Lithium batteries mainly comprise iron, cobalt, nickel, copper and aluminium. Despite their name, lithium only makes up 2-3% of the weight of the battery, in part because it is such a light metal.
The content of metals in phone batteries is up to 100 times higher than it is in the ores extracted by mining. That makes old batteries an attractive source of ‘new’ materials for manufacturing.
Extracting metals from batteries has only 10% of the ecological footprint that primary mining has.
While a lot of mobile phones still end up in landfill, if you recycle your phone through a reputable program then the battery should also be safely recycled.
This involves separating the electrolyte, which contains much of the lithium, from the electrodes that contain most of the other materials. The electrodes are melted down and the various metals extracted ready for re-use.
Due to poor economics, the lithium may not be recovered. That’s beginning to change, however, partly driven by the lithium extraction industry.
As it develops better methods of extracting lithium from mined ores, and mindful that these methods can be applied to battery-sourced material, the industry believes that dead lithium batteries may become the cheapest source of lithium in the future.
An evolving local industry
At present, part of the process of recycling phone batteries occurs in Australia.
This comprises sorting batteries by their type (usually done by hand), followed by some degree of separating batteries into their component’s parts.
From there, it’s likely your phone battery will be shipped to Korea or China for the remainder of the recycling process.
While responsible companies will only deal with downstream processors who are accredited to the appropriate standards, international transfer does open up opportunities for waste diversion and illegal dumping.
About 25 million unused mobile phones are currently clogging up drawers around Australia.
Ecocycle believes that those phones and their batteries should, as far as possible, be recycled in Australia.
To that end, Ecocycle is actively investigating options for downstream processing that will see more of the battery recycling process conducted here, under the regulatory eye of state environment protection agencies.
In the meantime, Ecocycle is installing high-speed automated battery sorting machines, and building a state-of-the art battery storage facility to hold batteries until that recycling capacity comes online.
So delve into your drawers and dig out your old phones, then find a drop off location at recyclingnearyou.com.au. Both the phone and the battery will be recycled.
However, if you have large quantities of phone batteries (or any type of battery) to recycle, give us a call on 1300 32 62 92 or fill in the form below. We’ll design a battery recycling solution just for you.