CMA Ecocycle is taking its role as an e-waste recycler a step further with what is an Australia-first solution to contain and control electric vehicle fires.
When new technologies become mainstream, discussion inevitably mounts on what could go wrong.
As with the much debated dangers of a self-driving car, the evolution of electric vehicles (EV) carries with it a risk to safety and the environment.
A significant number of EVs have caught fire over the past few years, galvanising the debate on lithium-ion batteries. Global research firm Batelle’s 2017 study for the US traffic safety agency National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found the severity of such fires were comparable, or perhaps slightly less, to that of gasoline or diesel vehicular fuels. As EVs have zero exhaust emissions and are generally considered eco-friendly, their acceleration overseas is drawing the attention of Australian regulators.
The Federal Government’s trade agency Austrade produced a December 2018 report which found Australia was well positioned to capitalise on the significant opportunities presented by the lithium-ion battery era. With the world’s third-largest reserves of lithium, the report shows battery manufacturing technology central to downstream lithium processing is the critical gap in the Australian supply chain. Regulations and stringent processes across the supply chain will then be required to manage the transition safely.
Taking its vision a step further, battery recycler CMA Ecocycle is not only positioning itself in the market as a leader of onshore e-waste recycling, but is also expanding its role into offering safety systems for the commercial vehicle industry through its Envirobat product branding.
In late 2018, Waste Management Review revealed CMA’s plans for a first-of-its-kind battery recycling plant expected for launch in April 2019. The $2.5 million plant has capacity to process more than 5000 tonnes of batteries each year with the ability to identify more than 3000 battery types by chemistry, brand, size and shape.
“Safety is a high priority for us, principally because we run a mercury plant so the toxicity issue is a major hazard. We are well used to that and now rolling that into the world of batteries with a new plant and stepping up that safety regime further,” says CMA Ecocycle’s Daryl Moyle.
As the company ramped up efforts to lead the local battery recycling market, it identified yet another gap in the market and sought to fill it.
Following extensive research into overseas best practice, CMA will soon be bringing into the country first-of-their-kind shipping containers protected by an automated fire fighting system to suppress EV and hybrid electric vehicle fires before and after they have occurred.
“This will be the only system to reach these shores that we’re aware of,” Daryl says.
The system comprises a mechanical and hydraulic salvage platform to be deployed onsite to suppress electric vehicle fires that have just occurred or may present as high risk.
“The car just needs to be rolled up a platform that is totally controlled inside, so if that car starts to smolder and the EV starts to burn, it will suppress the whole thing in a safe manner,” he says.
Daryl says CMA’s research saw it collaborate with many major electric vehicle manufacturers with the anticipation of offering a new safety solution.
“Electric vehicles are not more prone to battery fires, but because they’ve got lithium-ion batteries, they fuel hotter fires and they release toxic fumes that are very hard to extinguish,” Daryl says.
“We want to solve that problem. We don’t want to see an electric vehicle break down or an accident on the freeway for instance and the vehicle is burning away.
“Because it’s difficult to extinguish, it’s something that needs a unique safety solution.”
He says CMA is currently working out the specifics around the rollout of the containers nationally.
As the faster obsoletion of technologies and variety of batteries continues to grow in the Australian waste stream, Daryl says the company will continue to learn from best practice overseas.
When the company began planning its battery recycling plant, it also looked to an overall safety strategy.
“We are also adopting the guidelines of the new EPA Victoria policy on the management and storage of combustible recyclable and waste materials,” Daryl says.
He says that with occupational health and safety certification in place, the next step for CMA is fine-tuning its risk assessment and hazardous identification processes and handling and processing – starting with lithium-ion batteries as a key target.
He says that keeping batteries in a separate area onsite is one part of its safety strategy, while offering degraded collection and storage boxes made of galvanised steel to prevent battery explosions, is another.
The lid of the boxes also contains aerosol fire extinguishers designed to suppress lithium battery fires.
“CMA Ecocycle is offering safe battery solutions, including the N-Ext lithium fire extinguishers to all of its clients large and small,” Daryl says.
As it continues to look to the leaders of Europe, including Belgian’s successful Bebat product stewardship scheme, Daryl says CMA’s goal will also be to educate the community on how to identify battery chemistries and the inherent risks each one can carry.
Whether it be the more hazardous cadmium and nickel-cadmium or commonly found alkaline and zinc batteries, the sorting plant will ultimately be able to separate these materials to ensure they do not become a potential safety hazard.
“There will always be an inherent risk, but we will negate that to a large degree and that will be a major emphasis on the entire plant and what we do across the country now and into the future,” he says.