Recycling revolution for lead-acid batteries

Battery, recycling

Aurelius environmental is revolutionising the waste management and recycling industry for both consumers and suppliers through innovative technologies.

In partnership with producers, we serve the advancement of the marketplace by increasing efficiency and performance while reducing environmental impact in real terms. Our goal is to develop and implement systems in which all outputs feed back into industrial processes to achieve our vision of a world without waste.

We are commercialising a hydrometallurgical process for the recycling of lead-acid battery paste. Our process delivers a new global standard in environmental protection, energy-saving and efficiency standards.

Compared to the pyrometallurgical processing of spent battery paste, we reduce the carbon footprint by 85%, whilst also eliminating all noxious gases (including SO2) at no added cost. In addition to this, compared to other processes, we reduce the slag output (of secondary lead smelting) by at least 90%, and no waste is produced from our process (even the battery paste additives are recovered). Moreover, we save 7,000 MWh for every 10,000 tonnes of battery throughput and produce 99.99% battery-ready lead oxide directly from spent paste.

The Aurelius recycling process is more than environmental innovation: it delivers a step-change in battery performance. For example, the ratio between the alpha and beta forms of the lead oxide is controlled. Our lead oxide is nanostructured and therefore lends itself to enhanced energy density and cycling.

Aurelius and the circular economy

Our aim is to revolutionise recycling. Our vision is a web of industries where one stream’s waste is another stream’s in-feed: bridging linear and wasteful processes to create a circular, pollution-free, zero-waste future. To put it simply: we harvest resources from urban waste. Our flagship technology is on recycling of lead-acid batteries, but we also work on spent lithium-ion batteries, tyres, catalysts and municipal waste.

Founded in 2014, Aurelius Environmental Ltd is a visionary and innovative waste management and recycling business. We are based in the UK at Tipton, Wolverhampton and Cambridge. Our aim is to revolutionise recycling and the circular economy: adding value to both consumers and suppliers through innovative technologies.

At our processing site in Tipton, we collect and recycle more than 10,000 tonnes of spent lead-acid batteries. Waste battery paste is treated via our low-cost, highly efficient desulphurisation process – this removes up to 100% of the sulphate content. Our desulphurisation chemistry is cleaner, cheaper and more efficient compared to the incumbent technology. The desulphurised paste can be further processed via pyrometallurgy to manufacture lead ingot, or alternatively used as feedstock for the FenixPb process to produce nanostructured battery-ready leady oxide.

FenixPb was developed in partnership with the University of Cambridge, UK. The technology received numerous awards including the Rushlight Resource Innovation Award (Jan 2019) and grant-funding from Innovate UK, Eureka Eurostars and the Horizon 2020 SME framework.

Lead-acid battery: the most successfully recycled commodity product

Lead-acid batteries have been indispensable for industrial progress, but at what cost? As the world is looking towards cleaner and greener energy and recycling solutions, we ask ‘is there a better way?’

The lead-acid battery (LAB) was invented in 1859 – i.e. before the mechanical generation of electricity. Today, it enjoys the largest market share by battery type and is expected to reach $95bn (~ £75.6bn) by 2026.1 LABs are referred to as the world’s most successfully recycled commodity product. In the US, 100% of these batteries are collected and processed while in the EU the recycling rate is up to 95%.

But why is LAB recycling so successful? The answer is simple: lead is infinitely recyclable and the economics work. This is despite the fact that smelting, the technology which recycles lead batteries, is considered by some to be the world’s most polluting industry.2 Lead batteries are safe, proven and low-cost. They are used widely in the automotive, traction and uninterruptible power supply sectors. As we migrate towards cleaner and greener technologies, it is crucial to recognise the importance of lead metal. Lead can support our transition to a zero-waste economy, but for this to happen the recycling industry must first become cleaner and less wasteful.

Our innovative technology for the recycling of LAB paste is here to catalyse this change. We will breathe new life into the lead battery industry by lowering the cost of lead oxide production while improving the efficiency and environmental footprints. Moreover, our nanostructured lead oxide will pave the way to a more energy dense and cheaper lead-acid battery of the future.

FenixPb – sustainable recycling of lead battery paste

Our technology offers low start-up costs (around a seventh) in comparison to smelting. It is energy positive, generating more than 4,000 MWh of thermal energy per 10,000 tonnes throughput. It is zero-waste, does not release any noxious gases and reduces the carbon footprint by 85%.

Our approach is to desulphurise the battery paste before passing it through a series of chemical treatment steps in water media. The lead is firstly dissolved to extract impurities; and then the lead salts are converted, via chemical reaction with citric acid, to a pure lead citrate. Next, the lead citrate thermally degrades to produce 99.99% pure lead oxide of various compositions required by manufacturers.

The project’s demonstrator has yielded a continuous flow of around 1.5 tonnes per hour of pure lead oxide – equivalent to 25,000 tonnes per year of battery throughput. Meanwhile, battery manufacturers can expect an increase in energy density due to the nanostructured nature of the FenixPb lead oxide.

Please contact us to discuss licensing and partnership opportunities.

Ballantyne, A., Hallett, J., Riley, D., Shah, N. and Payne, D. (2018). Lead acid battery recycling for the 21st century. Royal Society Open Science, 5(5), p. 171368.

Dr Athan Fox

Chief Technology &

Innovation Officer

Aurelius Environmental Ltd

+44 (0)121 369 9960

Please note, this article will appear in issue 32 of Scitech Europa Quarterly, which is available to read now.

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