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E-waste

Leading players seek overhaul of e-waste policy approach

The WEEE Forum, a prominent representative of Producer Responsibility Organisations (PROs) throughout the world, has developed a new vision which calls for an overhaul of the current system of extended producer responsibility, including targets, which it claims is not fit for purpose.

Based on recent research undertaken by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) and against the background of very few EU Member States being able to meet the 2019 collection targets for WEEE despite enormous progress being made in tackling the increasing amount of e-waste generated, the WEEE Forum lays out four vital steps that need to be taken to ensure the system is fair and achievable.

The first is what is termed as the “All Actors Approach” and is a policy model whereby all private and public entities that have access to WEEE and therefore are involved in the collection, logistics, preparation for reuse, refurbishment, treatment, or recycling of WEEE, or in the associated monitoring, legislative and enforcement activities, are subject to minimum legal obligations regarding, amongst other things, compliance with legislation, reporting to the competent authorities and, meeting official standards and communication. The All Actors Approach means all actors have legal obligations which competent authorities must enforce to ensure that all actors contribute in line with their requirements. This approach will result in more fairness and inclusivity in the market as well as enhanced monitoring based on sustained cooperation.

Secondly, that PROs are required only to collect the WEEE to which they have access, i.e. deposited at collection facilities, or handed over to them, and should not be responsible for that which is out of their reach, for example treated as metal scrap. For that WEEE they have access to they will collect 100% of it. The approach proposed also recommends a role for PROs focused on the means and not just the ends. PROs would also play a relevant role in supporting actions that will turn unreported WEEE flows into officially reported and properly treated WEEE.

The third step suggested is to introduce several measures that authorities should implement to support the collection of WEEE. These include setting up a coordination body, improving the collection network and the better monitoring of WEEE flows.

Finally, there is a call for revision of the calculation method for setting the targets for the quantity of WEEE to be collected in each Member State. This is based either on the amount of electrical and electronic equipment placed on the market or on the amount of WEEE generated previously.

Commenting on this last step, Jan Vlak, President of the WEEE Forum, noted that, “An All Actors Approach and supporting measures will certainly increase collection rates but are not a guarantee for reaching the targets. Unexpectedly, the research noted that the method used to calculate the current collection targets is not fit for purpose and results in targets that are inadequate and defeat their intention. This should be addressed as a priority.”

He continued, “The main shortcomings of the WEEE Generated target methodology are the fluctuations in the tonnages for collection due to economic cycles, inaccuracies of ‘placed on market’ and lifespans. Furthermore, the high collection targets under the ‘placed on market’ approach conflict with the current waste hierarchy that promotes waste prevention and the extension of the life of appliances.”

Download the WEEE Forum paper

Download the the UNITAR report

Pandemic forces Global Enterprises to focus on E-Waste

Blancco’s study, The Rising Tide of E-waste, produced in partnership with Coleman Parkes, reveals that nearly half (47 percent) of large global enterprises created roles responsible for implementing and ensuring compliance with e-waste policies specifically to deal with e-waste issues generated from the COVID-19 pandemic.

E-waste is a global concern – and is quickly becoming a crisis of its own. More than 53 million metric tons of e-waste was produced in 2019. The purchases of new technology to facilitate employees’ transition to remote work during the pandemic has sparked both data security and e-waste fears as businesses increase the volumes of devices they own and ultimately the amount of data that resides on them. Blancco’s study revealed that nearly all enterprises (97 percent) had to purchase laptops, with 75 percent buying the devices brand new, to deal with the mass exodus from traditional offices to home office environments.

However, the study found that 78 percent of respondents agreed with the statement, “COVID-19 caused unnecessary short-term investment in technology, which will leave us at risk with data being stored on a wide range of devices.” This demonstrates an awareness of security risks among decision makers. Enterprises will inevitably face challenges following the switch to remote working, but the importance of employing appropriate methods of data sanitization when new devices are eventually decommissioned remains imperative. If enterprises fail to do this, they run the risk of data breaches and regulatory penalties.

Aiming to understand how these new challenges might be overcome, the survey explored current approaches to e-waste management and found that while 44 percent of enterprises did have an e-waste policy in place for end-of-life device management, it was not yet being communicated or implemented. However, the survey identifies that e-waste initiatives tend to struggle within the modern enterprise due to a lack of ownership around the communication of the policies and in their implementations and compliance.

“The flood of technology investment which followed the beginning of the pandemic has created clear issues for both e-waste and secure data management,” said Alan Bentley, President of Global Strategy at Blancco. “The switch to remote work spurred on a wave of new device purchases, but these new, widely distributed devices have left enterprises feeling vulnerable. It’s fascinating that so many businesses have implemented roles to manage the e-waste issue resulting from COVID-19, demonstrating corporate social responsibility (CSR), but also their concern around how these devices will be dealt with when they reach end-of-life.

“It’s crucial that this issue is not overlooked and that these devices are appropriately disposed of. But it’s just as crucial to ensure the safeguarding of sensitive data during that process. Appropriate data sanitization might at times be overlooked as an element of e-waste policies, but it is the perfect opportunity to engage data management best practices. Because not only will this reduce environmental impact, it will also remove the risk of a data breach when disposing of devices at end-of-life.”

