Lithium-ion batteries are vital to a lower-carbon future. But they require a lot of energy to produce, especially when it comes to mining and refining the metals.
The worldwide lithium battery market is expected to grow up to tenfold in the next decade, according to a recent report by the U.S. Department of Energy, showing up in everything from electric vehicles to power storage for renewable energy sources like solar and wind.
The good news: While the cathode materials that store electricity in the battery degrade, the materials that make them up don’t. They are infinitely recyclable. While several companies are already in the battery recycling business, one claims they are not just recycling but “upcycling,” putting raw materials from discarded lithium-ion batteries directly back into the supply chain.
Massachusetts-based Ascend Elements captures battery metals and formulates them into new battery materials, rather than just recycling whole components. Ascend can then sell those materials directly to manufacturers.
The process seems pretty simple but has taken decades to perfect. Ascend shreds spent batteries as well as manufacturing waste, and turns them into a blackish sand. It then removes all the chunks of plastic, aluminum, and copper and leaches out the impurities, leaving behind the valuable nickel, cobalt, and lithium that make up a battery’s cathode material.
“We’re effectively urban mining, bringing that material in and transforming it into very usable material for the battery manufacturers; therefore we’re offsetting the amount of mining that’s needed,” said Michael O’Kronley, CEO of Ascend Elements. “We are able to reduce that carbon footprint 90 to 93% by just recycling these batteries and producing new cathode material.”
A study in the scientific journal Joule, co-authored by the scientist at Ascend who formulated the recycling technique, found that the batteries made from the cathode-recycling method not only performed as well as batteries made from scratch, but also lasted longer and charged faster.
There are other battery recyclers in the market, but they don’t break components all the way down to this high-value cathode material.
“That’s really the core of our intellectual property. That’s what we’re commercializing now,” said O’Kronley, adding that he expects to double his nearly 100-person workforce this year as the company opens its first commercial-scale facility in Georgia. It has three smaller facilities in Massachusetts and Michigan.
Ascend has raised $95 million so far from investors including Jaguar Land Rover’s InMotion Ventures, Hitachi Ventures, Orbia, Doral Energy, as well as At One Ventures, TDK Ventures and Trumpf Ventures. It is currently in another fundraising round.
Fiji fires police commissioner and end security deal with China
Police operate a security check point in the Fijian capital of Suva in December following general elections. The Pacific island nation has played an important regional role amid competition between China on the one side and Australia, New Zealand and the United States on the other.
Saeed Khan | Afp | Getty Images
Fiji’s president on Friday suspended the commissioner of police following a general election saw the first change in government in the Pacific island nation in 16 years, after the military earlier warned against “sweeping changes.”
President Ratu Wiliame Katonivere said Commissioner of Police Sitiveni Qiliho had been suspended on the advice of the Constitutional Offices Commission, “pending investigation and referral to and appointment of, a tribunal.”
The Supervisor of Elections Mohammed Saneem was also suspended by the commission, the statement said.
Qiliho declined to comment to local media because he said he will face a tribunal over his conduct. He was seen as being close to former prime minister Frank Bainimarama, who led Fiji for 16 years before a coalition of parties narrowly won December’s election and installed Sitiveni Rabuka as leader of the strategically important Pacific nation.
The day before a coalition agreement was struck, Qiliho and Bainimarama called on the military to maintain law and order because they said the hung election result had sparked ethnic tensions, a claim disputed by the coalition parties.
The Pacific island nation, which has a history of military coups, has been pivotal to the region’s response to competition between China and the United States, and struck a deal with Australia in October for greater defence cooperation.
On Thursday, Fiji Times reported that Rabuka said his government would end a police training and exchange agreement with China.
“Our system of democracy and justice systems are different so we will go back to those that have similar systems with us,” the prime minister was quoted as saying, referring to Australia and New Zealand.
The prime minister’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Republic of Fiji Military Forces Commander Major General Jone Kalouniwai earlier this month warned Rabuka’s government against making “sweeping changes,” and has insisted it abide by a 2013 constitution which gives the military a key role.
