Recovery position

Europe’s most technologically advanced plant for the recycling of lithium-ion batteries is to be opened in the UK.

AEA Technology (AEAT), which will build the £2m facility in Sutherland in the north of Scotland, claimed it would allow more materials to be recovered from used li-ion cells and give the UK a leading edge in the fast-growing field.

All the UK’s used li-ion batteries, running to millions of units a year, are currently sent to France for incineration, the most common method of disposal.

As well as being unpopular on environmental grounds incineration leaves very little behind in terms of usable recycled material.

AEAT researchers have developed new processing technologies which recover more of the metals used in the batteries, said project manager Dominic Kieran.

‘We can then sell what we get back on the open market. Cobalt in particular has a lot of value,’ said Kieran.

The process, the details of which Kieran said are still confidential, is partly based on AEAT’s technical knowledge of li-ion battery production. ‘We are a manufacturer of top-end cells ourselves and have considerable expertise in the area. Many of our own customers are interested in recycling.’

Li-ion batteries are used to power a wide variety of consumer products such as mobile phones and laptops, as well as more specialist areas such as portable medical devices.

Manufacturers of electronic goods are coming under increasing legislative pressure from the EU to take responsibility for their end-of-life disposal.

Kieran claimed that once fully operational by the end of 2004, the Scottish facility would have the potential to grab a large amount of recycling work from abroad as well as servicing the UK’s requirements.

The Sutherland plant, one of the largest-ever industrial R&D projects in the Highlands, is being supported by £1m of regional assistance funding.

Kieran said much of the research activity would focus on making the plant as environmentally-friendly as possible. ‘There is no point us coming up here with a dirty process,’ he said.

On the web