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Power from waste is transformed to hydrogen for clean mobility

120 years after the Wuppertal’s Schwebebahn opened, the city is putting itself on the map again for its innovative approach on this occasion combining waste handling with zero-emissions mobility.

Green hydrogen produced from the incineration of municipal waste will be used as an energy vector to power a fleet of fuel cell electric buses (FVEBs). “This sector coupling concept, using hydrogen to link rubbish disposal to emissions-free public transport is one of many projects underway in the Hydrogen Competence Region taking place in Wuppertal, Düsseldorf and other towns in Nordrhein Westfahlen”, says Willy Görtz who leads the projects department at AWG Abfallwirtschaftsgesellschaft mbH in Wuppertal (the city’s waste collection and disposal organisation).

Photo: Maximator

“The Energy and Waste sectors of the Wuppertal municipal services have worked together effectively for years. For example, we were awarded the first place in the Stadtwerke Award 2019. In this latest sector coupling initiative, we extended our collaboration to the public transportation team within the city” says Görtz. “We need to decarbonise fully by 2050 and that’s really not so far off. We must get started right now with ambitious projects that can be replicated and scaled. Recycling, and changes in industry and power generation can have a big impact, but mobility and transportation must also make progress to reduce fossil-fuel consumption. Our project is taking a tangible step in this direction and we hope that it will be a beacon to light the way for others to follow”.

The electrical power for the electrolysis which produces the hydrogen will be generated from the combustion of municipal solid waste. The Wuppertal waste incinerator burns over 1000 tonnes per day of municipal solid waste collected from local businesses and approximately 1.5 million people in the region. A fraction of the power generated by the incinerator will be used to charge the electrolyser.

Households in Wuppertal use four bins for their waste: one for paper and cardboard, another for green waste from the garden or food scraps from the kitchen a third for packaging such as plastic bags and a fourth bin for ‘everything else’ or ‘Restmüll’. The paper, packaging and green waste all go their separate ways for appropriate processing. Only the Restmüll – the most difficult rubbish to dispose of in other ways – is used as feedstock to the waste-incinerator.

Photo: Maximator

Despite the removal of the green and paper material by the households, the Restmüll from residents still has a biomass content of more than 50%. Using this feedstock and carbon dioxide emissions trading, the electricity generated on the Wuppertal waste incinerator can therefore be classified as ‘Green’. This enables the hydrogen produced on the electrolyser to carry the same environmentally friendly credentials.

The Wuppertal waste incinerator was purpose-built for power generation from the combustion of municipal solid waste. It entered service in 1976 and is fitted with two 20MW and one 8 MW power generation turbines.

Coming back to Willy Götz, he confirms the good news that “the Wuppertal scheme is already planned to be replicated in the town of Herten, 50 km north of where we are in Wuppertal”. Every year, around 650 000 tonnes of domestic, trade and industrial waste are burned in the RZR Herten waste incineration power station. This represents a significant contribution to a positive carbon dioxide balance because the operation of the waste power plant saves immense amounts of fossil fuels and therefore reduces the overall environmental impact of power generation in the region.

Put into operation in 1982, the Herten power station consists of six incineration lines, which ensures optimal thermal treatment of the municipal solid waste. To ensure that emissions are kept well under control, the flue gas scrubber incorporates a sophisticated filter that makes sure that the power plant’s emissions are normally only less than ten percent of the legal limit.

As these regional schemes develop, hydrogen mobility applications could extend to the local taxi fleets as they convert to fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs). Düsseldorf airport could also become a low emissions mobility zone with the conversion of 2000 aviation logistics and materials handling vehicles, such as baggage cart tractors and aeroplane pushback tugs. These currently operate on diesel fuel, but the conversion of their power trains to hydrogen-powered fuel cells would be possible.

Emissions-free mobility in the urban public transport sector

One thousand buses operate in the region and many of them will switch from diesel power to emissions-free hydrogen as a fuel. The first A330 FC fuel cell and hydrogen-powered buses arrived in Wuppertal in 2019 from the Belgian manufacturer Van Hool and more arrived in 2020. Each 12m long double-axle bus can carry 75 passengers and is equipped with an 85 kW Ballard Power Systems fuel cell to convert the hydrogen to motive force. For every ten FCEBs on the road, around 700 tonnes per year of carbon dioxide emissions from diesel fuel combustion can be eliminated.

