Miscellaneous/Ask Dave 01

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Q: Can small quantity facilities find approved containers for returning batteries to recyclers?
Question: What precautions should be taken in packaging and storage of lithium batteries?

Q? Tell me more about Alkaline Battery Recycling. Recently a press release was issued stating that Alkaline battery recycling is beginning. How are the batteries being recycled and what is recovered?(06-02BD75-14)
First, I would like to offer condolences and prayers for those who lost family and friends in New York and at the Pentagon. I would also like to thank those brave members of the emergency response crews...without these men and women the risks and loss of life would have been much worse (not to mention the mental impact on us all). Work seems so trivial in the wake of this barbaric type terror.
Q: Is there a recycling method for Alkaline batteries? Will I get paid for my Alkaline batteries? And, where is it available? (12-01 BD69-15)
Yes, the process for recycling Alkaline batteries is a series of mechanical and chemical steps and involves the recovery of ferrous metal, zinc and manganese resulting in an impure product. Unfortunately, since all of these materials are relatively inexpensive, processing fees for recycling the materials results in a cost to you. As far as I know, there are only a couple of suppliers in North America and only one in the US. I do not think it appropriate to mention which companies recycle Alkaline batteries, but please contact me for additional information.
Best wishes during the holidays, especially to all our service personnel in Afghanistan

Q: Do you understand why pulsing a battery (with a higher current) may bring it back to life?(05-02 BD74-14)
A: The reaction of a lead acid battery is:
2PbSO4 + 2H2O charges to Pb + PbO2 + 2H2SO4 (and reverses under discharge)
If the battery is allowed to sit without being used, the battery self-discharges to the lowest energy state. Lead sulfate (or the passivation layer) builds and covers most or all of the active lead plate which must be exposed for the battery to accept a charge. In this condition, current will flow and the battery will come back to a usable state but very, very slowly because the surface area of the lead is limiting the reaction. I have always used a 2-3 C rate to pulse a particular battery, but this is entirely dependent on the particular battery in question. (C is the intended current rating of the battery.) This drives the reaction to the charging state, and the SO4 goes back into solution as H2SO4. This current cannot be sustained by the battery materials without some damage. Thus, the pulse...quick bursts of a high current (determined by the size of the battery sometimes milliseconds, sometimes minutes, sometimes hours). In doing this, the battery is back to its original condition and life prior to the passivation with little, if any, damage to the battery.
Many people discard Lead-acid batteries and primary Lithium-thionyl chloride batteries because they think they are unusable when actually they are passivated. There are several companies who buy and screen large Lead-acid batteries, pulse them to make them usable, and then resell them.
On another note: Relating the sales department to the production department of any company: A man’s wife begged and pleaded to accompany her husband on a bear hunting trip. The man finally agreed. Once in the cabin the wife was instructed to remain there while the husband went into the forest. Within an hour the husband burst through the door at full speed with a huge grizzly bear within inches. As the husband dove out of the cabin window he yelled, ”take care of this one and I will go get another.” Of course the husband is the sales department, the wife is in production and the bear is a new project or customer.
Q: In a recent news article, “PC makers soon may be forced to recycle,” from USA Today, 02/26/02, p. B1, several questions arise based on the premise that the PC industry has chosen not to recycle in the U.S. and has sent 50% to 80% of their “ewaste” to countries such as China, Pakistan and India. (04-02 BD73-12)
1) Are the batteries usually removed here in the U.S. for recycling before the “ewaste” is sent?
Answer: First of all, I should again like to applaud the computer industry’s efforts to recycle PCs. Unfortunately, PCs are similar to batteries in the U.S. I am sure you and each of your readers have gone through at least one generation of computers (or cell phones, for that matter). What did you do with them? Did you donate them to someone who didn’t have a computer, put them in the kid’s room with video games loaded, sell them for $5 in your garage sale, or simply throw them in the trash? Even though most manufacturers have answers to recycling their PCs, very few are actually returned or collected. The majority of the U.S. consumers innocently are very apathetic and will not change their routine unless penalized or fined. I am not pointing fingers since I have been guilty as well. The PCs that are collected are usually disassembled; CRTs are ground up and metals are separated; these components are recycled. The batteries are removed and either disposed of or reused. Many times the computers with or without the batteries are shipped to one of the countries you mentioned simply because labor is cheaper, and this fact helps make this type of job, with a tiny profit margin, more feasible. There are, however, several facilities, including one very near-and-dear to me, which recycle computers and their components.