The report concludes that enterprises must rethink their device management practices. It is now more important than ever that enterprises include end-of-life device and data management best practices within e-waste policies.

Key global findings from the report:

  • 92 percent of enterprises agree with the statement, “We must take a serious view on ensuring all devices used to equip the workforce throughout the COVID-19 pandemic are appropriately stored and disposed of.”
  • 47 percent of enterprises are “uncertain” about how best to communicate e-waste policies. This challenge is exacerbated by the fact that the task of being responsible for e-waste and CSR policy communications lacks ownership. Indeed, 39 percent of respondents said the reason their e-waste policies hadn’t been communicated was because no one had taken control of them.
  • 35 percent of enterprises said their organizations carried out physical destruction on end-of-life equipment because it’s viewed as better for the environment.
  • When asked what will happen to their newly purchased devices when no longer required for remote work, 28 percent of enterprises said laptops would be erased to be resold. A further 27 percent said they would be erased to be reused internally. An additional 12 percent said they would be erased and recycled, and 9 percent will send them to an ITAD.

Download the report

Pandemic forces Global Enterprises to focus on E-Waste

Blancco’s study, The Rising Tide of E-waste, produced in partnership with Coleman Parkes, reveals that nearly half (47 percent) of large global enterprises created roles responsible for implementing and ensuring compliance with e-waste policies specifically to deal with e-waste issues generated from the COVID-19 pandemic.

E-waste is a global concern – and is quickly becoming a crisis of its own. More than 53 million metric tons of e-waste was produced in 2019. The purchases of new technology to facilitate employees’ transition to remote work during the pandemic has sparked both data security and e-waste fears as businesses increase the volumes of devices they own and ultimately the amount of data that resides on them. Blancco’s study revealed that nearly all enterprises (97 percent) had to purchase laptops, with 75 percent buying the devices brand new, to deal with the mass exodus from traditional offices to home office environments.

However, the study found that 78 percent of respondents agreed with the statement, “COVID-19 caused unnecessary short-term investment in technology, which will leave us at risk with data being stored on a wide range of devices.” This demonstrates an awareness of security risks among decision makers. Enterprises will inevitably face challenges following the switch to remote working, but the importance of employing appropriate methods of data sanitization when new devices are eventually decommissioned remains imperative. If enterprises fail to do this, they run the risk of data breaches and regulatory penalties.

Aiming to understand how these new challenges might be overcome, the survey explored current approaches to e-waste management and found that while 44 percent of enterprises did have an e-waste policy in place for end-of-life device management, it was not yet being communicated or implemented. However, the survey identifies that e-waste initiatives tend to struggle within the modern enterprise due to a lack of ownership around the communication of the policies and in their implementations and compliance.

“The flood of technology investment which followed the beginning of the pandemic has created clear issues for both e-waste and secure data management,” said Alan Bentley, President of Global Strategy at Blancco. “The switch to remote work spurred on a wave of new device purchases, but these new, widely distributed devices have left enterprises feeling vulnerable. It’s fascinating that so many businesses have implemented roles to manage the e-waste issue resulting from COVID-19, demonstrating corporate social responsibility (CSR), but also their concern around how these devices will be dealt with when they reach end-of-life.

“It’s crucial that this issue is not overlooked and that these devices are appropriately disposed of. But it’s just as crucial to ensure the safeguarding of sensitive data during that process. Appropriate data sanitization might at times be overlooked as an element of e-waste policies, but it is the perfect opportunity to engage data management best practices. Because not only will this reduce environmental impact, it will also remove the risk of a data breach when disposing of devices at end-of-life.”

The report concludes that enterprises must rethink their device management practices. It is now more important than ever that enterprises include end-of-life device and data management best practices within e-waste policies.

Key global findings from the report:

  • 92 percent of enterprises agree with the statement, “We must take a serious view on ensuring all devices used to equip the workforce throughout the COVID-19 pandemic are appropriately stored and disposed of.”
  • 47 percent of enterprises are “uncertain” about how best to communicate e-waste policies. This challenge is exacerbated by the fact that the task of being responsible for e-waste and CSR policy communications lacks ownership. Indeed, 39 percent of respondents said the reason their e-waste policies hadn’t been communicated was because no one had taken control of them.
  • 35 percent of enterprises said their organizations carried out physical destruction on end-of-life equipment because it’s viewed as better for the environment.
  • When asked what will happen to their newly purchased devices when no longer required for remote work, 28 percent of enterprises said laptops would be erased to be resold. A further 27 percent said they would be erased to be reused internally. An additional 12 percent said they would be erased and recycled, and 9 percent will send them to an ITAD.

Download the report

Study: Brominated flame retardants not hindering recycling of WEEE plastics

The report, undertaken by consultancy SOFIES, uniquely addresses misperceptions regarding the impact of Brominated Flame Retardants (BFRs) on WEEE plastics recycling and presents the successes and overarching challenges in making WEEE plastic streams more circular.

Electronic and electrical equipment uses plastics to make products lighter, more innovative, and cost effective.  Plastic components are inherently combustible and need to be protected from ignition. Brominated Flame Retardants are often used in plastics to meet fire safety standards and protect consumers from accidental fires. Brominated Flame Retardants are the most efficient group of chemistries as they can be used across many plastics, offering a high degree of performance, and choices for design.

