Old batteries turned into fertiliser to grow food

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Old batteries bound for landfills have been recycled to create a fertiliser, which could assist in growing crops.

Lithium Australia will soon start paddock trials of its manganese and zinc supplement made with old batteries near Kojonup, in Western Australia’s Great Southern district.

The supplement comes from recycled alkaline batteries, which are single-use batteries often used in handheld devices such as a TV remote controls and children’s toys.

Australia’s Battery Stewardship Council estimated 97 per cent of the 158 million alkaline batteries used in Australia every year ended up in landfill.

And all alkaline batteries were imported.

Lithium Australia managing director Adrian Griffin said his company initially recycled lithium batteries.

But after buying another company called Envirostream Australia, which collected all sorts of old batteries, they decided to try to repurpose alkaline batteries.

Mr Griffin said used alkaline batteries had almost no value, so there was very little incentive to collect them. But they did contain manganese oxide and zinc.

“We came to the conclusion manganese and zinc was required as trace element nutrients in fertiliser.”

A gloved hand holds a black product that contains high levels of trace elementsA gloved hand holds a black product that contains high levels of trace elements
Envirostream Australia has developed technology to shred old alkaline batteries and produce a fertiliser supplement with high levels of zinc and manganese and minor amounts of graphite and potassium.(Supplied: Envirostream Australia)

Batteries in landfill are dangerous

Planet Ark head of research Sean O’Malley said all batteries required specialist recycling processes and should never be put in the recycling bin or into general rubbish.

“They can be a potential fire hazard in standard processing facilities,” he said.

He said batteries could also be an environmental hazard from the liquid leaching out of them if they ended up in landfill.

There were schemes to recycle batteries that usually involved people taking them to a shop participating in the program, but they had limited uptake and not many regional areas had a participating local outlet.

Mr O’Malley was looking forward to seeing the results of the trials being run by Lithium Australia’s subsidiary Envirostream.

“It is encouraging to see Envirostream developing innovative potential end-of-life solutions through technology that permits efficient recycling and recovery of various battery elements,” he said.

Wheat growing in containers inside a glasshouse in a fertiliser trialWheat growing in containers inside a glasshouse in a fertiliser trial
Last year, Lithium Australia ran glasshouse trials growing wheat with its zinc and manganese supplement created from old batteries.(Supplied: Envirostream Australia)

Glasshouse trials successful

Envirostream ran glasshouse trials last year using their alkaline mixed metal dust, which contained high levels of zinc and manganese extracted from the old batteries.

The trials tested the fertiliser supplement on wheat and Mr Griffin said results found it compared well with other common sulphate fertilisers.

“We found the uptake is not as good as using manganese sulphate — it’s a more slow release additive,” he said.

Paddock trials were being planted next week on a farm east of Kojonup in soil deficient in zinc, manganese and phosphate and that had a low pH, which Mr Griffin said would be ideal for their manganese and zinc fertiliser supplement.

Zinc and manganese for current commercial fertiliser products comes from mines in Queensland and WA.