Opinion. Study backs battery recycling plan

September 6, 2020.
Press & Sun-Bulletin, page A13, Binghamton NY.

Your Turn
Paul and Ellen Connett, Guest columnists

Believes method is safer, greener than the one proposed by SungEel

We would like to draw readers’ attention to an exciting science study that sets the standard for model research for sustainability and a circular economy. The study discusses a far safer and greener way of recycling lithium-ion batteries than the operation proposed by SungEel for the village of Endicott.

Instead of using a high-temperature process, which will inevitably result in the release of very toxic gases into the environment, this process dissolves the valuable metals out of the batteries using a combination of dried orange peel powder and citric acid. Both of these are obtained from food waste. This is a win-win solution for the environment because one waste stream can be used to recover valuable materials from another.

This process is not only safer than the process proposed by SungEel but it is also safer than other hydroprocesses (used to recycle lithium-ion batteries) that use mineral acids and hydrogen peroxide as dissolving agents.

The whole process involves the following steps: 1) discharging the batteries by placing them in a salt solution overnight; 2) a series of mechanical treatment steps (shredding, crushing and sieving) to produce a fine black powder; 3) dissolving this powder in the orange peel powder and citric acid solution and finally 4) precipitating out the valuable metal compounds using mild reagents like sodium hydroxide. In this way, the valuable metals cobalt, nickel, manganese and lithium can be recovered.

The researchers (from Nanyang University in Singapore and ICSM in France) did all this and more. They took the recovered metals and produced new batteries from them with the same quality as the batteries they started with! They also showed that none of the waste products produced damaged human cell lines.

This study by Wu, Soh, Chan, et al., was recently published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. The research for the study was funded by the Closing the Waste Loop initiative, an R& D program to support Singapore’s efforts in working toward the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint’s vision of a zero waste nation.

The Empire State Development agency, the major arm for funding new economic initiatives in New York state, has offered $1.75 million to SungEel to recycle these batteries. What a shame this agency didn’t research this issue more before subsidizing a polluting process. Residents do not want a continuation of 20th century (smokestack) industry that has harmed our environment and health. We need technologies like the one we have discussed here, that respect the earth, our families and our neighbors.

When it comes to recycling lithium-ion batteries, we are sure that residents in Broome County would be pleased if this research was conducted at Binghamton University to complement the work of the Nobel prize winner professor Whittingham.

Paul and Ellen Connett are residents of Binghamton.

SungEel MMC Americas is proposing to recycle lithium-ion batteries for the village of Endicott.

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