Key findings

  • Approximately 2.6 million tons of WEEE plastics are generated annually in Europe; Plastic containing BFRs represent about 9% of this total.
  • Around half of all WEEE plastics generated in Europe do not enter official WEEE collection channels, ending up in the waste bin, processed at substandard recycling facilities, or exported outside Europe.
  • On average, 55% of WEEE plastics entering specialized WEEE plastic recycling facilities are effectively recycled, i.e. turned into PCR (Post-Consumer Recycled) plastics that can be used in the manufacture of new plastics products.
  • Restricted BFRs (e.g. Octa-BDE and Deca-BDE) only represent a small and rapidly declining fraction of all BFRs found in WEEE plastic streams reflecting the restriction on the use of these substances for more than a decade (2003 for Octa-BDE, 2008 for Deca-BDE).
  • The presence of BFRs in WEEE plastics does not reduce recycling yields more than other FRs as FR-containing plastics, as well as plastics containing other additives in significant loads (e.g. fillers), are sorted out during the conventional density-based recycling process.

Welcoming the report and its findings, APPLiA, the voice for the home appliance industry in Europe, commented: “Ensuring consumer safety is the number one priority of the home appliances sector. Then, the level of circularity that we can achieve when recycling products is a matter of improving and working together with other actors in the value chain to make sure that we enable a higher degree of circularity, while keeping what to us is extremely important, which is consumer safety.”

EERA, the association of the Electronics Recyclers in Europe, also welcomed the report noting its findings confirm what the actual recycling practice experiences are in the EU.  EERA added: “The WEEE recycling industry has learned perfectly well how to deal with brominated flame retardants.  REACH, RoHS and POP Regulation compliant Post-Consumer Recycled plastics can be produced from the complex mix of WEEE plastics and these PCR plastics can be re-used in new appliances. The problems related to restricted legacy BFRs, as this study is clearly showing, is disappearing quickly”.

However, EERA cautioned that the progress achieved to date will not be helped by further reducing thresholds for restricted BFRs. “The WEEE Directive requires us to separate all BFRs whether restricted or not. We rely on screening the element bromine to achieve this cost-effectively. However, we are now screening out more useful plastics with non-restricted BFRs than legacy BFRs”, they noted.

Dr Kevin Bradley, Secretary General of the International Bromine Council, BSEF, highlighted: “this report clearly shows that restricted BFRs are a rapidly declining component of the total BFRs in WEEE plastics demonstrating the effectiveness of RoHS restrictions”, he noted.  “Policy makers need to focus on the core issues here, namely the substantial volume of WEEE plastics which is leaking out of Europe and treated in a sub-standard way as well as looking for solutions to recycling more of the high additive fraction of WEEE plastics”, he added.

The report contains important recommendations for policymakers, electrical and electronic equipment producers and recyclers. With the European Commission working on a proposed “Circular Electronics Initiative”, these recommendations merit consideration and inclusion in this initiative.

Download the report

Study: Brominated flame retardants not hindering recycling of WEEE plastics

The report, undertaken by consultancy SOFIES, uniquely addresses misperceptions regarding the impact of Brominated Flame Retardants (BFRs) on WEEE plastics recycling and presents the successes and overarching challenges in making WEEE plastic streams more circular.

Electronic and electrical equipment uses plastics to make products lighter, more innovative, and cost effective.  Plastic components are inherently combustible and need to be protected from ignition. Brominated Flame Retardants are often used in plastics to meet fire safety standards and protect consumers from accidental fires. Brominated Flame Retardants are the most efficient group of chemistries as they can be used across many plastics, offering a high degree of performance, and choices for design.

Key findings

  • Approximately 2.6 million tons of WEEE plastics are generated annually in Europe; Plastic containing BFRs represent about 9% of this total.
  • Around half of all WEEE plastics generated in Europe do not enter official WEEE collection channels, ending up in the waste bin, processed at substandard recycling facilities, or exported outside Europe.
  • On average, 55% of WEEE plastics entering specialized WEEE plastic recycling facilities are effectively recycled, i.e. turned into PCR (Post-Consumer Recycled) plastics that can be used in the manufacture of new plastics products.
  • Restricted BFRs (e.g. Octa-BDE and Deca-BDE) only represent a small and rapidly declining fraction of all BFRs found in WEEE plastic streams reflecting the restriction on the use of these substances for more than a decade (2003 for Octa-BDE, 2008 for Deca-BDE).
  • The presence of BFRs in WEEE plastics does not reduce recycling yields more than other FRs as FR-containing plastics, as well as plastics containing other additives in significant loads (e.g. fillers), are sorted out during the conventional density-based recycling process.

Welcoming the report and its findings, APPLiA, the voice for the home appliance industry in Europe, commented: “Ensuring consumer safety is the number one priority of the home appliances sector. Then, the level of circularity that we can achieve when recycling products is a matter of improving and working together with other actors in the value chain to make sure that we enable a higher degree of circularity, while keeping what to us is extremely important, which is consumer safety.”

EERA, the association of the Electronics Recyclers in Europe, also welcomed the report noting its findings confirm what the actual recycling practice experiences are in the EU.  EERA added: “The WEEE recycling industry has learned perfectly well how to deal with brominated flame retardants.  REACH, RoHS and POP Regulation compliant Post-Consumer Recycled plastics can be produced from the complex mix of WEEE plastics and these PCR plastics can be re-used in new appliances. The problems related to restricted legacy BFRs, as this study is clearly showing, is disappearing quickly”.