In the overall project budget of approximately €12 million, just over half will be allocated to the purchase of the new buses and the remainder has been allocated to the implementation of the hydrogen production, storage and fuelling system. The hydrogen for the FCEBs will be produced on a 1.25 MW electrolyser which has been supplied by the Canadian company Hydrogenics, part of Cummins Inc.

It uses a polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) technology to generate high purity hydrogen gas. The purity is important to ensure compatibility with the sensitive fuel cells on the buses. Impurities in the hydrogen can poison the fuel cell catalysts and inert gases such as nitrogen accumulate over time to degrade the fuel cell performance, leading to a loss of motive power for the vehicle.

Hydrogen fuelling stations – high pressure and maximum energy density

The gas compression system and fuelling dispensers for the hydrogen supply have been manufactured by Maximator GmbH at their factory in Nordhausen, approximately 300km due east of Wuppertal in the state of Thüringen. Maximator also played the leading role in the hydrogen production, storage and fuelling concept design, systems integration and project management. Görtz adds that “we chose to offer this project to Maximator because their system had the highest uptime availability and represented the best value for money”.

The Maximator fuelling stations are designed to deliver large quantities of hydrogen to vehicles in rapid succession. Mathias Kurras, Head of Division for Maximator’s Hydrogen Division declares his support for the ‘Hydrogen Kompetenz Region’ in the area of Düsseldorf and Wuppertal: “We are thrilled that the green energy potential of hydrogen will be further unlocked through this visionary sector coupling project at Wuppertal and the associated hydrogen mobility infrastructure development programme that it will enable”.

Maximator’s solution holds multiple high-pressure sealing gaskets that are automatically loaded into the hydrogen fuelling station gas compressor as required. This automated gasket change-over system results in a significant increase in fuelling station availability. It also leads to a significant reduction in maintenance costs due to a significant reduction in the frequency of service team visits to the fuelling station that is required.

Prize-Winning Innovation

The DüsselRheinWupper region was rewarded for their hard work towards a carbon-neutral future on the 15th of October 2020, winning the state competition for hydrogen mobility and subsequently obtaining the title as the “Model Region for Hydrogen Mobility”.

The Economics and Energy Minister of North Rhine-Westaphalia. Prof. Dr. Andreas Pinkwark commented that “hydrogen is essential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and for the success of the energy transition. Consistent use in transport and industry has made it possible to avoid a quarter of today’s emissions. In addition to battery-electric mobility, fuel cell mobility with hydrogen will also play an important role in achieving climate targets in transport in the future. With our competition, we have been looking for a region or municipality that wants to take the lead in the implementation and application of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies in North Rhine-Westphalia with innovative approaches.

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

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

Harvesting the Urban Forest

The UK uses over 2.5 billion single-use coffee cups – enough to stretch around the world roughly five and a half times – but less than 1 in 400 – just 0.25% – are recycled. Around 500,000 cups are littered every day–an unsightly and damaging blight on our environment.

In essence these cups are technically recyclable, something that some coffee companies actively promote on their packaging, however, due to the complicated way they are produced, the vast majority of coffee cups do not end up being recycled.

Though they are made largely of paper, disposable coffee cups are lined with plastic, typically polyethylene, this is tightly bonded to the paper making the cups waterproof and therefore able to retain liquid. Recycling these coffee cups is further hampered by the fact they are contaminated with remnants of the drink they contained.

As a consequence these cups cannot be recycled at standard paper recycling plants and must instead be taken to special facilities – of which only a few exist throughout Europe.

It is time to flip this challenge on its head and take a transformational approach.

What if we viewed these cups as containing potentially valuable raw material that we can tap into, given a strong collection infrastructure?

Following years of research on paper plastic composites, Nextek has been deep diving into ways in which strong blends of paper fibre and plastics can be re-used and one of the first products to emerge is the rcup, the world’s first re-usable cup made from recycled paper cups.

