Battery recycling gets a boost with Tuas plant

New facility can extract precious metals from spent batteries for reuse in making new ones

The process developed by e-waste recycler TES in its facility in Tuas is a first for the region. The plant can recover metals from spent batteries, such as lithium and cobalt with a purity level of almost 99 per cent.
The process developed by e-waste recycler TES in its facility in Tuas is a first for the region. The plant can recover metals from spent batteries, such as lithium and cobalt with a purity level of almost 99 per cent.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

A new facility capable of recycling 14 tonnes of lithium-ion batteries - or the equivalent of 280,000 smartphone batteries - per day officially opened in Tuas yesterday.

The TES B facility, set up by home-grown electronic waste (e-waste) recycler TES, is able to recover more than 90 per cent of precious metals from the batteries for reuse in battery production, said the company.

At the opening ceremony, TES chief executive Gary Steele said the battery space is potentially facing raw material shortages due to the widespread use of smart and mobility devices as well as electric vehicles.

According to the company, the volume of lithium-ion batteries sold annually by 2025 is expected to balloon fivefold to almost five million tonnes a year.

"For the last 100 years, we have all lived in a 'take-make-waste' linear economic model, where materials are extracted from the earth, used and then thrown away. That model is clearly not sustainable," said Mr Steele.

He said that the TES B facility is able to extract precious metals from spent batteries, such as lithium and cobalt with a purity level of almost 99 per cent, which can be reused for fresh battery production.

He pointed out that the hydro-metallurgical process developed by the company was a first for the region.

Besides reducing the need for mining new precious metals, the facility also reduces energy consumption in the battery production process.

"Recycled metals - much of which are from smartphones and laptops - can be reused at a level that is five to 10 times more energy-efficient than metals smelted from virgin ore," said Mr Steele.

Speaking at the ceremony, Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment, noted: "By closing the loop on lithium-ion batteries, TES B has brought Singapore a step closer to realising a circular economy."

The launch of the facility comes at a pivotal moment as the extended producer responsibility scheme kicks into gear on July 1 this year.

Under the scheme, producers - defined by the National Environment Agency (NEA) as companies which manufacture or import electrical or electronic products into Singapore - will have to finance the collection and proper treatment of e-waste.

The scheme, announced in 2018, will help deal with the 60,000 tonnes of e-waste generated by the country annually, an amount which is set to grow with the increasing use of consumer electronics and electric vehicles.

  • 14

    Amount in tonnes of lithium-ion batteries - the equivalent of 280,000 smartphone batteries - that the TES B plant can recycle in one day.

    >90%

    Amount of precious metals from lithium-ion batteries that can be recovered for reuse in battery production.

NEA chief executive Luke Goh said facilities like TES B support Singapore's move towards phasing out internal combustion engine vehicles in favour of electric vehicles, for better public health and to mitigate climate change.

Currently, members of the public can drop off their e-waste at designated recycling bins in public areas such as schools, malls and offices.

Items that can be recycled include laptops, mobile phones, keyboards, chargers and cables.

"The success of our efforts will bring about both environmental and economic benefits as we strengthen our resource resilience, develop our local recycling capabilities and turn trash into treasure," said Ms Fu.

•Additional reporting by Eliz Wang

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2021, with the headline 'Battery recycling gets a boost with Tuas plant'. Subscribe