However, EERA cautioned that the progress achieved to date will not be helped by further reducing thresholds for restricted BFRs. “The WEEE Directive requires us to separate all BFRs whether restricted or not. We rely on screening the element bromine to achieve this cost-effectively. However, we are now screening out more useful plastics with non-restricted BFRs than legacy BFRs”, they noted.

Dr Kevin Bradley, Secretary General of the International Bromine Council, BSEF, highlighted: “this report clearly shows that restricted BFRs are a rapidly declining component of the total BFRs in WEEE plastics demonstrating the effectiveness of RoHS restrictions”, he noted.  “Policy makers need to focus on the core issues here, namely the substantial volume of WEEE plastics which is leaking out of Europe and treated in a sub-standard way as well as looking for solutions to recycling more of the high additive fraction of WEEE plastics”, he added.

The report contains important recommendations for policymakers, electrical and electronic equipment producers and recyclers. With the European Commission working on a proposed “Circular Electronics Initiative”, these recommendations merit consideration and inclusion in this initiative.

Download the report

WEEE Forum calls for increased role of all actors in order to meet targets

In a report to be released on 24th November investigating the reasons why the targets are seemingly difficult to attain, the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) notes that there is a huge amount of collected WEEE that is not reported. It goes on to assert that all actors that can influence collection rates should hold responsibility and not just the Producer Responsibility Organisations (PROs) and the manufacturers they represent. Furthermore, a vision paper based on UNITAR’s research and produced by the WEEE Forum, a leading representative of PROs throughout the world, outlines the fundamentals of a new policy approach it believes is needed to increase reported collection of WEEE. The research and its conclusions, along with the WEEE Forum’s vision paper, will be discussed further in a webinar to be held on the 24th November (https://weee-forum.org/ws_events/webinar-weee-flows/).

In 2002, EU legislation[1] entered into force that was designed to foster environmentally sound management of electronic waste. It made Member States responsible for reaching WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) collection targets while producers of electronics were required to finance the management of the WEEE deposited at collection facilities. Ten years later, the Directive was recast requiring that from 2019, the minimum collection rate to be achieved annually is 65%[2] of the average weight of electricals placed on the market in the three preceding years, or alternatively 85% of WEEE generated.

All Member States have put the EU law into practice. Enormous progress has been made during this time in tackling the challenge. For example, 48 million tonnes of WEEE were reported as collected in the EU between 2005 and 2018. However, after so many years of concerted effort, most Member States have not attained the 2019 collection targets.

Producers and PROs, and other actors in the value chain, have made huge efforts in better understanding why reaching the increased collection targets is so difficult and where the undocumented WEEE is going. Too much e-waste is currently disposed of in the general waste bin, mixed with metal scrap, illegally exported, and handled irresponsibly.

Says Kees Baldé, chief author of the report: “One of the key principles of WEEE legislation must be that all actors that can influence collection rates should hold responsibility, cooperate and get their access to the WEEE that is generated. We call this the “All Actors Approach”.”

Building on this research the WEEE Forum proposes in its vision paper, “An enhanced definition of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and the role of all actors”, also due for release on 24th November, that for the reported, official tonnages to go up, Member States should introduce a range of supporting measures that act as a catalyst to improvement. It follows this, however, by noting that these supporting measures are not a guarantee for attaining collection targets and there are number of fundamentals that need to be included in a new policy approach.

Pascal Leroy, Director General of the WEEE Forum, states, “Based on the UNITAR research and the collective experience of the PROs in the WEEE Forum, we assert that a constructive assessment into how fit for purpose the collection targets are is now required. Considering almost two decades of implementation of WEEE legislation and the changing nature of electrical and electronic equipment coming onto the market, this assessment will ensure that the approach to WEEE is brought up to date and is more effective now and in the future. This rings true for any country which currently has or is planning to introduce extended producer responsibility in the sector and our recommendations are equally applicable outside the EU.”

Among the speakers and panellists at the WEEE Flows event on 24th November will be Thomas Lindhqvist, the person credited with introducing the concept of EPR, as well as Mattia Pellegrini of the European Commission’s DG Environment. Joining them will be representatives of the PROs and the manufacturing sector who will discuss the current climate and the vision that the WEEE Forum presents in its paper.

WEEE Forum calls for increased role of all actors in order to meet targets

In a report to be released on 24th November investigating the reasons why the targets are seemingly difficult to attain, the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) notes that there is a huge amount of collected WEEE that is not reported. It goes on to assert that all actors that can influence collection rates should hold responsibility and not just the Producer Responsibility Organisations (PROs) and the manufacturers they represent. Furthermore, a vision paper based on UNITAR’s research and produced by the WEEE Forum, a leading representative of PROs throughout the world, outlines the fundamentals of a new policy approach it believes is needed to increase reported collection of WEEE. The research and its conclusions, along with the WEEE Forum’s vision paper, will be discussed further in a webinar to be held on the 24th November (https://weee-forum.org/ws_events/webinar-weee-flows/).