Now WRAP Cymru has brought Nextek and the UK’s leading composite decking manufacturer, Ecodek, together to find a way to clean and shred the used coffee cups to produce strong polymer composites, that can be turned into a totally water proof building material which can use up to 200 cups per square meter.

This innovative approach aims to shift away from our current reliance on wood in building materials and harvest the ‘urban forest’ instead. We are quite literally surrounded by awkward to recycle materials such as plastic laminated papers or cartons that could be turned into a unique composite, that has endless possibilities.

This material has the potential to be used for multiple applications, from waterproof decking and furniture to providing structurally strong materials on a much bigger scale. Its durability, strength and versatility could easily match wood as a building material, in fact in many instances it would surpass it.

Whilst this is not the first time that used coffee cups have been given a new life, it could be a game changer in that we will be able to reuse a substantial volume of the world’s single use plastic cups and turn them into environmental friendly building material, harvested from our urban waste.

This just could be the turning point where the once maligned disposable coffee cup is turned into valuable material for everyday products.

Harvesting the Urban Forest

The UK uses over 2.5 billion single-use coffee cups – enough to stretch around the world roughly five and a half times – but less than 1 in 400 – just 0.25% – are recycled. Around 500,000 cups are littered every day–an unsightly and damaging blight on our environment.

In essence these cups are technically recyclable, something that some coffee companies actively promote on their packaging, however, due to the complicated way they are produced, the vast majority of coffee cups do not end up being recycled.

Though they are made largely of paper, disposable coffee cups are lined with plastic, typically polyethylene, this is tightly bonded to the paper making the cups waterproof and therefore able to retain liquid. Recycling these coffee cups is further hampered by the fact they are contaminated with remnants of the drink they contained.

As a consequence these cups cannot be recycled at standard paper recycling plants and must instead be taken to special facilities – of which only a few exist throughout Europe.

It is time to flip this challenge on its head and take a transformational approach.

What if we viewed these cups as containing potentially valuable raw material that we can tap into, given a strong collection infrastructure?

Following years of research on paper plastic composites, Nextek has been deep diving into ways in which strong blends of paper fibre and plastics can be re-used and one of the first products to emerge is the rcup, the world’s first re-usable cup made from recycled paper cups.

Now WRAP Cymru has brought Nextek and the UK’s leading composite decking manufacturer, Ecodek, together to find a way to clean and shred the used coffee cups to produce strong polymer composites, that can be turned into a totally water proof building material which can use up to 200 cups per square meter.

This innovative approach aims to shift away from our current reliance on wood in building materials and harvest the ‘urban forest’ instead. We are quite literally surrounded by awkward to recycle materials such as plastic laminated papers or cartons that could be turned into a unique composite, that has endless possibilities.

This material has the potential to be used for multiple applications, from waterproof decking and furniture to providing structurally strong materials on a much bigger scale. Its durability, strength and versatility could easily match wood as a building material, in fact in many instances it would surpass it.

Whilst this is not the first time that used coffee cups have been given a new life, it could be a game changer in that we will be able to reuse a substantial volume of the world’s single use plastic cups and turn them into environmental friendly building material, harvested from our urban waste.

This just could be the turning point where the once maligned disposable coffee cup is turned into valuable material for everyday products.

Better to erase than to destroy

The report “Poor sustainability practices – enterprises are overlooking the e-waste problem” by Coleman Parks Research attempts to shed some light on this topic. The report was commissioned by Blancco, an international data security company that specializes in data erasure and computer reuse.

Alan Bentley, Head of Global Strategy at Blancco

There is no doubt that sustainability has become a new standard, but there is also no doubt that it needs to become more than something merely written on paper. Better management of retired IT equipment could be an important way to influence the situation, as the study points out, but that has not happened to date. “Wastefulness is prevalent within the IT industry, and e-waste is a growing concern,” it states. Alan Bentley, Head of Global Strategy at Blancco, emphasizes that e-waste is a huge issue, as perfectly reusable assets are being sent for recycling while a great many recycling practices are still not sustainable.

