Speaker Spotlight: Veena Sahajwalla

6 June 2019

With the increase in global electric vehicles and battery-based energy storage systems, the demand for lithium and other battery materials continues to grow. A leading concern for government, industry and society is the high volume of waste from end-of-life batteries and responsible resource management.

The International Lithium and Battery Metals conference 2019 will highlight opportunities in recycling battery minerals, as well as explore the entire lifecycle of lithium and other battery metals.

 

In the lead up to Lithium 2019 we interviewed keynote speaker, Professor Veena Sahajwalla for her views on the industry.

Australian Research Council (ARC) Laureate Professor Veena Sahajwalla is an internationally recognised materials scientist, engineer and inventor revolutionising recycling science. She is renowned for pioneering the high temperature transformation of waste in the production of a new generation of ‘green materials.’  In 2018 Veena launched the world’s first e-waste microfactory. As the founding Director of the Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT) at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, she is producing a new generation of green materials and products made entirely, or primarily, from waste.

Q. There is a strong focus on lithium to support the development of batteries/capacitors for electric vehicles and energy storage. Would the lithium industry in Australia be affected by other batteries/commodities in the near future?

In response to depletion of fossil fuel and natural resources, and also with an increase in energy consumption, the development of alternative energy storage devices such as supercapacitors and batteries have gained increasing attention over the past few decades, and the demand for the materials used in fabrication of such energy storage devices is high. Although the aim has been to develop clean, sustainable and efficient energy storage devices, however, we ended up utilizing a significant portion of those natural resources in such devices which eventually reach the end of their useful life.

Currently, energy storage devices such as batteries are considered one of the fastest-growing part of the world’s e-waste stream, driven by our increasing reliance on electronic devices, tremendous global increase in battery demand and low recycling rates.  In Australia, some 345 million handheld batteries are consumed annually. Only 6% of these by weight and 4% by count are currently recycled with the majority disposed of in landfill (around 183 million) or informally stockpiled [1]. Recovery rates for sealed lead acid, nickel cadmium, lithium primary and nickel metal hydride batteries were all in the 4.4–5.5%, while the recovery rate for alkaline and zinc carbon batteries was estimated at 1.6%.

Batteries/capacitors contain non-renewable resources in high demand such as lithium, cobalt, nickel and rare earth elements (REES).  Demand for these metals is being driven by growth in the development and sales of electric vehicles, consumer electronics and domestic energy storage devices. The resources potentially recoverable from spent batteries such as lithium, can be recycled an infinite number of times as a type of ‘renewable resource’. Recovering resources from batteries will reduce pressure on the world’s finite virgin resources. For example, lithium oxide extracted from lithium waste batteries can be used as a high grade battery material and attracts up to USD 300 per kg. The high price and finite nature of the minerals containing such metals make recovery very attractive in terms of environmental, economic and social benefits.

[1] Maroufi, S.; Khayyam Nekouei, R.; Hossain, R.; Assefi, M.; Sahajwalla, V. Recovery of Rare Earth (i.e., La, Ce, Nd and Pr) oxides from end-of-life Ni-MH battery via thermal isolation.  ACS Sustain. Chem. Eng.2018,6, 11811-11818

Q. What message would you like to provide to the delegates – what do you hope will be the main message they will take away from your keynote presentation?

 From resource management perspective, waste materials such as batteries should be considered as a source of secondary raw materials. Recovering resources from batteries and capacitors will reduce pressure on the world’s finite virgin resources. Significant opportunities are there to unlock the value-added materials from waste which eventually can be used as feed materials for applications including energy storage/battery application. We need to reimagine and innovate our approach to end-of-life battery management.

My key message is, Australia should be working on both natural and waste resources in parallel in order to take the pioneering role in industry in terms of management of resources.

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