In 2002, EU legislation[1] entered into force that was designed to foster environmentally sound management of electronic waste. It made Member States responsible for reaching WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) collection targets while producers of electronics were required to finance the management of the WEEE deposited at collection facilities. Ten years later, the Directive was recast requiring that from 2019, the minimum collection rate to be achieved annually is 65%[2] of the average weight of electricals placed on the market in the three preceding years, or alternatively 85% of WEEE generated.

All Member States have put the EU law into practice. Enormous progress has been made during this time in tackling the challenge. For example, 48 million tonnes of WEEE were reported as collected in the EU between 2005 and 2018. However, after so many years of concerted effort, most Member States have not attained the 2019 collection targets.

Producers and PROs, and other actors in the value chain, have made huge efforts in better understanding why reaching the increased collection targets is so difficult and where the undocumented WEEE is going. Too much e-waste is currently disposed of in the general waste bin, mixed with metal scrap, illegally exported, and handled irresponsibly.

Says Kees Baldé, chief author of the report: “One of the key principles of WEEE legislation must be that all actors that can influence collection rates should hold responsibility, cooperate and get their access to the WEEE that is generated. We call this the “All Actors Approach”.”

Building on this research the WEEE Forum proposes in its vision paper, “An enhanced definition of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and the role of all actors”, also due for release on 24th November, that for the reported, official tonnages to go up, Member States should introduce a range of supporting measures that act as a catalyst to improvement. It follows this, however, by noting that these supporting measures are not a guarantee for attaining collection targets and there are number of fundamentals that need to be included in a new policy approach.

Pascal Leroy, Director General of the WEEE Forum, states, “Based on the UNITAR research and the collective experience of the PROs in the WEEE Forum, we assert that a constructive assessment into how fit for purpose the collection targets are is now required. Considering almost two decades of implementation of WEEE legislation and the changing nature of electrical and electronic equipment coming onto the market, this assessment will ensure that the approach to WEEE is brought up to date and is more effective now and in the future. This rings true for any country which currently has or is planning to introduce extended producer responsibility in the sector and our recommendations are equally applicable outside the EU.”

Among the speakers and panellists at the WEEE Flows event on 24th November will be Thomas Lindhqvist, the person credited with introducing the concept of EPR, as well as Mattia Pellegrini of the European Commission’s DG Environment. Joining them will be representatives of the PROs and the manufacturing sector who will discuss the current climate and the vision that the WEEE Forum presents in its paper.

XProEM: Creating sustainable solutions in LIB recycling

Since 1991, lithium ion batteries (“LIBs”) have grown rapidly to become the energy storage of choice for portable electronic devices. Recently, LIBs have been considered the best technology for sustainable transportation since they can provide high energy density, and power output per unit of battery mass, allowing them to be lighter and smaller than other rechargeable batteries.

The operating principle of LIBs is based on the layered active electrode material that enables Li-ion insertion and transfer between the electrodes during discharge and charge. The working mechanism and performance of LIBs are especially dependent on the properties of the cathode material, which commercially consists of one or a handful of electrochemically active compound types containing different transition metals viz. Co, Ni, Mn and Fe in different proportions, in addition to the indispensable Li. The other main components of the LIB are graphite, Al and Cu foil, polymeric separator, as well as the electrolyte which mostly uses a high-grade lithium salt such as lithium hexafluorophosphate (LiPF6) dissolved in a dipolar aprotic organic solvent, for instance carbonates or lactones. The cathode component is composed of active lithium containing material, aluminium plate, electric conductor, PVDF binder and additives.

The key ingredient in a LIB is the lithium-bearing cathode material, which directly determines the safety and functional performance of the battery and represents the highest proportion of the cost of LIB materials (~40%). Thus, a significant number of researchers have tried to design processes to restore or recycle cathode materials in spent LIBs. The economic impetus for recycling started gaining particular attention in 2017 when the lithium price reached 15,000 USD/t Li2CO3. Numerous sources report that LIB disposal without recycling or proper handling can lead to severe environmental pollution and adversely affect human health due to the toxic materials used in their makeup. Treating and recycling spent LIBs is therefore essential both from an environmental and an economic perspective. Additionally, there is a supply chain impact due to the shortage in several key raw materials for cathode manufacturing. With electric vehicles (EVs) globally expected to exceed 145 million vehicles on the road by 2030, use of LIBs in EV applications is expected to be the primary driver of growth. There is subsequently a large and growing market for LIBs requiring recycling after their end-of-life, specifically from EVs (~65% of which will be from China – the largest EV market over the next 15 years). More than 2 million tonnes of spent LIB EV packs need to be recycled by 2025, representing a market value of over 10 B USD.

Hydrometallurgy is currently the main process route used to recycle LIBs. Since large amounts of chemical solvent and complicated leaching/crystallization steps are used, the hydrometallurgy process is highly sensitive to process inputs and prone to instability under feed composition variations. The industry is eager to develop more environmentally friendly and economically viable alternative processes (e.g. pyrometallurgical) to recover the lithium and other critical elements. In general, there are four types of recycling technologies developed for spent LIBs, including mechanical treatment, hydrometallurgical treatment, combination of thermal pre-treatment and hydrometallurgical methods, and finally pyrometallurgical treatment. Hydrometallurgical technologies implement physical pre-treatment and metals recovery from the separated cathode material by acid/alkaline leaching, solvent extraction, ion exchange resins and selected precipitation. However hydrometallurgical processes generate huge effluent volumes, and utilize a large amount of water, which both have negative environmental impacts. On the other hand, pyrometallurgical processes are focused on the production of metallic alloys by melting the entire spent LIB pack at high temperatures, thus consuming a significant amount of energy. While hydro and pyrometallurgy are capable techniques for now, there is clearly a dichotomy on which route is more advantageous, and the answer may be neither. As the complexity and amount of LIB applications continues to grow and evolve, these technologies need to be challenged, and the status quo should be disrupted.