One of the primary causes for the growing e-waste issues are the methods used to process hardware, the study claims. More than one third of the organisations participating in the survey use inappropriate data removal methods that could put their businesses at risk – both in terms of security and of the environment. The methods of hardware disposal include the physical destruction of end-of-life assets without an audit trial. This typically involves shredding and crushing equipment, which puts harmful waste into the environment if not done properly. Mr Bentley also sees this as a kind of legacy stance and points out that software is much more sophisticated today and that proper erasing is as good as destruction.

The research shows that the world’s largest enterprises use physical destruction methods and collectively destroy hundreds of thousands of assets each year. If the assets were to be erased and resold instead, the companies could each earn up to 2,000 carbon credits per year. And even if reselling is not an option, those assets could still be either reused or donated. However, to enable this change, the companies would need to sanitize these assets through software-based data erasure. “This asset now no longer has a life for this organisation, the asset is no longer required and is therefore classified as end-of-life, but in many cases it is not and could be reused,” Mr Bentley says. He considers it as a kind of disconnect.

39 per cent of the companies destroy end-of-life IT equipment because they believe it is better for the environment. Photo: Blancco

What’s even worse is that 39 per cent of the companies destroy end-of-life IT equipment because they believe it is better for the environment. This percentage is even higher for government organisations (52 per cent) and legal organisations (46 per cent). “There are still many people out there who believe the only way to truly erase the data of an asset is to physically destroy it and shred it,” Mr Bentley states. He sees this as an alarming trend and added that he would understand it if the companies thought that destruction was more secure.

The study sees three main reasons why companies choose physical destruction: a lack of education, a lack of ownership and communication, and a lack of robustness in terms of data security and environmental regulations.

An obvious example for the lack of education is the aforementioned figure of 39 per cent who consider physical destruction as better for the environment. By now it should be a well-known fact that this is not the case and that it is always better to extend the life of an asset. However, as Mr Bentley points out, there is still a lack of education regarding when an asset should be destroyed physically or when it would be better reused, resold or donated. He also hints at the pandemic, where with a lot of home schooling in the last few months, many assets could have been repurposed and put to good use.

Regarding the second reason, the study states that dealing with end-of-life equipment is a part of most companies’ CSR policy. However, more often than not this is either not communicated or not properly acted upon. Mr Bentley adds that in many companies the employees are not aware of what the policy means and how it should be implemented.

Looking at adequate regulation, the study points out that in the USA, 22 states do not have their own e-waste laws. That is different in the EU, but the UK, for example, failed to meet its targets in 2019 “and is one of the worst offenders for exporting waste to developing countries”. More robust legislation is therefore urgently needed.

It is interesting to have a look at regional differences. On a global basis, 83 per cent of organisations have a CSR policy in place. The numbers are even higher for the UK (86 per cent), USA/Canada (85 per cent), France (91 per cent) and Germany (95 per cent). Moreover, dealing with end-of-life equipment is integrated in the majority of these CSR policies across all regions. The numbers are also quite similar regarding sanitization and the reuse of end-of-life equipment with a global average of 24 per cent and between 22 and 26 per cent in the four above-mentioned countries/regions. However, there is a huge difference when it comes to physically destroying end-of-life equipment, as it is often considered “better for the environment”: the global figure is 39 per cent. And while the USA/Canada (30 per cent), France and Germany (both 29 per cent) are well below average, in the UK 55 per cent of the organisations tend to destroy their end-of-life IT equipment physically.

The study also hints that the growing problem of e-waste does not only relate to the physical, but also to the digital world. Currently, data centres consume 2 per cent of the world’s electricity. This number is expected to reach 8 per cent by 2030. However, only 6 per cent of all the data is actually in use. Nevertheless, it needs storage space in the physical world, which will then in turn end up as e-waste at some point.

The study also states that only 24 per cent of end-of-life equipment is currently recycled. Mr Bentley points out that many recyclers still ship material to emerging countries. He states that destruction is both quicker and more cost-effective and therefore an attractive solution for many companies. He also refers to company policies that were written quite some time ago and are now difficult to amend, as change has to be driven from the top. “We still have a little bit of an uphill battle to convince people that they need to change their processes,” Mr Bentley concludes.

