Alan Colledge explores the world of automotive lithium battery disposal.
As experts in the lithium battery sector, Cawleys has been involved with Lithium Battery waste since 2012.
Initially, Cawleys were approached by a representative in the automotive sports industry who wanted to dispose of several lithium batteries being used in an early KERS systems.
At the time, like any other challenging wastes, it was assumed finding a suitable disposal route would be simple. However, after investigation, it was obvious that there was a distinct gap in the market. At the time, there were no UK based treatment facilities and the main companies known domestically for battery recovery were not equipped to dispose of this type of battery.
Overseas lithium options
Fortunately, after some research, it was discovered that there were some treatment plants located overseas in Belgium, Germany and Canada. Cawleys quickly established a relationship with the nearest facility, Umicore in 2012.
As an organisation as forward thinking and innovative as ourselves, Umicore were specialists extracting specialist metals from end of life batteries for recycling. Lithium-Ion contains precious metals including Cobalt and Nickel which were the focus of recovery. This was done through a pyrometallurgical/hydrometallurgical process and Umicore provided a compliant disposal route. As a result, Cawleys quickly became one of the few ABEs (Authorised Battery Exporters) in the UK.
As the uptake of electric vehicles has increased, so too has the need for a sustainable approach to lithium-ion battery disposal. Lithium batteries are highly flammable and pose a real risk to health and safety. As such they need to be stored, transported and disposed of extremely careful and only by experts in the field.
At Cawleys, we are fully licensed, competent and authorised to accept a waste battery, recycle it and be able to issue an evidence note to producers of batteries who require this through the The Batteries and Accumulators (Placing on the Market) Regulations 2008.
The future of lithium battery disposal
At present the market remains fairly immature and the general lack of recycling market and commercial expense is holding some people back from processing the batteries. However, with on-going research and demand this is set to change.
Cawleys has already pooled together intelligence and equipment from various parts of electric vehicle handling process and has used this to become experts in breaking down lithium-ion batteries. Involving the latest in Arc Flash protective clothing, insulated tooling and partnering with the latest training from Salvage Wire Cawleys have already carried out several successful dismantling jobs. The technologies we have now developed focus on the recovery of energy from the waste batteries which can be reused to feed back into our electrical needs as a business.
In the future the key to the disposal of lithium batteries is consistency and the development of a robust infrastructure to educate and deal with end of life electric car batteries. Lithium-Ion has taken over from Nickel Metal Hydride in first generation hybrid cars and we now need solutions for the treatment of this type of waste in the UK.
The market for waste batteries is only just beginning and although currently there aren’t floods of batteries coming through the supply chains to deal with, this is certain to change in the imminent future. When this happens there will be increased pressure on the industry to act. Currently, although there is a lot of valuable research and development taking place in UK Universities this will need to be transferred to a commercially viable and scalable option.
Collect, Sort, Segregate
At Cawleys, we are ahead of the curve on the lithium recovery market and we have some clear goals for the future. Like any other waste stream, there needs to be a process to initially collect, sort and segregate onto other processes in the chain. We currently take this approach with our main waste collection services where general waste is collected and sorted to extract cardboard, paper, metal, wood and plastics etc. Each of these is a commodity which is transported to specialist waste treatment centres to be recycled. For the Lithium Battery packs, this is no different. At Cawleys, we see this in the same light. The process must start with collection, albeit with more consideration for danger, then a decommission stage to segregate the modules with the freedom to transport them via the best available routes for recycling and reuse.
To discover more about lithium car batteries and they ways in which we can help with disposal speak to our specialist Cawleys Lithium team.