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How are Scrap Batteries Recycled?

By Sally O'Brien

Recycling old scrap batteries is a process that we seldom regard but is crucial, nonetheless. Due to the heavy metals contained within the various types of batteries, the process is not as straightforward as simply crushing and melting them. There are a few different types of batteries that we use that can be recycled, so keep reading to find out what happens after you sell scrap batteries to a professional and sustainable metal recycling plant like Metal Men Recycling.

Alkaline batteries — the household staple

If you have ever owned a television, purchased a remote-control vehicle or a children’s toy that runs on electricity, then you have definitely used an alkaline battery. Alkaline batteries are your basic household batteries — AAA, AA, C, D etc. and are made from steel and either zinc/magnesium or carbon zinc. Whilst many items that once required these types of batteries are slowly moving to rechargeable lithium-ion batteries (many television remotes and gaming controllers, for example), there are still some appliances that will always require the alkaline touch.

Recycling alkaline batteries is one of the simpler processes and whilst Metal Men Recycling is able to buy these types of scrap batteries, you can also contact your local council about dropping them off at a recycling point. There are two options — shredding the battery and using an electric arc steel mill to separate the metal from the zinc — or, melting them in a furnace and using a vacuum to extract the zinc fumes — leaving the metal to be recycled.

Lithium-ion batteries — rechargeable excellence

Lithium-ion batteries are what occupy most if not all of our rechargeable devices including phones, portable speakers, remotes, headphones and even electric vehicles. As the name suggests, they’re made up of lithium as well as carbon.

When it comes to recycling, lithium-ion batteries can be a bit challenging, but not impossible. A popular and effective recycling method for lithium-ion batteries is via high-temperature metal reclamation (HTMR), which, in this case, involves the lithium (a low-melt metal) being separated during the melting phase and collected as a metal oxide.

Note that lithium-ion batteries are different to lithium batteries which are not rechargeable and are recyclable via hydrometallurgy processing — that is, once a shredder has cut open the battery, a caustic solution is used to negate electrolytes so the ferrous and non-ferrous metals can be separated from the lithium and carbon and collected to be recycled.

The carbon and lithium are also extracted by filtering the caustic solution — the lithium (now lithium hydroxide) is converted to lithium carbonate which is then used to form lithium ingots that are ready for repurposing; some of the carbon is recycled using cobalt.

Nickel-cadmium batteries — the other rechargeable on the block

Not all rechargeable batteries are lithium-ion, old laptops and some power tools use nickel-cadmium batteries. Comprised of nickel, cadmium, steel and plastic, these batteries also utilise the HTMR method but because nickel is a high-melt metal, it is separated in a molten-metal bath within a furnace where it will amalgamate and then solidify during casting — making it easy to separate from the cadmium — which is a low-melt metal and is separated and collected as a metal-oxide just like lithium.

Lead-acid batteries — the automotive battery

One of the more profitable scrap batteries you can sell to us for recycling is lead-acid batteries — the solid units that power petrol-run automobiles. Like the aforementioned batteries, lead-acid batteries must be properly recycled or disposed of as leaving them in landfills can be dangerous and can cause a number of environmental issues. Lead-acid batteries are made from plastic (polypropylene, to be exact), sulphuric acid and lead — the latter of which is a highly poisonous heavy metal, yet, interestingly enough, has a high recycling rate.

The recycling process begins with the battery being shattered at a hammer mill and the sulphuric acid being converted into either sodium sulphate or clean water through various treatment methods. The plastic and lead are then separated; this is done by placing them in a vat where the lead sinks and the plastic floats. Once separated, they can each be recycled in their own way:

  • The plastics are washed and sent to be recycled into items such as bins or more lead-acid batteries; and
  • The lead is cleaned and then melted into liquid form so it can be put into a mould where it is cleared of impurities, formed into ingots and sent off to the appropriate plants where they are melted down to be used again (most likely in a new battery).

Are you looking to sell scrap batteries in Melbourne?

You can sell your scrap batteries to Metal Men Recycling for some extra cash — whether they be alkaline, lithium, lithium-ion, cadmium-nickel or lead-acid batteries. Our expansive recycling plant is well-equipped to sustainably recycle your batteries or other scrap metal efficiently with simple drop-off and pick-up procedures (for those larger loads).

If you are looking to sell scrap batteries or metal in Melbourne, then please contact us by calling 03 5941 6677 or filling out our online enquiry form today.

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