Revolutionising battery recycling

Aurelius Environmental is a name we’ll be hearing a lot about in the next few years, according to Chief Executive, Miles Freeman. Named after Marcus Aurelius, a Roman emperor who believed in giving back to the people, Aurelius Environmental are buyers and processors of end-of-life (scrap) lead acid batteries with a commitment to improving the recycling process.

Aurelius have developed an innovative new battery recycling technology with Cambridge University. When the first industrial prototype plant is commissioned in a few months’ time the new process promises to change the way batteries are recycled in the market. In the meantime Aurelius are already putting value back into battery recycling, by offering a much better deal for scrap lead-acid batteries than the market does generally. They are actively building relationships with industrial battery manufacturers, distributors, end users, in fact everyone who generates scrap lead acid batteries. Miles Freeman, Chief Executive of Aurelius Environmental (pictured below), spoke to Industry Update.

Industry Update – Miles, when did you join Aurelius and what were you doing before that?

I’ve been with Aurelius Environmental since November 2015. Before that I worked for Ecobat Technologies, the world’s largest producer of lead.

INU – When was Aurelius Environmental formed and who else is involved?
It was formed in July 2014 but didn’t start trading until April 2015. Since taking over the mantle in November 2015, I work closely with our Director of Operations, Mr Johdie Harris, and Dr Athan Fox, who is my Technology Director based at Cambridge University. Also involved in the business is the Technology and Research team from Cambridge University.

INU – Where are you based?
Our permitted installation and production facility is based in Dudley in the West Midlands, and our technical development team is based in Cambridge within the Materials Science Department at the University.

INU – Can you talk us through your strategy?
Our initial strategy is to focus on the acquisition of scrap lead-acid batteries and their processing, and in parallel to develop the new technology. In the meantime companies can start to be a part of the new revolution in battery recycling and get more value from their old batteries by dealing with us, as we are now in a position to penetrate the market effectively.

INU – Who do you currently do business with?
At present, we deal with some well-known battery distributors and scrap merchants. We are now also talking to some of the larger battery manufacturers and distributors. We aim to deliver sustainable and value-added services to our clients and the market for many years to come.

INU – What are the benefits of talking to you?
Our current business model is fairly standard battery recycling. The bulk of recycled batteries go to waste management companies or scrap metal merchants, who pay poor market prices as they end up selling to our company, and the original seller of the scrap batteries lose out. We would rather the originators of scrap batteries come to us, quite simply because we will give them a better deal wrapped in a legally compliant efficient service package. Any business that generates any quantity of lead-acid batteries from any application can deal with us and we will facilitate their needs and maximise value to them.

INU – Warehouse and logistics industry, people use a lot of different equipment besides forklifts, and much of it runs on batteries. Can you identify the different kinds of equipment whose batteries you want to acquire?
Pretty much any company of any size will produce lead-acid battery waste at some time in various quantities. Typically in the warehouse and logistics industry, lead-acid battery scrap will be generated from electric pallet trucks, forklifts/stackers, mobile lifting booms, and additionally from company lorries, vans, cars.

Then of course there is also a large automotive battery market through automotive parts distributors and retailers, service centres, original equipment manufacturers, car/van/HGV dealers and a large standby power market through electrical contractors and facilities management from back-up battery systems installation and services.

INU – What kind of prices can you offer for spent batteries? What kinds of quantities are you looking for?
Well I guess telling you a price right now would be a little pointless as we track the commodity price of lead but for example in March we were paying an average price of over £760 per tonne – this is because we process the materials and not just pass it on to someone else, and clients get a great value irrespective of quantity – talking of quantity, I want as much as people have, but in total capacity terms we are looking to acquire some 25,000 tonnes per annum over the next 12 months.

INU – Who are your target customers?
We’re not just aiming at the companies who put batteries on the market – it’s every company getting rid of scrap batteries – industrial companies, distribution hubs, fleet management people and so on. We want to be the first call for people wanting to get rid of scrap batteries. We can service any quantity anywhere.

INU – How are you set up to collect batteries from customers? Can you collect from anywhere in the UK?
We can collect anywhere within the UK and we are set-up to deal with any customer needs for battery collections ranging from small battery quantities direct from retail outlets to large multi-tonnage removals from larger sites. I refer to our market services as the STAR service – it represents our key service ingredients of ‘Storage service,’ ‘Transportation,’ ‘Assortment and sorting of mixed batteries’ and the ‘Recycling service.’ We operate a legally compliant system, which really maximise efficiencies and drive down costs creating more value for our client.

INU – Can you tell us a bit more about the new process you are developing?
The new process delivers cleaner, greener, more efficient processing of the lead from scrap batteries than present smelting (hot process) methods. The long term goal is to reduce the costs associated with battery manufacture, through this new process, which produces a nanomolecular ‘leady’-Lead Oxide battery paste ready for battery production. At the moment battery recycling produces lead metal only – our new nano-version of the active Lead Oxide has been tested to make batteries last some 50% longer, and have 30+% more energy output.

INU – What impact will your new process have when it comes on stream?
Our new process will be a significant disrupter in the market place. The plan is to build a 25,000 tonne production process in the UK and license the model across the world. This is a $14 billion dollar per year global market, in which this new technology can create several market advantages simultaneously.

INU – What environmental impact do you expect your new process will have when it comes on stream?
These are just some of the advantages – Our technology has one tenth of the carbon footprint of the systems currently used to process scrap batteries, and due to its zero emissions, the capital cost of the plant is 15% of the capital cost of smelting. With a traditional smelter 14% of the cost base is the energy consumption whereas our process can export energy and sell it back to the National Grid.

INU – A lot of people in this industry have migrated to lithium ion battery technology. Have you missed the boat?
Not at all! According to the experts, lead acid batteries aren’t expected to decline for at least another 30 years. You’re right, there is an emerging market for lithium ion, but in their present form they have a fundamental flaw: they cannot be easily recycled. Another drawback is that they, or their ancillary items such as chargers, are very expensive. So until companies involved manage to achieve economies of scale, there won’t be significant volume in the market and because they are expensive the idea of a second hand market for lithium ion batteries is redundant. On the plus side for lead-acid batteries, because they are heavy, they provide a good counterbalance in forklift trucks. We expect our new technology will give lead acid batteries a new market life, through the overall reduction in manufacturing cost combined with an uplift in performance.

We also offer Lithium-Ion battery recycling services, and are developing a new Li-Ion reprocessing technology to follow on from the lead battery technology.

INU – It all sounds very exciting. What’s your timescale for the new process to go live?
The new process has a three-year commercialisation period. We plan to exhibit it when we have something to show people. But before that, as I said earlier, we want to help people who are generating scrap batteries to unlock their value and get a better deal from their recycling by dealing with us direct. So if you’re reading this, get in touch and let’s have a conversation.

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