Atlas Materials raises $27m for new nickel technology for EV batteries

Atlas Materials, which has developed a waste-free technology to process low-grade nickel for use in electric vehicle batteries, has raised $27 million ahead of building a plant in North America, the start-up firm said on Thursday.

US-based Atlas aims to launch production at commercial scale at one of three possible sites in Canada or the US by 2027 with 1,800 metric tons of annual nickel output, CEO Jeremy Ley told Reuters.

Atlas’ new technology processes saprolite nickel ores, which account for about a third of global nickel resources, into mixed hydroxide precipitate (MHP) for batteries, Ley added.

“This would be the first production of MHP in North America,” he said.

Saprolite ores are usually turned into ferronickel for use in stainless steel.

The company expects to source ore from the French territory of New Caledonia in the South Pacific and has had discussions with major mining firms about possible collaboration, Ley said.

Nickel demand for use in electric vehicles is rising sharply amid a global drive to reduce emissions, but mining and refining of the metal currently entail significant air and water pollution, according to proxy research service ISS.

Atlas’ new technology uses hydrochloric acid and caustic soda to leach the ore but, unlike some other methods, does not need high pressure or high temperatures and does not result in waste products.

The processing of ore into MHP results in two byproducts, magnesium hydroxide and a material that can be substituted for portland cement in buildings, both of which can be sold, Ley said.

“We have no waste and we can take all the products to market and use up all of the ore instead of creating large tailing ponds,” Ley said.

The technology has nearly zero carbon dioxide emissions.

Some processing plants have been launched in Indonesia using high-pressure acid leaching (HPAL) to treat a similar type of nickel ore into MHP for batteries, but that technology produces toxic waste.

The president of Indonesia, which has the world’s largest nickel reserves, in March pledged an environmental clean-up.

Investors in the Series A Funding round for Atlas included the Grantham Environmental Trust and Voyager Ventures, bringing total financing for the company to $33 million, Ley said.

The money will be used for engineering and design work for the plant but further funding will be needed to actually build it, he added.

(By Eric Onstad and Polina Devitt; Editing by Sharon Singleton and Cynthia Osterman)