goal of all ILA member companies and one such company, KCM2000 (KCM), recently secured a significant European Investment Bank loan for a technological upgrade programme for 2020-2023.
As an European Raw Materials Alliance (ERMA) supporting and partnering company, KCM employs more than 1,500 people. The loan will increase its recycling capacity for different types of secondary waste lead and zinc materials by up to 15%, whilst decreasing the carbon intensity of its production cycle for the lead and zinc metal produced by up to 19%. The investments will also result in a substantial decrease in release of fugitive emissions and water consumption.
The investment will not only improve the site’s environmental performance but will also enhance the protection of employees from lead exposures. KCM is a member of the ILA Voluntary Blood Lead Reduction Programme that has delivered step change reductions in employee lead exposures across Europe since it was introduced in 2013.
A new lead refinery will largely upgrade the current pyrometallurgical refining facility and through enhanced mechanisation and automated handling will eliminate the manual operations that were a significant source of lead exposure for employees. The current centralised canteen facilities are also slated for significant improvements to include a hygiene lock at the entrance of the canteen with dedicated shelves for storing contaminated PPE and overalls before entering the dining area, new lavatories and hygiene facilities and use of quick color reagent testing facilities to reveal lead contamination of the hands before dining.
KCM’s investment to reduce its reliance on natural resources, decrease the energy intensity of its production cycle and enhancing the wellbeing of its employees is a great example of a company planning for a sustainable future while supporting the golden age of batteries – a key enabler of our low carbon future.
Cover image: KCM’s new lead smelter furnace building