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Viridor calls for collaboration on lithium battery detection

16th October 2017

One of the UK’s largest recycling and renewable energy companies, Viridor, has issued a call for collaboration through the Energy Innovation Centre, on vital technology to detect lithium-ion batteries – the biggest cause of waste industry fires – and is offering up to £75,000 in research funding.

The rechargeable batteries are widely used in mobile phones, laptops, digital cameras and toothbrushes and, when damaged, can produce high temperatures under great pressure which makes them a serious fire risk.

Viridor has identified five challenges in terms of detection in the waste stream as part of a project involving waste industry partners along with the University of Sheffield and the Energy Innovation Centre.

The challenges are linked to detection in waste collection vehicles, on conveyor belts, differentiating between the batteries and other metallic scrap and detecting heat or fumes from a burning battery in waste bunkers.

Viridor Development Manager and Co-ordinator of Technology and Innovation, Marcus Du Pree Thomas said: “We are inviting recipients to propose what they can achieve for one or more of these challenges and by what dates.

“Proposals may supplement a bid for £25k of funding with an additional proposal for up to a maximum of £50k funding (making £75k in total) which allows extra certainty and progress to be made. Additional funding may be available if this call is shared by other industry partners.”

Mr Thomas added that “80% of Viridor’s attention would be focused on the ideas and certainty of the £25k proposal”.

He said the public was not aware about the associated fire risks when they put these items in the bin, although recent news coverage of fires involving mobile phones had highlighted the dangers.

He said: “If the batteries are punctured they can ignite, and large batteries can project a shaft of flame for several minutes.”

As the batteries enter the waste management and recycling industries, new risks are being encountered.

Mr Thomas said: “During the last few years, there has been a significant increase in the number of fires at waste recycling plants across the world of which many have been attributed to batteries.”

He said fires starting in waste bins or during waste collection could be dangerous and disruptive. However, the fire risk became even more acute as waste was collected into larger quantities on arrival at transfer and storage points and recycling and processing plants.

The mechanical handling of waste during the time it is stored prior to processing increases the risk that the battery envelope will be broken, leading to self-ignition of the battery which then has the potential to ignite the combustible recyclables / residual waste materials to develop a larger fire.

Mr Thomas said: “Many of these fires are extinguished at the point of ignition but the large waste volumes sometimes present can result in large fires with very serious consequences.”

For more information on how to register initial interest and request an expression of interest form please call the Energy Innovation Centre on 0151 348 8040 and quote the reference number Call VIR-17-01 before 25thOctober 2017.

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