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Sortbat: how to isolate the threats in the battery sector

Portugal – As anyone in the battery recycling sector will tell you, handling batteries can be a tricky and dangerous enterprise. The growing popularity of mobile devices and e-cars has resulted in an upsurge of lithium-ion batteries on the sorting belt, affirms Peter Coonen of Belgian battery sorting specialist Sortbat. Speaking at the annual International Congress for Battery Recycling in Portugal, he shared some best practice experiences.

‘Back in 2013, we had 25 incidents while handling batteries. Luckily, we managed to reduce this to six incidents last year,’ Coonen told delegates in Lisbon.

This represents 1 fire (or smoke/gas/heat build-up) per 100 tonnes of batteries sorted versus 0.3 incidents per 100 tonnes of batteries sorted.

Annually, some 60% of incidents are caused by lithium-ion batteries,’ Coonen pointed out. Approximately 95% of incidents occur during or immediately following physical contact.

‘I am glad to announce that almost 70% of these are resolved in under 3 minutes,’ he commented. This is in part to storing high-risk batteries in a special ‘bunker’ that is equipped with automatic Co2 extinguishers.

Sortbat also invested in tailor-made fireproof blankets with vermiculite filling to cover anything from drums, dismantled e-scrap and entire pallets. Sortbat’s equipment as also updated to reduce battery risks.

‘We added a new sorting line that features a reduced drop height of 70%, as well as 2 less drops on the line,’ Coonen remarked. ‘Overall, we reduced travel distance on the sorting line by 60%.’

Furthermore, footage of any incident recorded by overhead security cameras is carefully reviewed and discussed with the facility’s crew. Each year, the workers receive a two-day training by local fire fighters to brush up their first responder skills.

‘Sharp coordination is everything,’ Coonen attests. ‘It starts with people wearing gas masks and protective gear, isolating the threat and ends with pulling away the forklift with reactive material in a way that prevents flames from fanning up and getting to the worker’s body,’ Coonen explained. ‘When it comes to handling batteries, you’ve got to cover all the bases.’

The full Battery Conference report will be published in the upcoming issue of Recycling International (#7).

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