Researchers in Japan have developed an efficient new distributed recycling system that uses microwave heating to recycle old alkaline batteries. This opens up local recycling of e-waste.
Distributed recycling systems involving small-scale recycling facilities offer a sustainable alternative to conventional recycling systems. Such a system can greatly reduce the energy requirements for transportation and has the potential to increase recycling rates. While this system is still in its infancy, many studies have explored its use in recycling plastics, photovoltaic waste, and wastewater, with particularly promising outcomes in distributed plastic recycling.
The researchers from Ritsumeikan University in Japan developed a technique using microwave irradiation, which offers selective, rapid heating and reduced energy consumption compared to furnace-based heating.
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“The feasibility to decentralize the recycling of e-waste needs to be analyzed, considering the different characteristics of each municipality. In this study, our focus is on obsolete alkaline batteries as waste product to be treated in a distributed recycling system,” said explains Prof. Shoki Kosai, a member of the research team and the first author of the study.
First, the researchers conducted an empirical study to explore the usability of this microwave-based technique in recycling spent alkaline batteries. Then, they conducted an analytical case study to examine the effectiveness of distributed recycling systems in Japan. A total of 1,710 municipalities in Japan were considered in the study, which used energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions as metrics for testing the effectiveness of the proposed recycling system.
The results of the empirical study showed that microwave-based heating achieved a recovery rate of 97% of manganese oxide and zinc from the alkaline batteries. This recovery rate is 1.5 times more than conventional electric furnace-based heating, while taking only half the time. The analytical study also revealed highly optimistic results, as the team noted that a balance between centralized and distributed recycling systems can reduce annual energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions across Japan by 26,500 GJ and 1.54 Gg-CO2eq, respectively.
“Through the adoption of this system, areas where natural resources are not available will gain the opportunity to become suppliers of secondary resources. This system could also remedy the problem of metal recycling in developing countries,” said Kosai.
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