Batteries, Hazardous waste, Latest News

Plant to tackle lithium-ion battery recycling issue

Finding a solution to Australia’s end-of-life batteries – especially the lithium-ion variety – is a continuing headache for the resource recovery industry. 

Battery recycling specialist, Eco Batt, has decided to take up the challenge and is investing about $30 million to build a lithium (Li-ion) battery recycling plant, creating a processing precinct for batteries at the Ecocycle Group’s head office in Campbellfield, Victoria.

Using cutting-edge technology, proven to process more than 25,000 tonnes of batteries per year, the plant will provide a sustainable solution to Australia’s anticipated lithium battery waste streams for the next decade, according to group managing director Doug Rowe.

The ambitious development will provide a state-of-the-art solution to Australia, New Zealand and the neighbouring Pacific Islands battery waste streams and recover up to 98 per cent of the active materials from lithium batteries. 

To ensure a world-class solution with the highest level of environmental compliance, Eco Batt is appointing German company URT Umwelt-und Recyclingtechnik to build the facility. 

The company has built and commissioned many large lithium battery recycling plants around the world.

“One of the key factors in battery recycling is safety, both for the workers and the environment,” Rowe said. “URT’s plant technology incorporates advanced safety measures while implementing standards not previously seen or used in Australia.”

The plant is designed to prevent the release of solvents by distilling them and capturing the spent electrolyte for recycling. 

Read more: EV batteries: handle with care

The off gases and exhaust air is collected throughout the process and treated via a number of scrubbers, carbon absorption and finally a large, high-temperature treatment point for ensuring all toxic and volatile organic compounds and fluorides are handled to the highest environmental regulations.

“Australia as yet doesn’t understand or appreciate the significance of protecting staff and the environment from the off gases being released from processing lithium batteries,” Rowe said.

URT Recyclingtechnik has established itself as a specialist in lithium battery recycling, with many completed plants and projects in progress on four different continents.

 This includes recent projects for Polish recycler Elemental Strategic Metals and Asend Element in America. 

The company’s turnkey recycling plants are tailored to the specific requirements of customers. 

Having a greenfield site gives Eco Batt the luxury of tailoring the plant to be as efficient and streamlined as possible. The specification of the proposed Victorian plant was chosen after Rowe visited more than 40 battery recycling facilities internationally in recent years.

Rowe said that with URT’s expertise, comprehensive services, and commitment to environmental responsibility, URT and Eco Batt are committed to work together to build a showcase plant for Australia that keeps lithium batteries out of the wrong waste streams and into a plant that has been purpose-built to handle them.

This facility will produce green metals for reuse in industry. The recovered black mass will be refined to recover the lithium, graphite, cobalt, and nickel, while the steel, stainless-steel, copper, aluminium and circuit boards will be individually separated as part of the recycling process.

“We have the ability to batch process the varying chemistries we are seeing in lithium batteries, allowing us to keep that black mass separated and sending the various grades to those offering the best treatment outcomes,” said Rowe.

Eco Batt has a national collection network with more than 7000 company-owned collection cabinets at retail, supermarket, and hardware stores. Specialised, lockable, galvanised, dangerous goods (DG)-approved bulk battery collection bins are provided to industry and located at many local government transfer stations, materials recycling facilities and landfills to underpin the success of the new recycling plant.

The feedstock will be collected nationally with operations already established in every state using specially equipped DG-approved battery transport vehicles.

“Lithium batteries are now ubiquitous in every sector of the economy, society and everyday life and pose elevated risks at end-of-life to the environment while containing critical resources needed for a circular economy,” Rowe said. “They need to be responsibly recycled.

“In the midst of rising demand for electric vehicles and renewable power, and an explosion in battery development, batteries will play a key role in the transition to achieve Australia’s climate change targets and so will leadership in advanced recycling technology.

“The establishment of Australia’s largest lithium battery processing and recycling plant marks a step towards a greener future. By effectively managing end-of-life batteries, recycling them responsibly and recovering critical resources, Eco Batt is contributing to the transition to a sustainable and circular economy.”

Rowe said Australia has a unique opportunity to contribute to global goals and to increase the use of recycled materials in new battery manufacturing. By investing in sustainable recycling solutions, Australia can not only minimise environmental degradation caused by lithium batteries but also preserve critical resources for future generations. 

“We have a responsibility to the environment and to respond to climate change with best efforts for the conservation of resources. This plant will do just that,” he said.

The market for energy storage, e-mobility, and lithium batteries across such a vast range is rising in Australia and globally overall. 

The Department of Treasury and Finance Victoria reported 8.4 per cent of all new vehicles sold in October 2023 were electric vehicles – more than double compared to sales a year earlier and is representative of the national trend. 

Rowe says increased adoption of domestic and commercial energy storage systems, micro mobility, battery-operated equipment, and all other e-waste streams add to the demand for lithium battery waste recycling.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) projects lithium-ion battery waste is growing by 20 per cent per year and could exceed 100,000 tonnes by 2036. If the projection is correct, Australia’s big battery energy storage capacity will have increased 20-fold since 2021 by 2030. 

Australian homes with battery storage devices exceed 100,000 dwellings with an energy capacity that is almost twice the size of Australia’s largest utility battery, Victoria’s Big Battery.  

“Australia is quickly becoming a global leader in energy storage and an early adopter of big batteries to reduce emissions by 2030,” Rowe said. “The battery recycling industry needs to be ready to deal with the unavoidable battery waste at end-of-life. Eco Batt is leading the way.

“The Federal Government has set an ambitious target to transition to renewable energy and elevate recycling for all wastes generated to 80 per cent nationally by 2030 from an average of 63 per cent currently. 

If by 2030 we are seeing an increase in the lithium batteries coming to market for recycling, we are committed to installing a sister plant the same size at our Queensland facility.

“This plant is a major investment in this recycling industry and while we understand the challenges, the risks, and the low return on investment, we can’t just keep doing what we know is not working. Lithium batteries are not going away and need to be recycled properly.”

There is almost daily media coverage of lithium battery fires in trucks, kerbside collections, material recovery facilities, landfill, metal recycling yards  and an array of other plants around Australia. 

Rowe said the cost to these industries is huge and insurance premiums prohibitive. 

Industry needs to work together to get lithium batteries into the correct recycling stream and in the right collection containers with the right trucks. 

The hazardous nature of large format lithium batteries, which retain residual energy even at disposal, pose serious risks if not handled correctly.

A dedicated battery discharge process for larger format battery assemblies will accompany the new Victorian recycling process. 

The power generated from discharging will go into Eco Batt’s large battery storage container, made from recycled lithium batteries that still have a useful second life.

The battery storage container stores the discharged power from the lithium batteries ready for final processing and is used on site to power the handling, sorting, and processing of batteries that have been collected and are ready for recycling.” 

Send this to a friend