CICERO EU-funded project

Start date: 1 November 2023 - End date: 31 October 2026

MSA-based circular hydrometallurgy for sustainable, cost-effective production of NMC cathode materials


KU Leuven (Belgium)


By targeting the domestic refining of three “strategic” battery-related CRMs, i.e. nickel (Ni), cobalt (Co) and manganese (Mn), the CICERO project addresses the second CRMA benchmark: i.e. > 40% domestic processing/refining. To tackle the twin problems of (1) Europe’s dependence on a few third countries (i.e. DRC, Indonesia, China) for the supply of Ni, Co and Mn for our NMC Li-ion battery production, and (2) the fact that these metals are currently produced at a huge cost in terms of environment, health and safety, CICERO puts in place a sustainable, cost-effective refining model for Ni, Co and Mn, and the downstream conversion into made-in-Europe NMC cathodes.

The CICERO project is the first ever to develop a circular hydrometallurgical Ni, Co & Mn processing/refining scheme that uses methanesulphonic acid (MSA) – a commercial, green, REACH-compliant & affordable acid – rather than H2SO4. CICERO recovers, refines and converts Ni, Co and Mn from domestically available secondary raw materials: (a) post-mining raw materials (sulphide & laterite tailings) and (b) Ni/Co/Mn-bearing intermediates incl. MSP, FeNi, Ni-matte and Mn-anode sludge. To achieve this, CICERO develops a suite of novel metallurgical unit processes for advanced MSA leaching and solution purification, the conversion to battery-grade MSA salts, and the synthesis of NMC cathodes in MSA media, with sound reagent regeneration & iron recovery in line with the Twelve Principles of Circular Hydrometallurgy. This research is supported by advanced thermodynamic & kinetic modelling for solid-liquid & liquid-liquid equilibria relevant for Ni/Co/Mn processing/refining in MSA media. CICERO introduces a new paradigm for metallurgical processing/refining and increases society’s acceptance of, and trust in, sustainable CRM production 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) the current mining and processing of these metals 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).

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