It’s surprising to learn that Australia as a nation currently only recycles approximately 2-3% of its lithium ion batteries and these are now by far the most common type of battery in use. Why may you ask is it so small when they are so expensive to produce and when we are living in a world where every second headline is concerning global warming, turtles dying of plastic strangulation and tips on how to be a 1st class citizen eco-warrior? Well, there is some good news and some bad news. The good news is that recently Australia opened its first lithium ion battery recycling facility but the bad news is that we really just don’t know if it’s financially or energetically worth it. Strange isn’t it – how can it not be worth recycling them? Well, it’s a very complicated topic and after reading a rather complicated thesis about it I’m still a bit confused but the main points are that the processing technology is very energy intensive and produces its own waste. Recycling is largely driven by financial profits and whilst it is possible to recover copper, nickel, aluminium, lithium, steel, cobalt and manganese from some of these batteries, the only ones really worth recovering financially are cobalt and copper; the remaining metals are recovered either due to ease of processing or due to legal requirements. It’s pleasing to see that we are building more recycling facilities and now have a recycling capacity in Australia but it also appears that the design of batteries doesn’t need to focus solely on higher power to weight density but needs to focus also on ease of material recovery. The new lithium ion battery recycling plant in Australia that has been operating for about a year now is called Envirostream, it extracts steel, copper, aluminium and a mixed metal compound that contains lithium, manganese, cobalt, nickel and graphene. The raw materials can go back into Australian industries but the mixed powder is shipped back to Korea where it is used as stock for new batteries. The process used in Australia eliminates the high energy steps of heating to extract all of the expensive metals but rather uses a combination of crushing and pneumatic stress to recover the compounds, this allows for recovery of 95% of the products – with the exception being the plastic polymers used to hold the batteries together. By creating a mixed powder that can go back to the battery factories there is a large processing requirement removed. The leaders at Envirostream have created the powder product based on what is required at a battery factory. When batteries are made, the crafty metallurgists make a cauldron of metallic slurry that is rolled into the anode and cathode. These sheets are cut to requirements needed for battery cells and the left overs are chopped up and put back into the mix. By imitating this mix with the recycled product it is possible to recycle old batteries without needing to take each metal back to its elemental ingot form and save a lot of processing expense and energy. Click here for the most comprehensive read on recycling technology, difficulties and the industry worldwide. To recycle your batteries you can drop them off at one of these recycling centres and they should ultimately find their way back into your batteries in a few years time. Neat isn’t it?