With this in mind, XProEM developed a proprietary physical separation process, Variable Vacuum Vapour Extraction (V3E), and a proprietary chemical separation process, Solid-State Subtractive Metallurgy (S3M). The V3E separation process can accept spent battery packs and physically separate it robustly and safely into Black Mass which becomes a feed to the S3M process, among many other recycled components. V3E includes the physical separation of spent LIBs to recover the valuable components by using vacuum treatment to extract and recover volatile matter such as electrode binder, electrolyte solvent and salt. It is then followed by shearing and crushing steps which disintegrate the electrolyte-depleted battery pack. The subsequent comminution can further reduce the size of shredded particles of enclosed components such as the casing, current collectors, separator and other materials, which are separated using a series of physical separation techniques thereafter.

XProEM’s S3M process provides a uniquely sustainable solution to tackle the imminent problem of recycling large amount of spent LIBs by directly recovering battery precursor materials into their metallic forms via a solid-state reduction process. Clear advantages of solid-state reduction have already been proven for other transition metals. These include elimination of hazardous solvent consumption, low energy and water consumption, low operating expenses and capital costs, modular setup and scalable as needed, increased operational reliability and a lower maintenance requirement, flexibility in accepting feed material, and high recovery and purity (up to 95% can be readily achieved). As the XProEM process is operated in solid state, it is expected to consume much less energy than current recycling processes and eliminates the requirement for toxic solvents and treatment of hazardous wastewater. The process is compatible with various LIB types, and allows for efficient recovery of waste battery materials into high value products. The XProEM process effectively lowers the energy and consumable cost by 55%, lifting the gross operating margin to 45% (compared to 20-25% for pyrometallurgical and hydrometallurgical processes).

The target customers for XProEM’s technology solution are LIB manufacturers, EV manufacturers, and companies who collect and dismantle used electric cars or those in the municipal/electronic waste recycling business.

XProEM has currently completed all the required technical validation stages including:

  • Technical validation
  • Process development
  • Key equipment design
  • Economic assessment
  • Pilot plant preliminary engineering design

XProEM has begun the setup for a pilot plant facility that is expected to commence operations by mid-2021 to produce the first batch of sellable products. In addition to completing the important milestone of technology commercialization, the pilot facility will also allow XProEM to test the robustness and efficiency of XProEM’s technology against feed materials of varying composition and impurities provided from suppliers and supply chain partners, requiring customized design and adjustments to both process conditions and the equipment configuration. XProEM also plans to complete a pre-feasibility study on the process by end of 2021, which will further validate the financial viability of the proprietary technology under commercialization under various market conditions and financial assumptions, and eventually move on to the design, engineering, construction and commissioning of the first operational commercial facility by 2022. Once that first small-scale commercial facility has been built and operated successfully, it will serve as a demonstration plant for XProEM, allowing us to work with more partners and clients for scaling up the large commercial plant at a required capacity of up to 50,000 t/year of LIBs. The implementation of the first large commercial plant can commence as soon as late 2022.

XProEM strives to lead the development of regional & global industry standards for LIB recycling, and build an independent and complete technical system for LIB recycling. Additionally, XProEM will also focus on the future of LIB recycling by converting innovative R&D work into a strong IP portfolio to safeguard its competitive advantage over its peers. The key pipeline of such projects include expanding R&D activities to improve and develop recycling technologies compatible with future LIB types (LFP, Li-Air, Li-S etc) and also to develop cathode restoration techniques, among others. For cathode restoration, the key question is whether we can restore cathodes back to their original electrical performance and skip the recovery of individual components altogether. Restoration can be achieved by doping the spent cathode with a lithium-rich compound with other key additives, and subsequent heat treatment to restore the original crystal structure of the cathode and thereby restore its original electrical properties. With this is mind, XProEM is currently developing another proprietary technology – Diffusion Driven Doping Restoration (D3R). D3R is a process for directly replenishing lithium for lithium-depleted cathode from spent LIBs to restore the stoichiometric amount of lithium in the restored cathode. The re-lithiation is accomplished by doping with lithium-bearing compounds to provide the source of lithium, and diffusion of lithium from doping material into spent LIB cathode. Restoration technology has gained widespread attention from both academia and industrial experts since it can further lower the cost of producing cathode material, allowing LIBs for EVs to remain cost competitive against traditional combustion engine vehicles.

In summary, XProEM is ready to disrupt the status quo and committed to developing truly sustainable technologies in LIB recycling. As the first of a series of upcoming technologies, XProEM has developed a closed loop, environmentally friendly and economically viable solid state subtractive metallurgy process to tackle the imminent problems in LIB recycling, that can extract and recover battery components in an environmentally friendly and low-cost manner. With an experienced team and technology commercialization expertise, there is a strong synchrony between XProEM’s technology and wave of retiring LIBs.

www.xproem.com

XProEM: Creating sustainable solutions in LIB recycling

Since 1991, lithium ion batteries (“LIBs”) have grown rapidly to become the energy storage of choice for portable electronic devices. Recently, LIBs have been considered the best technology for sustainable transportation since they can provide high energy density, and power output per unit of battery mass, allowing them to be lighter and smaller than other rechargeable batteries.

