A pilot project examining the feasibility of recycling portable batteries in the UK has found a “cost-effective and environmentally sound” method of processing the waste stream.
ReCharge, a project funded by the executive non-departmental public body Innovate UK (previously called the Technology Strategy Board), set out to extract valuable metals from portable batteries as a way of decreasing the amount of zinc, manganese, nickel and other metals that go to landfill or are exported as waste.
The UK currently has no processing facilities for non-lead acid portable battery waste and all collected non-lead waste batteries are exported for recycling.
The pilot project evaluated novel industrial biotechnology processes against chemical routes to extract and concentrate the metals contained within various portable battery types.
It initially investigated cultivating and optimising the growth of specialist micro-organisms, which could recover the metals available through bioleaching.
The final process was found to be able to extract high purity (99.9%) metal oxides from high metal content wastes. The project produced commercial quality samples of zinc oxide for testing by potential customers.
A capital costing of the full process has been developed to help any company looking to make a business case for building a battery processing facility.
The specialist waste management company Augean led the project consortium, with the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI), the UK’s leading provider for technology development in industrial biotechnology and biorefining, carrying out the initial proposal and development work.
Battery collection company G&P Batteries and International Innovation Technology Ltd, also gave its support.
Augean said the process was competitive with current technologies as it is less energy intensive. The metals recovered can be re-used in various target industries.
Project leader Sandy Gunn said: “We are very encouraged by the results we’ve had at the conclusion of the project. The whole process is now available to be used by partners or third parties wanting to invest in the technologies that the consortium have developed.
“CPI is currently in the process of attempting to secure a second round of funding to build on the work we’ve already completed.”