The mining industry continues to be a hotbed of patent innovation. Activity is driven by the need for improved productivity, safety, cost control and sustainability, with the growing importance of recycling in order for sufficient metals and materials to be available to support the global energy transition. In the last three years alone, there have been over 62,000 patents filed and granted in the mining industry, according to GlobalData’s report on Innovation in mining: battery metal recyclingBuy the report here.

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However, not all innovations are equal and nor do they follow a constant upward trend. Instead, their evolution takes the form of an S-shaped curve that reflects their typical lifecycle from early emergence to accelerating adoption, before finally stabilizing and reaching maturity.

Identifying where a particular innovation is on this journey, especially those that are in the emerging and accelerating stages, is essential for understanding their current level of adoption and the likely future trajectory and impact they will have.

40+ innovations will shape the mining industry

According to GlobalData’s Technology Foresights, which plots the S-curve for the mining industry using innovation intensity models built on over 70,000 patents, there are 40+ innovation areas that will shape the future of the industry.

Within the emerging innovation stage, tunnel ventilation systems, mine drainage systems, and tunnel lining construction are disruptive technologies that are in the early stages of application and should be tracked closely. Battery metal recycling, precision milling and virtual industrial monitoring are some of the accelerating innovation areas, where adoption has been steadily increasing. Among maturing innovation areas are high performance drill bits and hybrid industrial vehicles, which are now well established in the industry.

Innovation S-curve for the mining industry

Battery metal recycling is a key innovation area in mining

Batteries contain a number of heavy metals including some precious metals. Recycling of batteries to extract these metals is a fast-growing industry in itself, especially in growing economies. For example, the nickel in nickel-metal hydride batteries is recovered to make steel. Cobalt, nickel and copper can be recovered from lithium batteries. Mercury is recovered from mercury cell batteries and the decontaminated steel fraction is used to make steel. Battery recycling industry leaders are offering low-carbon mechanical and hydrometallurgical technologies to recycle battery materials in order to recover lithium, cobalt, manganese, and nickel for reuse in the production of new batteries.

GlobalData’s analysis also uncovers the companies at the forefront of each innovation area and assesses the potential reach and impact of their patenting activity across different applications and geographies.  According to GlobalData, there are 20+ companies, spanning technology vendors, established mining companies, and up-and-coming start-ups engaged in the development and application of battery metal recycling.

Key players in battery metal recycling – a disruptive innovation in the mining industry

‘Application diversity’ measures the number of applications identified for each patent. It broadly splits companies into either ‘niche’ or ‘diversified’ innovators.

‘Geographic reach’ refers to the number of countries each patent is registered in. It reflects the breadth of geographic application intended, ranging from ‘global’ to ‘local’.

Patent volumes related to battery metal recycling

Company Total patents (2010 - 2022) Premium intelligence on the world's largest companies
ENEOS 236 Unlock Company Profile
Proterial 40 Unlock Company Profile
JFE 38 Unlock Company Profile
Nippon Steel 29 Unlock Company Profile
POSCO 25 Unlock Company Profile
Hyundai Steel 20 Unlock Company Profile
Jinchuan Group 17 Unlock Company Profile
Outokumpu 16 Unlock Company Profile
China Energy Investment 16 Unlock Company Profile
Barrick Gold 16 Unlock Company Profile
Vale 15 Unlock Company Profile
Metso Outotec 15 Unlock Company Profile
AEM Canada Group 12 Unlock Company Profile
Dowa 11 Unlock Company Profile
Voestalpine 10 Unlock Company Profile
Heraeus 10 Unlock Company Profile
RecycLiCo Battery Materials 7 Unlock Company Profile
Ausmelt 6 Unlock Company Profile
Lixivia 6 Unlock Company Profile
Hyundai Motor 5 Unlock Company Profile
Kobe Steel 5 Unlock Company Profile
Kia 5 Unlock Company Profile
Corporacion Nacional del Cobre de Chile 5 Unlock Company Profile
State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council 4 Unlock Company Profile
Outotec 3 Unlock Company Profile
Rio Tinto 3 Unlock Company Profile
Aluminum 3 Unlock Company Profile
Jeffery Steel 2 Unlock Company Profile

Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics

Leaders in battery metal recycling include ENEOS, Proterial, and JFE. ENEOS has pioneered the recovery of high-purity metal salts from automotive lithium-ion batteries. In 2020, the company began operating bench-scale equipment installed in its Hitachi Works Technology Development Center for technological and system development for closed-loop recycling, in which resources are recovered from used automotive lithium-ion batteries and reused as raw materials for new automotive lithium-ion batteries. Furthermore, in 2021, the company started trials for nickel sulphate recovery and introduced a new process at its Tsuruga Plant based on this bench-scale equipment.

ENEOS collaborated with Redivivus, a lithium-ion battery recycling startup, in January 2023 to accelerate the development of Redi-Shred®, a passivation technology to safely process end-of-life batteries at any state of charge or health.

In May 2023, Proterial announced the development of a technology to manufacture cathode materials for lithium-ion batteries without having to convert nickel to nickel hydroxide. The technology also enables lowering of CO2 emissions during the production by over 20% compared to solid phase reaction method.

JFE recycles used batteries, which are collected as general waste through public waste collection and are melted in high-temperature electric furnaces, allowing for the extraction of iron, manganese, and zinc, which can then be reused for other purposes.

To further understand the key themes and technologies disrupting the mining industry, access GlobalData’s latest thematic research report on Mining.

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GlobalData, the leading provider of industry intelligence, provided the underlying data, research, and analysis used to produce this article. 

GlobalData’s Patent Analytics tracks patent filings and grants from official offices around the world. Textual analysis and official patent classifications are used to group patents into key thematic areas and link them to specific companies across the world’s largest industries.