References Agriculture, Environment

Our partner’s expertise has been of great use during product development. We have learned a lot from the collaboration.

The customer

Tracegrow Oy is developing a recycling method for alkaline batteries that brings the recycling rate of the batteries up to over 80%.

The need

The use of disposable batteries increases by 5–6% every year. In the past, used batteries ended up at landfill sites, but in 2004, disposal of alkaline batteries at landfill sites was forbidden by an EU regulation. EU member countries are committed to recycling 45% of portable batteries by 2016. The need for recycling thus equals to 125,000 tonnes per year. Finland’s share of this is approximately 1,500 tonnes. The share of alkaline batteries is approximately 80% of the whole.

An alternative method was developed for the melting of alkaline batteries, which involves crushing the batteries and separating iron from the crushed material. One of the countries where the crushed mass is reprocessed is Germany. During reprocessing, zinc compounds are also separated from the mass.

Nonetheless, the recycling rate of alkaline batteries remains lower than it should, because the end products are taken to landfill sites. In addition, the process requires a lot of energy and produces a lot of waste water. Therefore, the collected alkaline batteries tend to remain in warehouses or end up at landfill sites.

The solution

In Finland, AkkuSer Oy has a processing plant for alkaline batteries that receives approximately 2,000 tonnes of portable batteries and alkaline batteries from Finland and other Nordic countries. The company crushes the sorted alkaline batteries in a separate process and separates iron from the mass.

Tracegrow Oy has developed a reprocessing method for the batteries that is the most efficient in the market when it comes to energy consumption and recyclability. In this process, manganese and zinc are separated from the crushed battery mass. These are dissolved into a solution as sulphates. The water needed in the process is recycled to prevent the production of waste water.

Tracegrow Oy and Luke have examined the possibilities of using the manganese and zinc separated from alkaline batteries as a source of nutrients for field crops. The collaboration has resulted in the development of a nutrient solution used for fertilisation. As a result, Tracegrow Oy has invested in a production plant for trace elements, to be built in the Finnish town of Kärsämäki in 2017.

The effectiveness

The process enables environmentally friendly and energy-efficient recycling of collected alkaline batteries. Among other things, zinc affects the formation of protein and carbohydrates in plants. It also works as an important growth hormone in the production of auxin. The zinc content in the Finnish soil is relatively good, but zinc is in great demand globally. An estimated 2 billion people suffer from zinc deficiency, and 63 million people are believed to die from it every year. The greenhouse effect is believed to make the situation even worse.

The manganese content of our arable land is poor. Manganese plays a part in protein production, among other things, and the lack of manganese has a negative effect on plants’ nitrogen use and photosynthesis. In addition, it makes leaves limp and has a negative effect on root growth.

The end product

The end product is a compound containing manganese, zinc, potassium and sulphur, and also small quantities of copper and iron.

The funding

The funding for the early stages has come from enterprises.

Comments from the customer

“Our partner’s expertise has been of great use during product development. We have learned a lot from the collaboration.”

Petri Huhtala, Chairman of the Board, Tracegrow Oy 

Jarmo Pudas, Development Director, Tracegrow Oy

Comments from Luke

“It has been a joy to work in a community that doesn’t simply expect a bright future to fall in its lap but grasps that future through bold initiatives and hard work.”

Erkki Joki-Tokola, Group Manager, Luke

Image at the top: Recser Oy