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Can used batteries power plants?

Lithium Australia is conducting trials to see if mixed metal dust from used batteries can be used as fertiliser with so-called ‘micro-nutrients’. Around 6000 tonnes of alkaline batteries are sold annually in Australia. An estimated 97% of these are disposed of in municipal waste streams and most go to landfill, according to the nation’s Battery Stewardship Council.

Now Lithium Australia aims to ‘close the energy-metal cycle’ in a sustainable manner. It claims zinc and manganese dust recovered from discarded batteries can benefit the agricultural sector.

The alkaline dust is produced by the company’s Envirostream subsidiary at its spent-battery recycling facility in Victoria. Spent batteries are collected from pick-up points at various locations, including offices and stores. After sorting, they are mechanically shredded with the cathode and anode active compounds separated.

‘The battery dust contains high levels of zinc and manganese and minor amounts of graphite and potassium. The zinc and manganese are of the most interest as fertiliser micro-nutrients,’ Lithium Australia says.

Initial results were encouraging enough for the company to commit to the next stage of the experiment. ‘Recycling all the metals within spent batteries is something that’s rarely done effectively, which is why it remains a target for us,’ says managing director Adrian Griffin.

‘We have not limited ourselves to recycling only lithium-ion batteries but, rather, have included alkaline batteries in a bid to eliminate all such items from landfill,’ Griffin adds, underlining the importance of recycling critical metals.

‘We’re cognisant of the environmental implications of burying such “waste” and encourage all consumers to join us in recycling every spent battery for the benefit of the environment now, for the sake of the future.

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