Lithium Australia (ASX: LIT) has confirmed that it is currently assessing the use of zinc and manganese, obtained from recycled alkaline batteries, as micro-nutrient supplements in fertilisers.
If its research is successful, the company says it could potentially create a new market for such materials in Australia and tap into an overlooked resource in the form of spent batteries.
According to Lithium Australia’s managing director Adrian Griffin, the current state of battery recycling has become a “major problem” with as many as 97% of batteries being disposed of in municipal waste streams and dumped in landfills, “a sad indictment of our society’s environmental management practices”, Mr Griffin said.
As a company, Lithium Australia is developing a means of repurposing old batteries, in addition to resource exploration, lithium extraction, processing and recycling in Australia and abroad.
Into the field
In a statement to the market this morning, Lithium Australia reported that its recycling division, Envirostream Australia, had undertaken initial pot trials in “controlled greenhouse conditions” with indications that its approach could be used as a source of micronutrients in fertilisers – thereby opening the door to reduce the carbon footprint of the battery industry as a whole.
Moreover, the process would also reduce landfill contamination and would likely boost global food production, although research remains at an early stage and requires further experimentation as part of field trials.
To confirm its initial impressions, Lithium Australia said it plans to conduct field trials near the rural town of Kojonup in the wheat belt of Western Australia, a region that produces about 14 million tonnes of grain annually and serves as a major contributor to Australia’s exports.
The Kojonup site is located around 260 kilometres from Perth and was selected for its low pH, as well as accompanying zinc, manganese and phosphate deficiencies, the company said.
Given the characteristics of the soil, Kojonup is considered as an ideal space to apply fertilisers containing manganese and zinc compounds recovered by Envirostream from spent alkaline batteries.
Earlier this month, Lithium Australia reported it had carried out 9 tests on a quadruplicate basis to assess zinc and manganese as fertiliser with results being “encouraging enough” to continue its research into the concept.
Lithium Australia said it has already begun blending a manganese/zinc supplement alongside major-element fertilisers in preparation for wheat seeding, which is anticipated within the next two weeks.
In addition to Australian field trials, Envirostream intends to conduct further trials overseas in jurisdictions outside Australia which means seeking out partners willing to explore, and possibly enhance, the efficacy of this proposed solution to alkaline battery management, the company said.
“Our plan for repurposing the active components of the spent cells is not only a significant step towards worldwide environmental management of the issue but could also have a powerful influence on the sustainability of disposable batteries,” said Mr Griffin.
“As such, it is an integral part of Lithium Australia’s quest to develop a circular economy for all battery types – which is certainly something society requires,” he added.