The emerging set of new energy vehicles (NEVs) is requiring auto recyclers to explore new methods and technologies as they try to boost the recycling rate of such vehicles. According to presenters at the 2019 E-Mobility & Circular Economy (EMCE 2019) conference, organized by Switzerland-based ICM AG and held in Tokyo July 1-3, those methods include ways of handling battery packs and other materials.
Alvin Piadasa, who works from Australia for Singapore-based TES Group, says the company’s experience in electronics recycling has it poised to deal with some of the electronic vehicle (EV) challenges with which traditional end-of-life vehicle (ELV) recyclers may not be familiar.
The company, founded in 2005, is opening a lithium ion battery recycling facility in Singapore later in 2019, said Piadasa. Beyond batteries, TES Group also has been investing to seek the maximum return on the plastics, glass and carbon fiber materials that can be found in obsolete electronics and in ELVs.
The company has been converting low-value mixed polymers into briquettes (called Vitaquettes) that can be used in steel furnaces as an additive to replace metallurgical coal (metcoke).
Higher up the value chain, TES is converting ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) and polycarbonate plastic scrap into 3D printer filaments. Piadasa said the filaments, which exhibit good tensile strength and low warping, can be made from 80 percent scrap and offer a “low carbon footprint compared to virgin material.”
Other TES projects involve creating activated carbon from battery materials and using plastic, glass and toner powder scrap to make silicon-alloy “nanowires” that can be used in water filtration applications.
Piadasa compared what TES is doing to Middle Ages alchemy. “We think there are low-cost, high ROI solutions for nonmetallic items,” he stated. “Alchemy is not elusive; it is quite possible.”
Farouk Tedjar has spent several decades on battery recycling methods with France-based Recupyl, which was purchased by TES Group in 2013. Tedjar said shifting from “old mines” to the urban mine will make increasing sense for battery materials. He cited the recovery of manganese and zinc as two examples, with some batteries containing up to 20 percent of the material, while “the richest ores only have 5-to-6 percent” of one of the elements.
In lithium ion batteries (LIBs), he pointed to cobalt and lithium as urban mining candidates. Tedjar said 65 percent of the world’s cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, creating a supply risk for the metal.
Also recoverable from batteries are graphite and phosphorous, with Tedjar saying some analysts believe the world has reached “peak phosphorous” in terms of what can be mined.
The technology exists to recover and recycle pure forms of all of these materials, he stated, if the will and the investments are made. Tedjar indicated optimism that such a future is at hand. “Resources are finite; innovation is infinite,” he stated.
In the conference’s host nation of Japan, Harita Metal Co. Ltd. has been moving beyond its traditional scrap metal recycling activities to explore new options, according to the firm’s president Makoto Harita.
Harita said the company is expecting its ELV stream to change to include less steel and iron scrap and more EV batteries. He said this will entail creating new techniques and having new responsibilities, including data management pertaining to onboard computers.
The company also anticipates a greater and more diversified stream of aluminum alloys used in vehicle production, and thus has invested in automated aluminum alloy sorting at its facility. Makoto Harita indicated his company wants to design similar sorting systems for ferrous alloys, red metals and stainless alloys, and an auto shredder residue-to-fuel system. “We need to create a new form of automobile recycling that does not yet exist,” stated Harita.
EMCE 2019, which featured plant tours, workshops, conference sessions and an exhibit hall, was July 1-3 at the Westin Tokyo.