Engineering 101

Alkaline Battery Recycling Provides Crop Nutrients

The toxic chemicals from alkaline and other batteries include cadmium, lead, lithium, and sulfuric acid. These pollutants can leak into the environment and contaminate groundwater, damage fragile ecosystems, and even make their way into the food chain.

Recently, as part of its commitment to a circular battery economy (and environmental, social and governance responsibilities), the recycling division of Lithium Australia, Envirostream Australia, is assessing the use of zinc and manganese derived from recycled alkaline batteries as micronutrient supplements in fertilizers, potentially a new market for such materials in Australia.

Initial pot trials undertaken in controlled greenhouse conditions indicated that the Envirostream product did have potential as a source of micronutrients in fertilizers.

Moreover, it provides an opportunity to reduce the carbon footprint of the battery industry, as well as landfill contamination, while improving global food production.

Preparation for field trials

A site suitable for field trials has been located in the wheatbelt of Western Australia, a region that produces about 14 million tonnes of grain annually and is thus a major contributor to Australia’s export economy. The site is located near the rural town of Kojonup.

Soils in the area selected have a low pH and are deficient in zinc, manganese and phosphate and are therefore considered ideal for the application of fertilizers containing the manganese and zinc compounds recovered by Envirostream from spent alkaline batteries.

Blending of the manganese/zinc supplement with major-element fertilizers has begun in preparation for wheat seeding, which is anticipated within the next two weeks.

Source material

Australia sells around 6,000 tonnes of alkaline batteries a year. In 2019, the nation’s Battery Stewardship Council (‘BSC’) estimated that, at the end of their useful life, 97% of those batteries were disposed of in municipal waste streams and reported to landfill, a sad indictment of our society’s environmental management practices.

Hopefully, though, those practices will improve with the introduction of a voluntary battery stewardship programme currently being developed by the BSC. Similar initiatives implemented in other countries have been instrumental in improving the proportion of spent batteries recovered for recycling.

Further agricultural trials

Envirostream plans to conduct additional field trials in jurisdictions outside Australia. To that end, it seeks partners willing to explore and possibly enhance the efficacy of this proposed solution to alkaline battery management.

Adrian Griffin, director of Envirostream and managing director of Lithium Australia said,  “Globally, the disposal of alkaline batteries has become a major problem. Our plan for repurposing the active components of the spent cells is not only a significant step towards worldwide environmental management of the issue but could also have a powerful influence on the sustainability of disposable batteries. As such, it is an integral part of Lithium Australia’s quest to develop a circular economy for all battery types.”

Source: Lithium A

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