The global culture of mass production and consumption has resulted in a monumental increase in the amount of waste being generated today, indicating an unmet need for better recycling systems. Traditionally, waste is collected locally and processed at large-scale recycling facilities in a centralized location. While this treats a large amount of waste at once, high transportation costs and energy consumption remain a big problem with the method.
Distributed recycling systems involving small-scale recycling facilities offer a sustainable alternative to conventional recycling systems. Such a system can greatly reduce the energy requirements for transportation and has the potential to increase recycling rates. While this system is still in its infancy, many studies have explored its use in recycling plastics, photovoltaic waste, and wastewater, with particularly promising outcomes in distributed plastic recycling. Therefore, the potential for distributed recycling systems needs to be explored to solve the global issue of waste management.
In a new study, researchers from Ritsumeikan University, Japan, proposed a new small-scale distributed recycling system for used batteries. “The feasibility to decentralize the recycling of e-waste needs to be analyzed, considering the different characteristics of each municipality. In this study, our focus is on obsolete alkaline batteries as waste product to be treated in a distributed recycling system,” explains Prof. Shoki Kosai, a member of the research team and the first author of the study. Their new system employed microwave irradiation, which offers selective, rapid heating and reduced energy consumption compared to furnace-based heating. The team’s findings were published in Resources, Environment and Sustainability, made available online on June 20, 2022 and published in volume 9 on August 31, 2022.
First, the researchers conducted an empirical study to explore the usability of this microwave-based technique in recycling spent alkaline batteries. Then, they conducted an analytical case study to examine the effectiveness of distributed recycling systems in Japan. A total of 1,710 municipalities in Japan were considered in the study, which used energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions as metrics for testing the effectiveness of the proposed recycling system.
The results of the empirical study showed that microwave-based heating achieved a recovery rate of 97% of manganese oxide and zinc from the alkaline batteries. This recovery rate is 1.5 times more than conventional electric furnace-based heating, while taking only half the time. The analytical study also revealed highly optimistic results, as the team noted that a balance between centralized and distributed recycling systems can reduce annual energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions across Japan by 26,500 GJ and 1.54 Gg-CO2eq, respectively.
The concept of decentralization is a new notion among recycling systems. In this regard, the findings of this study provide a good starting point to explore distributed recycling systems using microwave irradiation for metal recovery. “Through the adoption of this system, areas where natural resources are not available will gain the opportunity to become suppliers of secondary resources. This system could also remedy the problem of metal recycling in developing countries,” concludes Prof. Kosai.
The novel microwave-based recycling system definitely “radiates” hope for better waste management in the future!
About Ritsumeikan University, Japan
Ritsumeikan University is one of the most prestigious private universities in Japan. Its main campus is in Kyoto, where inspiring settings await researchers. With an unwavering objective to generate social symbiotic values and emergent talents, it aims to emerge as a next-generation research university. It will enhance researcher potential by providing support best suited to the needs of young and leading researchers, according to their career stage. Ritsumeikan University also endeavors to build a global research network as a “knowledge node” and disseminate achievements internationally, thereby contributing to the resolution of social/humanistic issues through interdisciplinary research and social implementation.
About Professor Shoki Kosai from Ritsumeikan University, Japan
Prof. Shoki Kosai is an Associate Professor at Ritsumeikan University's Global Innovation Research Organization in Japan. Prof. Kosai's research focuses on natural resource conservation, renewable energy, and making the environment cleaner and greener. He holds a Master's degree in Renewable Energy from the University of Malaya, Malaysia. In 2020, he received his PhD degree from Kyoto University, Japan. He has over 30 publications under his belt. He has also presented his research frequently in the IET Clean Energy and Technology Conference.
About Professor Eiji Yamasue from Ritsumeikan University, Japan
Eiji Yamasue is a Professor at the Department of Mechanical Engineering in the College of Science and Engineering, Ritsumeikan University, Japan. He completed his PhD from Tokyo Institute of Technology in 2000. His research interests include industrial ecology, energy and resources, etc. He has authored several books and has published 322 papers with over 1600 citations to his credit. He was the recipient of two science prizes in 2017 including Energy and Material Efficiency and CO2 Reduction in the Steel Industry Best Poster Award. He has received several grants-in-aid for scientific research as well as competitive grants.
This study was partly supported by research funds from KAKENHI Grants (26281056, 20K20013, and 19H04329) and by the Ritsumeikan Global Innovation Research Organization (R-GIRO), Ritsumeikan University.
Resources Environment and Sustainability
Method of Research
Subject of Research
Distributed recycling system with microwave-based heating for obsolete alkaline batteries
Article Publication Date
The authors declare that they have no known competing financial interests or personal relationships that could have appeared to influence the work reported in this paper.