New battery recycling facility will recover precious metals

New Tuas facility which opened yesterday capable of recycling 14 tonnes of lithium-ion batteries a day

A new battery recycling facility capable of recycling 14 tonnes of lithium-ion batteries - or the equivalent of 280,000 smartphone batteries - a day officially opened in Tuas yesterday.

The TES B facility, set up by home-grown electronic waste (e-waste) recycler TES, is able to recover more than 90 per cent of precious metals from lithium-ion batteries for reuse in battery production, said TES.

At the opening ceremony yesterday, TES chief executive Gary Steele said the battery space is potentially facing raw material shortages due to the widespread use of smart devices, electric vehicles and mobility devices.

According to the company, the volume of lithium-ion batteries sold annually by 2025 is expected to balloon fivefold to almost five million tonnes a year.

"For the last 100 years, we have all lived in a 'take-make-waste' linear economic model, where materials are extracted from the earth, used and then thrown away. That model is clearly not sustainable," said Mr Steele.

He said the TES B facility is able to extract precious metals from spent batteries, such as lithium and cobalt with a purity level of almost 99 per cent, which can be reused for fresh battery production.

Mr Steele said the hydrometallurgical process the company developed was a first for the region.

Besides reducing the need for mining new precious metals, the battery recycling facility also reduces energy consumption in the battery production process.

"Recycled metals - much of which are from smartphones and laptops - can be reused at a level that is five to 10 times more energy-efficient than metals smelted from virgin ore," said Mr Steele.

At the ceremony, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu noted: "By closing the loop on lithium-ion batteries, TES B has brought Singapore a step closer to realising a circular economy."

The launch of the TES B facility comes at a pivotal moment as the extended producer responsibility (EPR) scheme kicks into gear on July 1 this year.

Under it, producers - defined by the National Environmental Agency (NEA) as companies that manufacture or import electrical or electronic products into Singapore - will have to finance the collection and proper treatment of e-waste.

NEA chief executive Luke Goh said facilities like TES B support Singapore's move towards phasing out internal combustion engine vehicles in favour of EVs, for better public health and to mitigate climate change.

Currently, members of the public can drop off e-waste at designated e-waste recycling bins in public areas. Examples of e-waste that can be recycled at these bins include laptops, mobile phones, keyboards, chargers and cables.

"The success of our efforts will bring about both environmental and economic benefits as we strengthen our resource resilience, develop our local recycling capabilities and turn trash into treasure," said Ms Fu.

This article first appeared in The Straits Times.