The district is that of Niagara Falls, the largest waterfalls in the world. Sudbury, a gray and anonymous town in the province of Ontario, in Canada that counts, is the land of Glencore, the multinational that extracts metals in half the world and perhaps more. Between this Canadian suburb and the industrial area of Portovesme, deep in Sulcis, the Island of Sardinia, a land perpetually raped by hardened profiteers, as the crow flies, there are the beauty of 6,907 kilometres. Basically, on the other side of the world.
From Nigara Falls
Yet the Swiss Glencore did not set themselves any obstacle in designing a virtual "bridge" of "Black Mass", the black mass, between the Atlantic Ocean and the Sea of Sardinia. It is this infinite journey, the one between the Glencore mine-plant in Canada and the precarious industrial plant of Portovesme Srl, the first black hole of the reconversion plan put on paper by the Swiss masters of recycled lithium. In that geological enclave on the border with the United States, in fact, there is the Sudbury Basin, a mining area rich in deposits of nickel, copper, cobalt, gold, silver, platinum and palladium. In the still armored files segregated in the offices on viale Trento, however, details emerge all wrapped up in an inexplicable industrial mystery.
The mystery of arrival
On the one hand, the main information is denied, i.e. where this river full of "Black Mass" will arrive from, and on the other hand, the places where the "rich" metals will be shipped once extracted in the Portovesme plant are identified in a timely manner. . In this "crucial" passage of the journeys to and from Sardinia there are at least three truths: it is not known where the "Black Mass" will come from; it is known where the precious metals extracted in Portovesme will be sent; the Sardinian plant will be a mere executor of the "dirty" work, the one with the most impact on the environment.
6 ships departing and arriving
In the few details indicated in the project we read: "The Black Mass will arrive by ship at the port of Cagliari in containers containing closed big bags (6 container ships per year)". The environmental report and the general project report do not say exactly what it comes from and where it comes from. The only reference is to the factories of Li Cycle, the battery recycling company with "Black Mass" production plants scattered almost everywhere in the world, from Kingston, in Canadian Ontario, to Rochester in the industrial district of New York, from Gilbert Arizona to Tuscaloosa Alabama. Therefore, only by deduction the "black mass" should arrive in Sardinia from the most unthinkable places in the United States and beyond.
The plan, on the other hand, is precise, with precise geographical references, in the part relating to the places of destination of the rare metals, those mined in Sardinia, to be exact in Portovesme, and then to be sent back around the world. The gentlemen of Glencore write: «The containers containing the big bags will be transported by truck from the plant to the port of Cagliari to be sent by ship to the Glencore storage facilities of Nikkerlverk (Norway) and Sudbury (Canada). It is foreseen the dispatch of 6 container ships per year".
Six ships always loaded
Also in this case there is no shortage of "black holes" on how it is possible to get six ships of battery waste a year and restart the same number. As if the accumulations of "Black Mass" went up and down, from the Atlantic Ocean and Norway to Sardinia, without any quantitative reduction. Certainly in the land of forgotten reclamation, that of Sulcis, it was decided to experiment with the most impactful "test", that of the extraction of precious metals from the slag shipped to the island. And it won't be a walk in the park, given that the dossier wrapped up for the Region, complete with a colored bow, describes an "extraction" passage full of pitfalls. Starting from the first datum: it is an experiment, with an uncertain outcome both economically and technologically.
Experiments in the dark
A pseudo reconversion hanging on a thousand uncertainties. The plan confesses: "Design and construction of the new demonstration plant for the production of lithium carbonate and mixed metal oxides from the treatment of the "Black Mass", which, as the name suggests, aims to create a demonstration plant of treatment capacity of 11,318 tons per year, for the recovery of lithium carbonate from the product of the treatment of spent lithium-ion batteries (Black Mass)». The documents reveal one detail: to treat a thousand kilos of "black mass" 880 kilos of sulfuric acid, 4,580 liters of demineralised water and 810 kilos of caustic soda will be used as a reagent. Not to mention, then, the energy, that of the plant that Enel and Terna want to close.
Motive is missing
The biggest black hole of this operation is the "ratio", that is the reason for this ups and downs of black mass from one part of the world to the other towards Sardinia. There is no trace of an economic evaluation in the plan, there is no mention of the "convenience" of transporting this waste from distant America to Portovesme and then, from here, restarting the finished product. Is it possible that Elon Musk has not thought about optimizing the recycling of his Tesla batteries at home? The answer is clear: not only did he think about it, but he did it.
Elon Musk does it all by himself
In the latest "Impact report" the automaker of the richest man, with 187.1 billion dollars in capital, declared that "thanks to the efforts made to improve the processes for the recovery of metals and raw materials from its now manages to reuse 92% of it». The statements are such as to transform the "black hole" of the Sardinian "Black Mass" project into an abyss of doubts: "On-site recycling - adds the Tesla report - brings us even closer to closing the cycle on the supply of materials, allowing the transfer of raw materials directly to our nickel and cobalt suppliers. With the new plant, Tesla is able to not only recycle a higher percentage of raw materials per battery, but also a greater number of batteries, working at a large scale and obtaining enormous production benefits. The question is legitimate: but if the most advanced electric car manufacturer has gone from theorizing the recycling of batteries made in Tesla to their reuse for over 90%, is it not to be believed that the other big players will too?
Glencore's attempt, therefore, is not only desperate, but appears out of time, as well as difficult to justify on an economic level. Hence the many doubts about this operation which aims to force Sulcis to accept what they define as "a cutting-edge center of its kind in Europe in Black Mass treatment technology and lithium recovery". The pilot plant, according to what the Swiss write in the plan, "will make it possible to experiment and optimize the recovery process, obtaining the information and know-how required for the construction of a plant on an industrial scale on the Portovesme site itself". The final goal is summarized in a few lines: «Glencore and Li-Cycle have formally announced a joint study for the development of a European Recycling Hub through the conversion of part of the existing metallurgical plant. The hub will have a processing capacity of 50,000 – 70,000 tonnes per year of Black Mass». In theory the capital of the "black waste" of all of Europe and beyond.
The drainage hole
The latest black hole in this story is the reclamation of Portovesme. Between one excuse and another, between a conversion plan and an experimental plant, the real and serious remediation never started. The ill-thinking, those who know multinationals well, know that they fear like the devil the principle of "the polluter pays". And the environmental damage in the land of Sulcis far exceeds five hundred million euros. Glencore, in this operation of the global "Black Mass", for now, announces that it intends to spend just 5 million euros. Therefore, deep down, the "black mass", that of exhausted batteries, could have a convenience. As always, all to the detriment of reclamation, the environment and health.