The operating principle of LIBs is based on the layered active electrode material that enables Li-ion insertion and transfer between the electrodes during discharge and charge. The working mechanism and performance of LIBs are especially dependent on the properties of the cathode material, which commercially consists of one or a handful of electrochemically active compound types containing different transition metals viz. Co, Ni, Mn and Fe in different proportions, in addition to the indispensable Li. The other main components of the LIB are graphite, Al and Cu foil, polymeric separator, as well as the electrolyte which mostly uses a high-grade lithium salt such as lithium hexafluorophosphate (LiPF6) dissolved in a dipolar aprotic organic solvent, for instance carbonates or lactones. The cathode component is composed of active lithium containing material, aluminium plate, electric conductor, PVDF binder and additives.

The key ingredient in a LIB is the lithium-bearing cathode material, which directly determines the safety and functional performance of the battery and represents the highest proportion of the cost of LIB materials (~40%). Thus, a significant number of researchers have tried to design processes to restore or recycle cathode materials in spent LIBs. The economic impetus for recycling started gaining particular attention in 2017 when the lithium price reached 15,000 USD/t Li2CO3. Numerous sources report that LIB disposal without recycling or proper handling can lead to severe environmental pollution and adversely affect human health due to the toxic materials used in their makeup. Treating and recycling spent LIBs is therefore essential both from an environmental and an economic perspective. Additionally, there is a supply chain impact due to the shortage in several key raw materials for cathode manufacturing. With electric vehicles (EVs) globally expected to exceed 145 million vehicles on the road by 2030, use of LIBs in EV applications is expected to be the primary driver of growth. There is subsequently a large and growing market for LIBs requiring recycling after their end-of-life, specifically from EVs (~65% of which will be from China – the largest EV market over the next 15 years). More than 2 million tonnes of spent LIB EV packs need to be recycled by 2025, representing a market value of over 10 B USD.

Hydrometallurgy is currently the main process route used to recycle LIBs. Since large amounts of chemical solvent and complicated leaching/crystallization steps are used, the hydrometallurgy process is highly sensitive to process inputs and prone to instability under feed composition variations. The industry is eager to develop more environmentally friendly and economically viable alternative processes (e.g. pyrometallurgical) to recover the lithium and other critical elements. In general, there are four types of recycling technologies developed for spent LIBs, including mechanical treatment, hydrometallurgical treatment, combination of thermal pre-treatment and hydrometallurgical methods, and finally pyrometallurgical treatment. Hydrometallurgical technologies implement physical pre-treatment and metals recovery from the separated cathode material by acid/alkaline leaching, solvent extraction, ion exchange resins and selected precipitation. However hydrometallurgical processes generate huge effluent volumes, and utilize a large amount of water, which both have negative environmental impacts. On the other hand, pyrometallurgical processes are focused on the production of metallic alloys by melting the entire spent LIB pack at high temperatures, thus consuming a significant amount of energy. While hydro and pyrometallurgy are capable techniques for now, there is clearly a dichotomy on which route is more advantageous, and the answer may be neither. As the complexity and amount of LIB applications continues to grow and evolve, these technologies need to be challenged, and the status quo should be disrupted.

With this in mind, XProEM developed a proprietary physical separation process, Variable Vacuum Vapour Extraction (V3E), and a proprietary chemical separation process, Solid-State Subtractive Metallurgy (S3M). The V3E separation process can accept spent battery packs and physically separate it robustly and safely into Black Mass which becomes a feed to the S3M process, among many other recycled components. V3E includes the physical separation of spent LIBs to recover the valuable components by using vacuum treatment to extract and recover volatile matter such as electrode binder, electrolyte solvent and salt. It is then followed by shearing and crushing steps which disintegrate the electrolyte-depleted battery pack. The subsequent comminution can further reduce the size of shredded particles of enclosed components such as the casing, current collectors, separator and other materials, which are separated using a series of physical separation techniques thereafter.

XProEM’s S3M process provides a uniquely sustainable solution to tackle the imminent problem of recycling large amount of spent LIBs by directly recovering battery precursor materials into their metallic forms via a solid-state reduction process. Clear advantages of solid-state reduction have already been proven for other transition metals. These include elimination of hazardous solvent consumption, low energy and water consumption, low operating expenses and capital costs, modular setup and scalable as needed, increased operational reliability and a lower maintenance requirement, flexibility in accepting feed material, and high recovery and purity (up to 95% can be readily achieved). As the XProEM process is operated in solid state, it is expected to consume much less energy than current recycling processes and eliminates the requirement for toxic solvents and treatment of hazardous wastewater. The process is compatible with various LIB types, and allows for efficient recovery of waste battery materials into high value products. The XProEM process effectively lowers the energy and consumable cost by 55%, lifting the gross operating margin to 45% (compared to 20-25% for pyrometallurgical and hydrometallurgical processes).

