Nobel Prize Winner M. Stanley Whittingham of Binghamton University on receiving the Nobel Prize in Chemistry and the research which he began many years ago.
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Sponsors of a proposed lithium-ion battery recycling operation in Endicott got a skeptical response Wednesday night when they downplayed environmental impacts from the complex multi-step process they expect to install.
Some residents, drawing on the village’s toxic legacy — a chemical plume from the former IBM plant that ran deep underground, producing potentially harmful vapors in nearby neighborhoods — wanted assurances the recycling process will be innocuous.
While Danish Mir, president of SungEel MCC Americas, said the process is well contained within a controlled system, questions remained among several of the 30 people attending the public information session Wednesday night on the Huron campus.
“We’ve been burned in the village by IBM,” said Pete Pribulick, of Endicott. “We just want to make sure all the processes are in place.”
Company application: Read the documents SungEel MCC Americas has submitted to the DEC
Mir acknowledged lithium-ion batteries are prone to fires, and extra precautions will be taken to assure combustion, if it were to occur, will be contained as part of the company’s stringent safety procedures. Company representatives said dioxin emissions from the process will be zero or close to zero.
Lithium ion batteries. (Photo: Getty Images.)
SungEel MCC Americas, a partnership between South Korean recycling company SungEel HiTech and White Plains-based e-recycler and broker Metallica Commodities Corp., will invest $11 million at the former IBM Corp. site to recycle 3,000 to 5,000 tons of spent lithium-ion batteries annually,
Despite the investment and assurances on the safety measures, those in attendance at the public information meeting expressed concern about the nagging issue in lithium-ion batteries — fires.
“People believe they catch on fire, and sometimes they do,” Mir said. “We’re trying to make it a non-event. The secret in this business is to know (the hazard) is there and know how to handle it.”
Cheryl Chapman, Village of Endicott trustee, noted that before the business can receive a permit for recycling, it must provide training to first responders and furnish necessary equipment to assure fires will be contained.
Company representatives said the recycling operation could be operational within six months after being permitted by the Department of Environmental Conservation. After three years, the company expects to employ 100 people. The initial workforce will be about 20.
Materials recovered in the recycling process will be shipped to processors in South Korea, France and Canada.
“What we’re doing in Endicott is not an experiment; it’s not a pilot plan,” Mir said.
Though lithium-ion battery recycling has been common in South Korea and other parts of the world, it is relatively uncommon in the United States, company representatives said.
“We want this to be the model of future plants in the United States,” Mir said.
Incentives for the project include a $750,000 grant for monitoring and evaluation efforts at the new facility, and a $1 million tax credit.
Large growth in lithium-ion power storage units has led to the growth of the recycling industry. Demand for cobalt and lithium used in the batteries used to power everything from mobile phones to electric cars has caused prices for the raw material to rise. In the industry, the process of recovering materials from recycled products is termed “urban mining.” Batteries from used laptops, mobile phones and electric vehicles are recovered for the recycling operation.
A recent Reuters report said the recycling process is not complex or highly automated. After workers pull batteries from recycled devices, the units are drained of power and then ground into a powder, from which individual metals — including cobalt, nickel and magnesium — can be separated.
“The volume of batteries we’re going to be hit with over the next two or three decades will be monumental,” Mir said. “Battery recycling is going to be a large growth area.”
Currently, Mir said, about 5% of the lithium-ion batteries are recycled.
The proposed lithium-ion battery recycling facility will be at 801 Clark St. in the former IBM Building 259, on the northeast corner of Robble Avenue and Clark Street on the Huron Campus.
Owners of the Huron campus, once one of the largest IBM facilities in the nation with nearly 3 million square feet of space, have been attempting to repurpose the facility since IBM sold the site about 16 years ago.
It now houses a collection of businesses, including BAE Systems, Cadence, a Binghamton University flexible circuits operation, and the few remaining remnants of i3 Electronics — the much smaller successor to the IBM microelectronics operation that once dominated the site.
Original announcement: Battery recycler promises 86 jobs in Endicott
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