It was a chance meeting between Dr Tillmann Böhme and academic Professor Veena Sahajwalla that set in train a collaboration between UNSW and the University of Wollongong.

SMART Infrastructure Infrastucture Research Progam Lead – Supply Chain Management, Dr Böhme, was participating in an industry conference when he met Professor Sahajwalla.

“The next thing was an email with an invitation to collaborate in a grant application,” Dr Böhme said.

The application has just been approved and the project to transform Australia’s batteries and household waste will start early next year.

“The multi-disciplinary project aims to develop advanced manufacturing capabilities that focus on the extraction of valueable materials  stemming from battery and consumer wastes,” Dr Böhme said.

“Batteries contain a lot of different metals in very small quantities compressed in a small volume – lithium, graphite, cobalt and nickel– if you have lots of them, they become valuable.

“But at the moment, most go to landfill because people don’t know what to do about it.

“There is a lot of toxicity in battieries so if the content gets into groundwater, it can contaminate the environment.”

The challenge is to create regional economies that can use the metals recovered from recycling, so they can be reintroduced into the supply chain at the most valuable point.

From a supply chain perspective, there remain many unanswered questions. “How do you best treat batteries and how far upstream in the supply chain is ideal to maximize value extraction?” Dr Böhme said.

“There’s no point shipping waste halfway across the world. Regions need to deal with waste and then finding an economy around that.

“Who is going to demand that raw material, ideally locally?

“The question is not just about the material flow but also how do you create the local economy through demand for those recycled materials? We don’t know all the answer to that.”

Dr Böhme will be working with the Centre for Sustainable Materials Research & Technology (SMaRT), at the University of NSW.

The hub aims to transform Australia’s waste and resource recovery industry by developing advanced manufacturing capabilities that focus on small-scale processing of materials produced from battery and consumer wastes.

The project will build on the work of doctorate student Makrita Solitei, who has created the diagnostic flow to recycle MDF and particle boards used by cabinet makers. The Illawarra Shoalhaven Joint Organisation has now put a tender out to progress her initial scoping work for implementation.