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Shredded to batts

battery recycling

Battery recycler EcoBatt is working to make its best even better to ensure maximum recovery.

There are various types of batteries, each with their own chemistries, capabilities, size and states of charge. It stands for reason each also presents its own challenge when it comes to recycling.

For the past four years, EcoBatt has trialled various machinery and delved into research and development to find the right equipment to handle the range of sorted batteries in Australia.

Doug Rowe, Director of EcoBatt and Recycal says industry colleagues overseas have been invaluable in helping find the most efficient and economical solutions for battery process in Australia.

“We feel confident we have created a great national collection network,” Doug says. “We have a world-class sorting facility. The next phase was always to build a state-of-the-art processing facility that can handle the full range of batteries and chemistries.

“We have visited many processing plants overseas and seen how they process these batteries. It’s with this knowledge we have been able to install equipment with some confidence.

“It’s a great system we have and it’s unique to Australia.”

While granulators and small pre-shredders are used by some in battery recycling in Australia, Doug says they weren’t suitable for the throughput or approach EcoBatt is aiming for.

He says the non-DG alkaline batteries were always a focus because of the tonnage available – they account for about 70 per cent of batteries that are recycled.

The steel-coated cans of the non-DG alkaline batteries are melted down and alloyed to make castings at the company’s foundry in Launceston, Tasmania. Once these castings are worn out, they’re melted again and again to make new castings.

“To be able to melt them down and pick up the valuable metal units is a real bonus,” Doug says. “And it’s a great recycling story. A true in-house circular economy story in our own backyard.”

Doug says a lot of manganese reclaimed from the batteries can be used at the foundry. The metal fume or dust is caught in baghouses and can be recycled.

battery recycling“We are finding that the refined black mass can give us good credits of manganese and we’re excited about the results we are seeing,” he says. “With commodity prices increasing like they have, the more we can use in our own foundry the better. Using metals from alkaline batteries that once went to landfill is a great environmental success story.”

Lithium batteries, says Doug, are more challenging because their range, size and chemistry is much greater. While more of these batteries are being recycled, it will be several years before larger tonnes are collected.

Smaller lithium tool, bike, computer and phone batteries are collected by EcoBatt and processed separately. Tonnes of these batteries can be processed each hour, separating the steel, aluminium and copper for recycling. The black sand is exported.

“We are working with some local mining operations to see if they can take it, but we don’t see Australia having the tonnes to justify this as a stand-alone investment for years to come,” Doug says.

EcoBatt is also working with overseas partners to refurbish damaged cells in EV batteries for cars and send them back out to market.

“It’s similar to what we used to do in the old days at Challenge Batteries with Stirling Batteries in Carlton,” Doug says. “We would take a lead acid tar top battery, melt out the tar, replace the damaged cell and put it all back together again. What we’re doing with EV batteries is a similar idea. 

“There’s good interest in the battery back-up storage market for the good cell packs that still have some serviceable life left in them. Portable and fixed storage units using this type of battery are proving popular.”

A containerised power storage unit for EV battery cells is being installed at EcoBatt’s new head office. The batteries will be charged by solar power from the factory roof and the power generated stored, then fed to EV car battery charging units in the car park.

Large storage cells and car or truck-size batteries are shredded into smaller sizes for processing. Small amounts of nickel metal hydrate batteries, and even fewer nickel cadmium batteries, are processed and sent overseas for refining.

“Batteries need to be respected,” Doug says. 

“It’s a challenge to be prepared and flexible for the changing chemistries and the risks that surround the collection, sorting and processing of batteries.

“We are working towards a state-of-the-art processing facility to be installed in 2023. This will have far greater capacity than what we need for the next five to ten years and will have the ability to handle the full range of chemistries in this ever-changing marketplace.”  

For more information and nearest drop-off points, visit: www.ecobatt.net


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