Envirostream Australia’s micronutrient development: expanded 2021 field trials commenced

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Envirostream Australia has commenced its battery-material micronutrient field trial programme for 2021.
  • The expanded field trial programme is targeting manganese-deficient soil types.
  • Two products are being assessed, based on positive outcomes of the process development for separation of manganese from single-use alkaline batteries.
  • Seeding has been undertaken at three West Australian sites, in collaboration with Summit Fertilizers.
  • One trial site in South Australia has also been seeded.

Introduction
Following successful results from its 2020 field trials, which used recycled alkaline battery material as a fertilizer micronutrient (see ASX announcement 17 December 2020), Envirostream Australia Pty Ltd (‘Envirostream’), the recycling division of Lithium Australia NL (ASX: LIT, ‘the Company’), is please to advise that an expanded field trial programme for 2021 has commenced.

Collaboration with Summit Fertilizers
The Company is pleased to be collaborating with Summit Fertilizers (‘Summit’). A leading fertilizer supplier established in 1989, Summit has over the years introduced a number of innovations to the West Australian (‘WA’) market. With a highly experienced area manager network and dedicated field research team, Summit aims to help its customers use nutrients that achieve the best outcomes.

Summit has provided access to three of its 2021 trial sites, two with wheat and one with lupins, to assess Envirostream products.

The 2021 programme
The programme has been expanded to four sites in WA (three Summit sites and one dedicated Envirostream site) and one dedicated Envirostream site in South Australia (‘SA’), thereby permitting performance assessments of the recycled battery material across varying broadacre soil types. Envirostream’s micronutrients will again be agglomerated with mono-ammonium phosphate (‘MAP’) fertilizer.

This year, the number of treatments at the two Envirostream trial sites has been expanded from five (see ASX announcement 10 June 2020) to nine. It is hoped that there will be a manganese uptake response similar to or better than that noted in the 2020 trial (see ASX announcement 18 February 2021).

Both Envirostream trial sites will be seeded with wheat crops.

Treatments being used in the 2021 programme at the Envirostream sites include the following.

  • No fertiliser (control).
  • Summit MAP at two target phosphate addition rates.
  • Summit MAP and Mn (full compound), blended with Summit MAP, at two target phosphate addition rates.
  • Envirostream agglomerated MAP product 1, at two target phosphate addition rates.
  • Envirostream agglomerated MAP product 2, at two target phosphate addition rates.

The two Envirostream product options being used are both derived from its proprietary separation technology for single-use alkaline batteries. Any performance differences between these options will be assessed.

Blended fertilizer products are shown in the following photographs.

Seeding at the WA sites
Summit has seeded several sites, with the remaining Envirostream sites, located West of Kojonup, scheduled for seeding in early June 2021.

Seeding at the SA site
The dedicated Envirostream SA site is located between Port Wakefield and Port Broughton, towards the top of the Yorke Peninsula. Seeding there with wheat was completed on 21 May

Images of the specialised trial-seeding equipment and of trial-seeding progress at this site are shown below.

Comment from Lithium Australia managing director Adrian Griffin
“Lithium Australia and its subsidiaries are committed to providing the battery industry with sustainable outcomes. The expansion of Envirostream’s successful fertiliser micronutrient programme into 2021 demonstrates this commitment and further positions Envirostream to support implementation of the national Battery Stewardship Scheme, to ensure that as many spent batteries as possible are recycled rather than consigned to landfill.”

 

01 June 2021 Envirostream’s micronutrient 2021 field trials commence 3 pages (817KB)

Environmental protection and sustainability

Envirostream is Australia’s national leader in battery recycling, providing sustainable solutions for the disposal of end-of-life batteries (‘EOL’) and the ‘rebirthing’ of the energy metals contained in EOL lithium ion batteries (‘LIB’s’). Envirostream’s Melbourne plant is the only commercial facility in the country capable of recycling all types of EOL batteries to produce a range of materials, including mixed metal dust (‘MMD’). Comprising the ‘active’ compounds recovered from EOL LIBs, including critical battery materials such as cobalt, nickel, lithium and manganese, MMD can provide a sustainable feed source for the manufacture of new batteries.

Envirostream’s LIB material recovery rate of +90% is very high compared with overseas competitors that incinerate the batteries at the commencement of the recycling process. The incineration process reduces mass yield and creates a risk of toxic atmospheric emissions. In contrast Envirostream’s low-temperature processing, unlike its competitors, recovers volatile components, including plastics, resulting in much higher mass yields and lower carbon emissions.

Victoria banned the disposal of batteries to landfill in July 2019. Many of those batteries contain toxic materials capable of polluting soil, groundwater and waterways. Envirostream, being the only mixed battery recycler in Australia, is focused on diverting the maximum amount of battery material from landfill and improving sustainability of the battery industry by creating the circular economy.

