Year/Course: 2006-2007, Easter 2007

Contacts: Dr Vasant Kumar, Department of Materials Science

Car batteries represent a recycling success story, in that 90% are already recycled and over 50% of new batteries are produced using recycled lead. However, the processes used to break the batteries down into their component parts (lead and other chemicals) are in themselves environmentally unfriendly. Techniques either involve smelting the battery at a high temperature and releasing large quantities of sulphur dioxide into the air (which is both a greenhouse gas and a cause of acid rain), or dissolving the battery with highly toxic and corrosive chemicals, and recovering the lead using capital and electrically intensive processes. Due to the environmental costs of the processes, batteries are increasingly shipped across continents for processing in countries with less stringent environmental regulations, a step which simply moves the environmental damage and which may also be restricted in the near future by EU legislation on the transport of toxic materials.

Dr Kumar, working in the Department of Materials Science, has developed a technique for recycling waste car batteries, which chemically leaches the battery contents into a form that can be used directly in the manufacture of new batteries. This method was designed with the dual goals of being environmentally sound and being cost-effective to operate either locally on a small scale or on larger industrial scales.

Although the environmental benefits of adopting such a new technique appear clear, for it to be adopted in practice requires it to be commercially viable for the businesses involved in battery recycling. A range of companies are involved today, from the car manufacturers, to local battery recyclers, to transporters and the large scale recyclers in countries such as China. In addition there are legislative and environmental pressures on them.

The task for the i-Team is to investigate and understand the key players in the battery recycling market, so that they can recommend which of those players should be approached by Dr Kumar for the further development and eventual commercial adoption of his technique.