THE CLEAN ENERGY CAFE: Lithium Australia (ASX: LIT) has its sights on providing an ethical and sustainable supply of energy metals to the battery industry.
The company believes that by doing so it is creating a circular battery economy, thereby contributing to national, and global, energy security.
A major factor in Lithium Australia’s strategy is the recycling of old lithium-ion batteries to new.
The company is not alone in its objective with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) recently highlighting its position on the environmental harm caused by disposing of batteries to landfill, which along with the cost of recycling batteries, is not currently reflected in their price.
As popular and mainstream household recycling has become there is currently little incentive – or instruction – for the disposal of batteries around Australia.
This is rapidly becoming an issue of some importance, for if you stop to think about the number of batteries being used in your home at this given moment, do you also stop to think about where they go when they die?
At present, responsibility for managing disposal of batteries is on the heads of local governments, meaning there is a lack of commercial incentives for Australian businesses to not only promote, but to more importantly, participate in the environmentally responsible disposal of end-of-life (EOL) batteries.
With all this is in mind, the ACCC has authorised the Battery Stewardship Council (BSC) to implement a national stewardship scheme for all types of EOL batteries, apart from lead-acid batteries and those already captured by existing schemes.
The rationale behind the scheme is to unite battery supply chain companies in efforts to greatly reduce the volume of toxic EOL batteries being disposed of as waste to landfill, and to maximise resource recovery by increasing collection and recycling rates and developing a domestic battery reprocessing capacity.
The levy and rebate system proposed under the scheme aspires to better align the price of batteries with the cost of their responsible disposal while increasing the incentive for businesses to facilitate their recycling.
The scheme will operate by imposing an annual levy, that will be reviewed annually and will be passed on through the supply chain to consumers.
This fee will be initially be set at four cents per equivalent battery unit (EBU) and will apply to companies that import more than 1,000 EBU annually.
It is estimated that the levy will raise $22 million annually.
Lithium Australia subsidiary company, Envirostream Australia is Australia’s only mixed battery recycler.
Lithium Australia managing director Adrian Griffin said this paced the subsidiary in good stead to take advantage of the benefits of the scheme.
“The levy on batteries will commoditise EOL batteries, currently considered waste material, and the value created will be a strong incentive to divert them from landfill,” Griffin said.
“We are anticipating a significant increase in feed material for Envirostream, and the more it gets the greater the benefit for the environment.
“The scheme should encourage more sustainable use of critical materials used in the manufacture of batteries, reducing reliance on primary production which, in some cases, relies on child labour and supply from conflict zones.”
Envirostream Australia is a mixed battery recycling company that was established in 2017 to develop safe and innovative management solutions for battery recycling, which it identified as an emerging challenge for the Australian waste industry.
In 2019 the CSIRO forecast the amount of discarded lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) in Australia will grow from 3,300 tonnes recorded in 2016 to between 100,000 and 188,000 tonnes by 2036.
Lithium Australia is investing in the logistical infrastructure necessary to recycle LIBs through a partnership with Envirostream Australia.
The company has now lodged two Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) applications relating to LIB recycling processes.
The first of these focuses on extraction of cathode materials for which Lithium Australia filed a PCT application entitled ‘Process for recovering values from batteries’ – that relates to processes for the recovery of electrode materials from LIBs (for example, electrode material comprising a cathode material and/or an anode material, such as a mixed metal dust), as well as recovery of the electrolyte.
The second covers the extraction of critical battery metals.
Entitled ‘Process for recovering metal values from process liquors’ it relates to processes for the selective recovery of mixed metal sulphates (for example, a mixed cobalt-nickel sulphate) from a metal sulphate process liquor.
“With our recent successful capital raising, we’re in a strong position to accelerate commercialisation of the technologies discussed here,” Adrian Griffin said in nteh company’s ASX announcement.
“Indeed, the first of those has already been implemented on a commercial scale at our Melbourne processing plant.
“These technical advances are timely, in that they coincide with the introduction of a national battery stewardship scheme designed to divert batteries from landfill, thereby increasing the quantities of spent batteries available for recycling.”