On 11 September 2020, the Company applied for an EPA Victoria works approval for one of its Melbourne premises to operate above 500 tonnes per annum (tpa) of specified e-waste due to its expected growth in both battery collection and recycling volumes. Envirostream has never operated above 500tpa of specified e-waste at any of its Victorian sites and was previously not required to hold an EPA license to operate. Envirostream notes there has been industry wide confusion around battery classifications as specified e-waste and that battery recycling is a new industry where best practice is still evolving. Envirostream has had regular discussions with regulators about its licensing requirements. Following discussion with EPA Victoria in mid 2020, the Company commenced preparing an application for an EPA license to operate a scheduled premise. The EPA has not issued Envirostream with any breach notices following its visits to the Company’s premises. The Company is currently working very closely with the EPA to demonstrate industry best practice at Australia’s first battery recycling facility. Envirostream continues to work through the EPA’s process with the view to its application for a license to operate a scheduled premise. The Company continues to operate at below the 500tpa of specified e-waste processing rate and has taken steps to significantly minimize the stock levels at each of its premises to mitigate risk.

In early September 2020, the ACCC authorised the Battery Stewardship Council (‘BSC’) to establish and operate a national stewardship scheme for managing EOL batteries. The intent is to commoditise EOL batteries: placing a levy on new batteries at the point of sale to supplement the cost of subsequent collection and recycling. Implementation of the stewardship scheme should significantly increase the volume of EOL batteries Envirostream recycles as well as significantly increasing its margins on its collection and recycling operations.

Envirostream is committed to establishing a LIB and mixed battery recycling industry in Australia which is critical to removing this hazardous and toxic waste from landfill, and returning the recovered components to the circular economy. Envirostream believes it has the safest and most environmentally sustainable solutions to the battery collection and recycling in Australia and is also a global leader on closing the loop on battery materials.

Safety in battery collection, transport and recycling

2020 YTD Industry Benchmark
Lost Time Injuries (LTI) 0 n/a
Lost Time Injury Frequency Rate (LTIFR) 0 10.7

Envirostream is pleased to report that during the 2020 calendar year it has not had a single LTI since Lithium Australia acquired its controlling interest in November 2019. Envirostream has now gone 14 months since its last LTI.

Envirostream does note WorkSafe Victoria has visited Envirostream’s premises on a number of occasions to inspect the Company’s safety practices and has issued the Company with a number of improvement notices. All of the improvement notices have now been actioned by the Company.

Envirostream’s safety culture is a high priority for the Company and it continuously reviews its safety procedures and systems with a view to keeping all its stakeholders safe and improve on its safety record.

Envirostream has been developing industry wide improvements to ensure safety improvements in collection, storage and processing of batteries and to further reduce associated fire risk. During the time Envirostream has been collecting and recycling batteries, it has become apparent that one of the highest fire risks is the incorrect packaging of EOL mixed or lithium ion batteries at collection locations. Whilst Envirostream cannot control the battery packaging from externally managed collections, a number of mitigating strategies have been implemented by the Company at its facilities to reduce the likelihood of a fire, including:

  • installation of an early heat detection system and fire detection alarms to its recycling facility with site continuous monitoring,
  • the storage of mixed battery types has been changed from steel to plastic containers, with LIB’s processed as a priority to minimize inventories of dangerous goods,
  • significantly increasing its mixed battery sorting capacity to allow the safe storage of LIBs,
  • following EPA Victoria guidelines for management and storage of combustibles recyclable and waste material,
  • process equipment modifications, which include additional cooling water points, procedural changes to safe operating practices and additional operator training to reduce fire risks, and
  • actioning risk mitigation advice from Fire Rescue Victoria.

The biggest challenge for Envirostream is handling mixed batteries collected from its network of collection points. It’s clear that sorting and separation of battery types at these collection points will be difficult if not impossible given the wide range of battery types and the confusion this generates.

To mitigate the risk of an incident, Envirostream has commenced research and development of fire-resistant collection containers for roll out in its network. Significant effort has gone into designing fire resistant collection boxes, bags, crates and containers to reduce the fire risks associated with battery collection and storage.

Photo 1: Fire resistant bags and container to minimize fire risks
Photo 2: Fire resistant bags and container to minimize fire risks
Photo 3: Battery storage boxes
Photo 4: Secure battery storage boxes
Photo 5: Class 9 battery storage and transport stillage

It is important to note that there are no other EOL mixed battery shredding and processing facilities in Australia and with lithium ion batteries becoming part of everyday activities, there is a growing need for the industry to continue to evolve to manage this constantly increasing hazardous e-waste stream and fire risk.

Envirostream will continue to improve its own collection network and will continue to work on improving and leading the industry in this area through its affiliation with its existing suppliers and the Australian Battery Recycling Initiative.

Envirostream has begun identifying additional storage, sorting and recycling sites to expand its operations nationally as EOL battery volumes are expected to grow significantly. The Company has also begun a process to partner in additional recycling facilities in other priority jurisdictions around the world.

Envirostream continues to work very closely with the regulatory bodies to ensure its management systems, safety and environmental procedures are better than industry accepted standards and to minimize the risks to the local communities. Envirostream is focused on continuous improvement to ensure its battery recycling in Australia safe, environmentally friendly and the most sustainable practice.