Crude steel production increases in September

Due to the ongoing difficulties presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, many of this month’s figures are estimates that may be revised with next month’s production update.

World crude steel production was 1,347.4 Mt in the first nine months of 2020, down by 3.2% compared to the same period in 2019. Asia produced 1,001.7 Mt of crude steel in the first nine months of 2020, an increase of 0.2% over the same period of 2019. The EU produced 99.4 Mt of crude steel in the first nine months of 2020, down by 17.9% compared to the same period in 2019. Crude steel production in the C.I.S. was 74.3 Mt in the first nine months of 2020, down 2.5% compared to the same period in 2019. North America’s crude steel production in the first nine months of 2020 was 74.0 Mt, a decrease of 18.2% compared to the same period in 2019.

China produced 92.6 Mt of crude steel in September 2020, an increase of 10.9% compared to September 2019. India produced 8.5 Mt of crude steel in September 2020, down 2.9% on September 2019. Japan produced 6.5 Mt of crude steel in September 2020, down 19.3% on September 2019. South Korea’s crude steel production for September 2020 was 5.8 Mt, up by 2.1% on September 2019.

Germany produced 3.0 Mt of crude steel in September 2020, down 9.7% on September 2019. Italy produced 1.8 Mt of crude steel in September 2020, down 18.7% on September 2019. France produced 1.0 Mt of crude steel in September 2020, down 20.1% on September 2019. Spain produced 0.9 Mt of crude steel in September 2020, down 20.7% on September 2019.

Production in the C.I.S. is estimated to be 8.2 Mt in September 2020, down 0.3% on September 2019. Ukraine produced 1.7 Mt of crude steel in September 2020, down 5.4% on September 2019.

The United States produced 5.7 Mt of crude steel in September 2020, a decrease of 18.5% compared to September 2019.

Turkey’s crude steel production for September 2020 was 3.2 Mt, up by 18.0% on September 2019.

Brazil produced 2.6 Mt of crude steel in September 2020, up 7.5% on September 2019.

Crude steel production increases in September

Due to the ongoing difficulties presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, many of this month’s figures are estimates that may be revised with next month’s production update.

World crude steel production was 1,347.4 Mt in the first nine months of 2020, down by 3.2% compared to the same period in 2019. Asia produced 1,001.7 Mt of crude steel in the first nine months of 2020, an increase of 0.2% over the same period of 2019. The EU produced 99.4 Mt of crude steel in the first nine months of 2020, down by 17.9% compared to the same period in 2019. Crude steel production in the C.I.S. was 74.3 Mt in the first nine months of 2020, down 2.5% compared to the same period in 2019. North America’s crude steel production in the first nine months of 2020 was 74.0 Mt, a decrease of 18.2% compared to the same period in 2019.

China produced 92.6 Mt of crude steel in September 2020, an increase of 10.9% compared to September 2019. India produced 8.5 Mt of crude steel in September 2020, down 2.9% on September 2019. Japan produced 6.5 Mt of crude steel in September 2020, down 19.3% on September 2019. South Korea’s crude steel production for September 2020 was 5.8 Mt, up by 2.1% on September 2019.

Germany produced 3.0 Mt of crude steel in September 2020, down 9.7% on September 2019. Italy produced 1.8 Mt of crude steel in September 2020, down 18.7% on September 2019. France produced 1.0 Mt of crude steel in September 2020, down 20.1% on September 2019. Spain produced 0.9 Mt of crude steel in September 2020, down 20.7% on September 2019.

Production in the C.I.S. is estimated to be 8.2 Mt in September 2020, down 0.3% on September 2019. Ukraine produced 1.7 Mt of crude steel in September 2020, down 5.4% on September 2019.

The United States produced 5.7 Mt of crude steel in September 2020, a decrease of 18.5% compared to September 2019.

Turkey’s crude steel production for September 2020 was 3.2 Mt, up by 18.0% on September 2019.

Brazil produced 2.6 Mt of crude steel in September 2020, up 7.5% on September 2019.