Opinion. Battery recycling plant is dangerous, not green

May 31, 2020. Press & Sun-Bulletin, Binghamton NY, page 12A.

 

Your Turn
Paul Connett
Guest columnist

 

I would like to respond to Mayor Linda Jackson’s Opinion piece in the May 17 paper, “Battery recycling part of building green economy.”

 

In reality, the SungEel plant is a giant step backward for the Village of Endicott. In my view, it is only half-green, and it is the other dirty-brown part I am concerned about. The green part is their effort to reclaim valuable metals from the spent lithium ion batteries — but these metals will be sent to South Korea.

 

The dirty brown part, which will be left in Endicott, is the step designed to separate the metals from the non-metallic parts of the batteries (which include the electrolyte, plastics and binders). This step involves heating the battery components to 600 degrees centigrade and then burning the gases produced at 800 degrees centigrade.

 

This step is potentially very dangerous to both the workers in the plant and the residents who live in Endicott. As a former professor of chemistry who specialized in incineration, let me explain why.

 

These batteries contain several fluorinated chemicals: a binder called PVDF (poly vinylidene difluoride) a fluorinated polymer which contains 60% fluorine by weight; lithium hexafluorophosphate and a PFAS (poly fluorinated alkyl substance) in the electrolyte. In essence, what you do when you heat and burn these substances is to convert some of the most stable substances in commerce to the most reactive species in chemistry, namely the fluorine atom (or free radical).

 

This fluorine radical will react with virtually everything: It will convert metals like beryllium and chromium (VI) to their fluorides, which are volatile; it will oxidize oxygen to oxygen difluoride; it will react with hydrogen to produce hydrogen fluoride in large quantities (kilogram amounts). Hydrogen fluoride is a very toxic gas that could kill workers in the plant if there are any leaks in the ductwork, likewise with another product phosphoryl trifluoride. In addition, it will produce many other fluorinated organic compounds, none of which will improve our health.

 

Additional dangers include any dioxins formed if any chlorinated or brominated compounds are present in the batteries, as well as the nanoparticles generated in any high temperature process. The latter will not be captured by the air pollution equipment, nor monitored by the DEC.

 

While we are all proud that a BU chemist has won the Nobel prize in chemistry for his role in developing the lithium ion battery, I think the mayor may be using his name in vain. I am sure he welcomes the recycling of these batteries but there are other ways of doing this which do not use this pyro-metallurgical process. I suspect he — like the DEC — has not had the time to carefully studies the dangers I have described above But you don’t need a Ph.D in chemistry to realize that it is preposterous to run such a facility across the road from where people live and next to a ballpark where kids play.

 

That’s almost as preposterous as calling it a green facility.

 

 

Paul Connett is a Binghamton resident.


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