INTERVIEW - Britannia Zinc plans battery recycling trials
AVONMOUTH, England - Britannia Zinc Ltd (BZL) is seeking to start recycling portable batteries, providing a boost for the environment and its own refinery, the company\'s general manager said. Most batteries contained zinc and all were candidates for recycling, Brian Hearne told Reuters at BZL\'s western England plant in Avonmouth, the UK\'s sole zinc producer.
\"Environmentally, it\'s better to get it turned into metal again than get it turned into a form where it can leach in the future,\" he said.
\"The recycling will help us as well as it means we don\'t have to buy so many concentrates...and we don\'t generate so much sulphur dioxide from the operation.\"
\"We believe we can treat all types of batteries - portable ones like nickel-cadmium and the older ones that have mercury in them - and not have any environmental problems,\" he said.
Portable batteries as used in torches and radios contained 15-20 percent zinc, and other recyclable feed sources such as zinc-laden steel dust were also being studied, he said.
\"Most portable batteries have zinc...cases of batteries are nearly all made of zinc. Even though the stuff inside might be lithium, the conductor on the outside is zinc,\" Hearne said.
Analysts say zinc can be recycled without any loss of its physical or chemical properties.
Some 80 percent of zinc available for recycling is currently recycled, while 30 percent of the world\'s zinc supply, or 2.9 million tonnes, comes from recycled zinc, the rest from ores.
Recycling batteries, along with other possible secondary feed sources, could double the amount of feed material used in the Avonmouth smelter operation, Hearne said.
\"We could probably get up to around 50 percent of our total materials as recycled material,\" he said.
\"At the moment about 25 percent of our total feed is recycled material but we think we can take that up if you include batteries and other things like dust from steel plants.\"
BZL hopes to turn out some 110,000 tonnes of refined zinc this year, up from around 85,000 in 2001 as it moves towards full capacity.
CADMIUM, MERCURY NOT A PROBLEM
By-products of the zinc manufacturing process at Avonmouth, home to the world\'s largest zinc Imperial Smelting Furnace (ISF), include toxic metals cadmium and mercury, along with sulphur dioxide that is converted on-site into sulphuric acid.
None of these products posed a risk to the environment as all would be kept within the plant\'s internal refining system.
\"The mercury would go back through our recycling systems and end up in our mercury removal plant anyway,\" Hearne said. \"The cadmium would go with the zinc and through into the refinery where we\'ll remove it anyway and make cadmium metal out of it.\"
FURNACE TRIALS NEXT STEP
Hearne said BZL wanted to conduct a furnace trial using some 100 tonnes of used batteries but would have to import 80 percent of this from other EU countries as UK supply was insufficent.
\"What we want to do now is another trial to see if we have any problems with mixed rather than sorted batteries,\" he said. \"But there\'s no collection system in the UK for batteries so there\'s no real ready supply for us to do a trial.\"
Part of BZL\'s desire to recycle batteries to recover zinc metal stems from EU proposals to make it compulsory for all member countries to collect some 75 percent of all portable batteries and recycle at least 55 percent.
But to date the UK had no proper battery collection system, he said - unlike several of its EU partners.
Story by Jeremy Smith
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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