The target customers for XProEM’s technology solution are LIB manufacturers, EV manufacturers, and companies who collect and dismantle used electric cars or those in the municipal/electronic waste recycling business.

XProEM has currently completed all the required technical validation stages including:

  • Technical validation
  • Process development
  • Key equipment design
  • Economic assessment
  • Pilot plant preliminary engineering design

XProEM has begun the setup for a pilot plant facility that is expected to commence operations by mid-2021 to produce the first batch of sellable products. In addition to completing the important milestone of technology commercialization, the pilot facility will also allow XProEM to test the robustness and efficiency of XProEM’s technology against feed materials of varying composition and impurities provided from suppliers and supply chain partners, requiring customized design and adjustments to both process conditions and the equipment configuration. XProEM also plans to complete a pre-feasibility study on the process by end of 2021, which will further validate the financial viability of the proprietary technology under commercialization under various market conditions and financial assumptions, and eventually move on to the design, engineering, construction and commissioning of the first operational commercial facility by 2022. Once that first small-scale commercial facility has been built and operated successfully, it will serve as a demonstration plant for XProEM, allowing us to work with more partners and clients for scaling up the large commercial plant at a required capacity of up to 50,000 t/year of LIBs. The implementation of the first large commercial plant can commence as soon as late 2022.

XProEM strives to lead the development of regional & global industry standards for LIB recycling, and build an independent and complete technical system for LIB recycling. Additionally, XProEM will also focus on the future of LIB recycling by converting innovative R&D work into a strong IP portfolio to safeguard its competitive advantage over its peers. The key pipeline of such projects include expanding R&D activities to improve and develop recycling technologies compatible with future LIB types (LFP, Li-Air, Li-S etc) and also to develop cathode restoration techniques, among others. For cathode restoration, the key question is whether we can restore cathodes back to their original electrical performance and skip the recovery of individual components altogether. Restoration can be achieved by doping the spent cathode with a lithium-rich compound with other key additives, and subsequent heat treatment to restore the original crystal structure of the cathode and thereby restore its original electrical properties. With this is mind, XProEM is currently developing another proprietary technology – Diffusion Driven Doping Restoration (D3R). D3R is a process for directly replenishing lithium for lithium-depleted cathode from spent LIBs to restore the stoichiometric amount of lithium in the restored cathode. The re-lithiation is accomplished by doping with lithium-bearing compounds to provide the source of lithium, and diffusion of lithium from doping material into spent LIB cathode. Restoration technology has gained widespread attention from both academia and industrial experts since it can further lower the cost of producing cathode material, allowing LIBs for EVs to remain cost competitive against traditional combustion engine vehicles.

In summary, XProEM is ready to disrupt the status quo and committed to developing truly sustainable technologies in LIB recycling. As the first of a series of upcoming technologies, XProEM has developed a closed loop, environmentally friendly and economically viable solid state subtractive metallurgy process to tackle the imminent problems in LIB recycling, that can extract and recover battery components in an environmentally friendly and low-cost manner. With an experienced team and technology commercialization expertise, there is a strong synchrony between XProEM’s technology and wave of retiring LIBs.

www.xproem.com

127 organisations worldwide raise the profile of the global e-waste issue

Thüringer Landhaus Ilmenau, pixelio.de

The event, to promote the proper management of electrical and electronic equipment, brought together e-waste stakeholders across the world to promote the correct disposal of electrical and electronic equipment to enable reuse, refurbishment and recycling.

The WEEE Forum, an international association of e-waste collection schemes, reported that 127 organisations from 51 countries across 6 different continents registered as participants, with many more entities marking the day with activities, news reports and online campaigns. Collectively, these organisations made the reach of the International E-Waste Day far wider than it was in the previous two editions combined and, amidst the growing concern over the e-waste volumes and treatment, raised the profile of the issue even further.

To mark the day, the WEEE Forum itself was involved in the production of a report, in partnership with the UN’s International Telecommunications Union, highlighting the infrastructure behind our connected devices. It also produced a video with children from all over the world urging people to treat their e-waste properly. Elsewhere, the Basel Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions, UNIDO, UNITAR, and UN Habitat held webinars on the day, there were conferences in, amongst other places, Ireland and India, e-waste collections in numerous countries, as well as TV and radio appearances and high level promotion on social media and coverage in the press, including an article on the influential Forbes website. A short overview of the worldwide activities can be found here.

Commenting on the importance of International E-Waste Day 2020, the European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius, said “getting e-waste management and processing right is an excellent way of decreasing mining of raw materials, lower emission and boost local growth and jobs”. He added “most people don’t know about this, but 80% of the energy used by a smartphone over its life cycle happens before it reaches the consumer, so we need to make electronic devices last longer, make them more durable and easier to repair.”

Pascal Leroy, Director General of the WEEE Forum, explained, “We are once again tremendously pleased with how International E-Waste Day was promoted across the world by the producer responsibility organisations in the WEEE Forum, prominent global entities, such as those connected with the United Nations, and other registered organisations. But it was particularly noticeable this year that influential organisations and individuals, some with many millions of social media followers, independently picked up on the event and used it to send persuasive messages.” He continued, “E-waste is a fast increasing waste stream and one that requires careful management to ensure that its hazardous parts are treated effectively, but also that the rare and critical raw materials it contains can be recovered and used again in producing new items. It is essential that the message gets across to consumers.”