Business set to boom for Australia’s first onshore lithium battery recycler
Willow Aliento | 1 May 2018
With Victoria set to ban landfilling of e-waste from 1 July 2019, a home-grown recycler is set to benefit from the growing quantity of lithium batteries reaching end of life.
Envirostream reprocesses waste lithium batteries from digital devices, appliances, cars, and industrial and residential usesinto metals such as steel, aluminium and copper, and mixed-metal ingots that contain lithium, graphene, nickel and other elements, which are sent to a partner company in South Korea to manufacture new batteries.
Envirostream national development manager John Polhill told The Fifth Estate the revenue gained from selling-on the various commodities enables the company to recycle batteries at around one tenth of the cost of other recyclers.
The key to its business model is creating products that can be sold for new product manufacturing, subsidising the front end operation of recycling the batteries.
This brings the average cost of battery recycling down from about $5 a kilogram to around 50 cents, Mr Polhill said.
While there are other companies in Australia recycling lead acid batteries, his is believed to be the only on-shore processor of lithium and nickel-metal hydride batteries.
At this point its process can reclaim 95 per cent of the content of batteries for re-use and remanufacture. The remaining five per cent, which comprises mixed plastics, is the subject of research by a number of university experts in conjunction with CSIRO and the Victorian government to establish a process for converting it into something reusable, Mr Polhill said.
The company uses a mechanical and pneumatic processing technique that also recovers a higher proportion of useful materials than a thermal process would. As a result of the high heat of thermal process, elements such as aluminium can “burn off” and be lost, he said.
Its new $2 million factory in New Gisborne, Victoria, was purpose built for the recycling operation, and is the result of more than two years of self-funded research and development. Last year, it recycled 240,000 kilograms of batteries.
Envirostream director Andrew McKenziesaid the facility would create five new jobs over the next year.
“We have a nationally coordinated partnership to increase Australia’s low recovery rates of batteries and mobile phones and want to make sure these recoverable resources are not just thrown away or sent offshore for recycling,” Mr McKenzie said.
“We’re in an increasingly mobile world. Lithium batteries are now the dominant mode of energy storage for domestic and industrial uses, and, like other e-waste, their use is growing fast.”
Victoria’s e-waste is projected to rise from 109,000 tonnes in 2015 to about 256,000 tonnes by 2035.
Mr Polhill said there were three main channels the company currently receives batteries from. In Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and NSW, state-based schemes see batteries diverted from landfill.
The company has also formed a partnership with Planet Ark’s Mobile Muster initiative, and the National Computer and Television Recycling Scheme.
Envirostream also recently received $40,000 from Sustainability Victoria to buy equipment to increase the recovery of valuable materials in batteries.
Sustainability Victoria chief executive Stan Krpan said the company was showing how opportunities can be developed in Australia’s resource recovery sector, create jobs in regional communities and capture valuable chemicals, copper, steel, nickel, lithium, other metals and graphene.
“Only three percent of Australian batteries are currently recovered. It’s the lowest rate in the OECD.”
Victorian energy, environment and climate change minister Lily D’Ambrosio officially opened the plant at the end of April, and released details of a plan to rapidly increase recycling of electronic waste.
Sustainability Victoria is rolling out a $16.5 million e-waste infrastructure development and awareness program to prepare for the e-waste landfill ban.
Specific initiatives include $15 million in grants to help Victorian councils and state government entities upgrade infrastructure to collect e-waste at more than 130 sites, and a $1.5 million public awareness and education campaign.
The goal of upgrading collection points is to have 98 per cent of Melburnians within a 20-minute drive of an e-waste disposal point and 98 per cent of people in regional Victoria within a 30-minute drive of one.