5 minutes with… Sam Haig, Battery Recycling Business Manager, RS Bruce Metals & Machinery, UK

5 minutes with… Sam Haig, Battery Recycling Business Manager, RS Bruce Metals & Machinery, UK

September 19, 2019
Marcia González

Sam Haig from R S Bruce Metals & Machinery, a speaker at this year’s E-Waste World Conference & Expo, has experience of traditional e-waste and more recently litihium-ion battery recycling. He is therefore perfectly placed to discuss some of the key issues surrounding both sectors

How did you end up in the industry?
I’ve worked in the recycling sector for the past 10 years, since I graduated. I started at Axion Recycling in Manchester, eventually becoming head of Engineering and Research. During my time at Axion, I worked on several aspects of waste management, including e-waste, and over the past few years I worked extensively on lithium-ion battery recycling, including projects with Jaguar Land Rover, Johnson Matthey, and others. I moved to R S Bruce in March of this year to continue development of battery recycling.

Please tell me about your job role and responsibilities? What exciting projects/innovations are you working on at the moment?
As battery recycling business manager, I am responsible for the development of a battery recycling business at R S Bruce. This will be the first UK-based lithium-ion battery recycling facility and will focus on recycling lithium-ion batteries of all types, from small portable cells to large electric vehicle batteries. We aim to establish the facility by the middle of 2020.

Why do you think electronic waste does not receive the same kind of media scrutiny as, say, plastic pollution?
There are certainly issues related to the production, treatment and recycling of e-waste although they are not necessarily unique to this type of material. The attitude of disposability and replaceability is a common problem across all wastes and in most modern cultures. Addressing these issues in a holistic way would be helpful for the treatment of all waste. However, it is also true that e-waste does have its own issues such as the presence of toxic, dangerous and harmful components. With a large proportion of the world’s e-waste being handled in improper and unregulated ways, there is a large risk that these harmful components are not being handled correctly, causing personal and environmental damage.

The attitude of disposability and replaceability is a common problem across all wastes and in most modern cultures. Addressing these issues in a holistic way would be helpful for the treatment of all waste

The scale of plastic pollution is an issue that can be simply and immediately brought home to people through understanding the items that they buy, consume and dispose of every day. The narrative is also helped by its link to littering as a large proportion of (although not all) litter is made up of single-use plastic packaging. In contrast, electronics are infrequent purchases and similarly are disposed of by consumers no more than a few times a year. For this reason it is perhaps more difficult for consumers and non-technical reporters in the media to relate to the problem and scale of e-waste.

What would you say is the single biggest challenge facing the e-waste sector today? And how would you suggest we overcome that challenge? Where do solutions lie? What needs to change?
The increasing volumes of lithium-ion batteries present in e-waste are a major challenge, causing safety risks during processing as they can lead to fires if damaged. At present there is no method for detection and safe recovery of batteries and it is difficult to imagine a way that it could be done efficiently and effectively. One option that may have an impact is to encourage source segregation of e-waste by consumers at the point of disposal, separating waste into items with batteries and those without. This could at least concentrate the batteries into one smaller stream while creating a battery-free (or at least low-battery) stream. This would require consumer awareness campaigns and additional labelling of electronic goods.

The increasing volumes of lithium-ion batteries present in e-waste are a major challenge, causing safety risks during processing as they can lead to fires if damaged

Is e-waste legislation tough enough – or perhaps not quick enough to adapt rules to faster-changing electronics development cycles?
Legislation must be tough to control unsafe and careless treatment or disposal of e-waste, and it is therefore important that there are clear rules that are well-enforced. However, there needs to be flexibility to allow recyclers to innovate and keep up with changes in e-waste.

Which countries are success stories for you when it comes to dealing with e-waste and why?
From the standpoint of battery (specifically lithium-ion) recycling, countries such as China and South Korea are leading the way, with recycling capacity predicted to outstrip volumes of waste. Others should look to these countries for inspiration, to avoid a future ‘Blue Planet’ moment for electronics and batteries.

Where do you predict the future of e-waste is heading?
Technological developments will allow recyclers to extract greater value from e-waste in more efficient and economical ways; for example, the low-concentration CRMs present in circuit boards that are currently lost. The ubiquity of batteries in devices will force even greater recycling and recyclers will need to keep up-to-date with the latest battery technologies coming through, e.g., low-cobalt cathode, sodium-ion, graphene, etc. The shift from item ownership to a rental model will also affect the relationship that recyclers have with consumers and OEMs, as e-waste collections and reverse logistics schemes could become integrated with OEMs and leasing companies.

A preliminary agenda for E-Waste World Conference & Expo has now been published online. What are your impressions of the speaker line-up and companies confirmed to attend? What topics are you excited to learn about at the conference?
There is an excellent mix of topics presented by high-level speakers. I am interested in hearing about the latest developments in e-waste, in particular developments in technology and legislation. However, I will also be keen to hear about other topics such as re-use opportunities and discovering more about e-waste and battery treatment beyond Europe.

You yourself are delivering a presentation at this first E-Waste World Conference & Expo in November. What do you hope delegates will take away from what you tell them?
I hope delegates will understand a little more about the life-cycle of a battery after it reaches end of life; the opportunities for re-use, how recycling processes can recover the valuable materials within the packs and cells, and how it is possible to close the loop of lithium-ion batteries from end of life back to new life again.

Sam Haig will be delivering a presentation entitled ‘From grave to cradle: an EV’s end-of-life journey’ at E-Waste World Conference & Expo (synopsis below). The conference will take place from Thursday 14 November to Friday 15 November at the Kap Europa, Frankfurt Messe, Germany. To register for this highly focused, solutions-driven event, please click here. For sponsorship and exhibition opportunities, please email peter@trans-globalevents.com

 

The vehicle recycling sector is on the cusp of a boom in EVs and hybrid vehicles as those sold over the past decade begin to reach end of life in significant numbers. How will metal recyclers, long used to traditional IC engine vehicles, handle their encounters with these new types of electric and hybrid vehicles? How do battery recyclers accommodate batteries hundreds of times the size, weight and voltage of those from laptops and cell phones? And how does the ‘second life’ question fit into the equation? Sam will take you on the journey of an EV battery as it reaches end of life, highlighting the practicalities that will be faced at each stage, from safe depollution and dismantling to evaluation for re-manufacturing, and finally to effective and economical material recycling.

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