W Power 2024

Arvind Bhardwaj and Anupam Kumar: Making mining count

Regarding EV components, India does not have enough reserves of the minerals required. At Mini Mines, the winners of the Clean Energy and Climate Change category have found a solution to extract these minerals from discarded batteries

Ruchika Shah
Published: Feb 20, 2024 03:12:25 PM IST
Updated: Feb 20, 2024 03:13:48 PM IST

Arvind Bhardwaj and Anupam Kumar: Making mining count(From left) Arvind Bhardwaj and Anupam Kumar are creating a value chain to enable a circular battery economy Image: Selvaprakash Lakshmanan For Forbes India Outfit: Samyakk And Y S Merak; Styled By: Esha Kothari; Assistant Stylist: Kaveri Halder; Hair And Make Up: Krishnastudio

Anupam Kumar | 28
Founder-CEO, Mini Mines
Arvind Bhardwaj | 28
Founder-CTO, Mini Mines

Good things are not cheap. Take electric vehicles (EV) for example. The largest cost component of an EV is its lithium-ion battery. India has little or no reserves of lithium ore and is entirely dependent on imports. Nickel and cobalt, the two other lithium-ion battery components of which India has adequate reserves, are, however, expensive to mine and leave a high ecological footprint.

Spent batteries of EVs, mobile phones, and laptops currently stack up on top of an already gargantuan e-waste mountain in India. If lithium can be extracted here, and nickel and cobalt can be procured without traditional mining, it could mitigate some problems—batteries can become cheaper because less lithium is being imported; less reliance on mining means fewer carbon emissions and less water waste.

Enter Mini Mines, which works with spent lithium-ion batteries in India. The Bengaluru company, co-founded by Anupam Kumar, CEO, and Arvind Bhardwaj, CTO, is creating a value chain to enable a circular battery economy. Mini Mines uses its technology to extract lithium, nickel, and cobalt from used batteries, and sells the raw materials to battery makers in the country.

Extracting components from spent li-ion batteries has a better return than mining. Mining and processing one tonne of lithium ore gives 2-3 kg of lithium, whereas recycling one tonne of batteries gives you 20-30 kg of lithium, they claim.

It also saves water and cuts down CO2 emissions. Their technology enables the saving of two lakh tonnes of water for every tonne of batteries recycled, and 1.4 tonnes of CO2 emissions can be prevented. Their process and 1.5-tonne pilot unit in Bengaluru are validated by Niti Aayog and was built with a $0.5 million grant from Oil India Corporation.

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Kumar says they can extract enough lithium-ion, nickel and cobalt from spent batteries in India to power up to 66 lakh EVs. Li-ion is also used to make button cells, mobile phone and laptop batteries. Lithium carbonate is used by pharmaceutical and glass manufacturers, whereas catalyst manufacturers have a dire need for nickel and cobalt. It’s a vast universe to explore, he adds.

Kumar, a chemical engineer from the Birla Institute of Technology, Mesra, started his career at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre where he separated uranium, nickel, and cobalt from reactors’ waste.

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The duo met at Log9 Materials where Bhardwaj headed the lithium-ion batteries division. A few conversations led to the ‘Eureka’ moment, “He knew what went into the batteries, and I knew how to extract components. We felt like this was the puzzle and we were the pieces that fit,” the duo reminisces.

They quit their jobs to start Mini Mines, with ₹6.5 crore from savings, their exits from early-phase companies, and awards and grants. They are on the path to generate regular revenue in six months.

Arvind Bhardwaj and Anupam Kumar: Making mining count

“EVs present a number of climate-unfriendly challenges, particularly the extraction of metals like nickel and cobalt and the disposal of used batteries. Mini Mines recovers these precious metals in a reusable form, addressing issues related to extraction as well as disposal of polluting batteries,” Sumaira Abdulali, convenor, Awaaz Foundation, and one of the two-member jury of the category said.

(This story appears in the 23 February, 2024 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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