Horizon Europe RIA CICERO: MSA-based circular hydrometallurgy for sustainable, cost-effective production of NMC cathode materials


Objectives & ambition

Towards a new Nickel - Cobalt - Manganese processing and refining paradigm in Europe

To tackle the twin problems of (1) Europe’s dependence on a few third countries for refined Ni, Co and Mn salts, and (2) these metals are currently mined, processed at a massive environmental, health & safety cost in DRC, Indonesia, and China, CICERO will develop a sustainable and cost-effective processing and refining model for Ni, Co and Mn, and their downstream conversion into “made-in-Europe” NMC materials for Li-ion batteries. CICERO’s unique and innovative approach is that it integrates the Twelve Principles of Circular Hydrometallurgy with the smart use of methanesulphonic acid (MSA).

As outlined by Binnemans and Jones in their position paper, circular hydrometallurgical flowsheets involve the closed-loop use of benign chemical reagents, such as MSA, while moving towards a zero-waste processes.

Why MSA? The advantage of MSA over H2SO4, the “incumbent” acid for hydrometallurgy, is that the solubility of Ni, Co, Mn MSA salts in water is much higher than the corresponding sulphate salts, allowing more resource-efficient unit processes.Furthermore, MSA is a commercial, green, REACH-compliant and reasonably priced acid (2000 USD/t) that is found in nature as part of the geochemical sulphur cycle, making it an industrially realistic alternative to H2SO4 in the refining of Ni(/Co/Mn)-bearing (a) post-mining wastes (tailings) and (b) distinct intermediates (apart from MSP, FeNi, Ni-matte also Mn-rich anode sludge from the zinc industry is tested in CICERO).

CICERO is more cost-competitive than HPAL-type H2SO4 processes. The envisioned circular MSA-flowsheets will beat the currently installed HPAL/H2SO4-technology based on different aspects:

  1. Less process steps to be installed (resulting in lower CAPEX & OPEX);
  2. reuse of MSA vs. H2SO4 as consumable (lower OPEX);
  3. non-generation of Na2SO4 waste (lower OPEX); and
  4. an envisioned lower CAPEX for equipment while building the site.

CICERO Consortium

The CICERO consortium consists of 11 partners and 2 associated partners, including 6 key Nordic (battery) raw-materials players, with a genuine interest in exploiting the project results: Boliden Mineral AB (BOMIN, Sweden), Boliden Kokkola (BOKA, Finland), Boliden Harjavalta (BOHA, Finland), VTT (Finland), KTH (Sweden), SINTEF (Norway).

CICERO combines the 12 Principles of Circular Hydrometallurgy with the use of MSA to develop circular hydrometallurgical flowsheets converting (a) tailings and (b) intermediates into NMC cathode materials

CICERO Methodology

CICERO project methodology highlighting the circular use of MSA.

High-level scientific objectives

WP1: Leaching & solution purification

WP2: Conversion to NMC

WP3: Reagent regeneration & Fe recovery

WP4: Kinetic and thermodynamic modelling

WP5: Integrated assessment

Get in touch

If you have questions regarding CICERO project (general info, project results, exploitation, clustering), please get in touch with us using the contact details available on this website. We look forward to hearing from you!