2) According to the article, the chemicals inside the PCs include lead, cadmium and mercury. How large are these amounts? Is it easy to remove these chemicals for recycling?
Answer: Lead is present in CRTs and lead-tin-solder in boards. Very little cadmium and mercury exist. If the boards are recycled, the metals are collected and either separated and sent for specific recycling or recovered in pyrometalurgical processes. If burned, these chemicals are usually collected in air pollution control devices. If landfilled safely, the hazardous components must be chemically treated to reduce contamination, and then they should not be placed in consumer landfills.
3) If national rules are put in place, would this provide recycling companies such as Toxco with additional business. Do you agree that legislation will soon take place to have PC makers recycle here in the U.S?
Answer: Toxco and Kinsbursky Brothers (one of Toxco’s parents) are already receiving PCs for recycling. Yes, if legislation were passed to mandate recycling of PCs, we would be ready to accept the additional business.
4) Do you have other comments or concerns regarding this subject?
Answer: To be continued...we’ll see where we are in 2 years.
Q: In your column last September you indicated that there was no relationship between recycling quantities and the economic slowdown. Since that time, has there been any noticeable drop in volumes or could such be a harbinger of better times with recycling quantities increasing now? (03-02 BD72-15)
A: I am not sure what caused the downward slide, but recycling volumes did see a decline in November/December of 2001. This was across the board for all chemistries. I would guess that the most probable cause is the heinous act of Sept 11. If the rest of industry operated in a similar manner to the way I felt, this slowdown was because business and travel was at a standstill. Other contributing factors which are more normal may be the economic slowdown and the end of the U.S. Government’s year in October. 2002 is already better and is expected to show a significant growth in the battery recycling industry. Batteries are more widely used in portable devices. Regardless of the economy, consumers consider batteries as a part of their lives (similar to gasoline, electricity, etc.). The act of recycling these batteries is such a moral choice that this function is almost independent of the economy. You, as an individual, and industry either will or won’t recycle. I am an optimist and have faith in people...the option to recycle all materials will be even more clear in the future.
I hope this is not as confusing as it sounds. Two cannibals were eating a clown...one looked at the other and said, “Does this taste funny to you?”
Q: Which type of battery is the most profitable to recycle? Which is the least profitable? (I think I was swindled on the recycling of several hundred pounds of Silver-zinc batteries. I believe I should have been paid to recycle the batteries instead of actually paying a recycling facility.) (02-01,BD70-15)
The value of the various batteries is a function of the value of the materials used in the batteries as well as how easy it is to recover these materials. Both these aspects are equally important. As an example: A large prismatic (flat plate) Silver-zinc battery with a relatively thin plastic case is very valuable depending, of course, on the price of silver. There is significant silver and it is easy to recover. Long term recycling contracts for this type battery result in a high positive value to the owner. On the other side of the coin, a large reserve Silver-zinc battery used in many weapons systems is the same chemistry, but it is housed in a stainless steel housing, and all of the battery components are potted into the case in a rigid impenetrable resin. The percentage of silver (by battery weight) is low, and to make matters worse, there is a gas generator and or electric squib which must be activated prior to recycling. In this situation if it costs $200 in labor to recover $6 in silver, the battery is nearly worthless when compared to recycling costs.
The least value (highest cost to the owner) when recycled is definitely the large (15 pounds and larger) lithium primary systems. This is due to the fact that they are extremely reactive; the battery is very hard to open, and the material value is insignificant when compared to the processes required to recycle them.