Inventory glut and underused factories
Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger, with U.S. President Joe Biden (not pictured), announces the tech firm’s plan to build a $20 billion plant in Ohio, from the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus in Washington, January 21, 2022.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters
Investors hated it, sending the stock over 9% lower in extended trading, despite the fact that Intel did not cut its dividend.
The earnings report, which was the eighth under CEO Pat Gelsinger’s leadership, shows a legendary technology company struggling with many factors outside of its control, including a deeply slumping PC market. It also highlights some of Intel’s current issues with weak demand for its current products and inefficient internal performance, and underscores how precarious the company’s financial health has become.
“Clearly, the financials aren’t what we would hoped,” Gelsinger told analysts.
In short: Intel had a difficult 2022, and 2023 is shaping up to be tough as well.
Here are some of the most concerning bits from Intel’s earnings report and analyst call:
Intel didn’t give full-year guidance for 2023, citing economic uncertainty.
But the data points for the current quarter suggest tough times. Intel guided for about $11 billion in sales in the March quarter, which would be a 40% year-over-year decline. Gross margin will be 34.1%, a huge decrease from the 55.2% in the same quarter in 2021, Gelsinger’s first at the helm.
But the biggest issue for investors is that Intel guided to a 15 cent non-GAAP loss per share, a big decline for a company that a year ago was reporting $1.13 in profit per share. It would be the first loss per share since last summer, which was the first loss for the company in decades.
Management gave several reasons for the tough upcoming quarter, but one theme that came through was that its customers simply have too many chips and need to work through inventory, so they won’t be buying many new chips.
Both the PC and server markets have slowed after a two-year boom spurred by remote work and school during the pandemic. Now, PC sales have slowed and the computer makers have too many chips. Gelsinger is predicting PC sales during the year to be around 270 million to 295 million — a far cry from the “million units-a-day” he predicted in 2021.
Now, Intel’s customers have to “digest” the chips they already have, or “correct” their inventories, and the company doesn’t know when this dynamic will shift back.
“While we know this dynamic will reverse, predicting when is difficult,” Gelsinger told analysts.
Underpinning all of this is that Intel’s gross margin continues to decline, hurting the company’s profitability. One issue is “factory load,” or how efficiently factories run around the clock. Intel said that its gross margin would be hit by 400 basis points, or 4 percentage points, because of factories running under load because of soft demand.
Ultimately, Intel forecasts a 34.1% gross margin in the current quarter — a far cry from the 51% to 53% goal the company set at last year’s investor day. The company says it’s working on it, and the margin could get back to Intel’s goal “in the medium-term” if demand recovers.
“We have a number of initiatives under way to improve gross margins and we’re well under way. When you look at the $3 billion reduction [in costs] that we talked about for 2023, 1 billion of that is in cost of sales and we’re well on our way to getting that billion dollars,” Gelsinger said.
Long-term investors have always closely watched how the company balances the near-term need to placate shareholders with the massive capital spending needed to stay competitive in the semiconductor manufacturing business.
If Intel is cutting costs and still needing to invest in chip factories to power its turnaround, analysts say it may want to reconsider its dividend. Intel spent $6 billion on dividends in 2022, but did not cut its dividend on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the company said it wants to cut $3 billion in costs for 2023 and analysts believe it wants to spend around $20 billion in capital expenditures to build out its factories.
Gelsinger was asked about this dynamic on Thursday.
“I’d just say the board, management, we take a very disciplined approach to the capital allocation strategy and we’re going to remain committed to being very prudent around how we allocate capital for the owners and we are committed to maintaining a competitive dividend,” Gelsinger replied.
There was at least one bright spot for Intel on Thursday.
Mobileye, its self-driving subsidiary that went public during the December quarter, reported earlier in the day, showing adjusted earnings per share of 27 cents and revenue growth of 59%, to $656 million. It also forecast strong 2023 revenue of between $2.19 billion and $2.28 billion. Shares rose nearly 6% during regular trading hours Thursday.
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