It is no longer news that insufficient power supply is one of Nigeria’s biggest infrastructural challenges, with only 45% of the country connected to the grid and only 25% of those connected enjoying up to 4 hours of power supply a day. This means that approximately 93 million Nigerians are in darkness and millions more self-generating through the use of expensive, polluting fossil-fuel generators.
This is one of the biggest driving forces behind the increasing interest in renewable energy solutions in the country as electricity-starved households and businesses seek out ways to access energy in a way that is cost-effective and environmentally friendly.
However, this surge in renewable energy installations is creating another problem: how to dispose of used energy storage batteries at the end of their life cycle. These batteries, mostly lead-acid battery types, contain toxic, hazardous, poisonous and flammable materials and can cause huge environmental consequences such as lead poisoning and acid water leaching if improperly disposed of.
The need to create a framework for the proper disposal of used lead-acid batteries (ULABs) was the reason behind a workshop titled “Standardizing Best Practices for the Life-Cycle Management of Used Lead-Acid Batteries (ULAB) for Renewable Energy Companies” by the Heinrich Boell Nigeria Foundation and the Renewable Energy Association of Nigeria (REAN).
One key fact from the workshop was the disclosure that about 110,000 tons of ULABs are used in Nigeria annually from the automotive and renewable energy industries. Of this number, only 13% are recycled and mostly done in informal smelters which are often located in residential areas. This leads to high cases of lead pollution which often leads to ill-health.
It was to this end that the workshop was organized by the two organizations and with the partnership of the Recycling and Economic Development Initiative of Nigeria (REDIN), a non-governmental organization that is focused on clean energy, in order to engage renewable energy companies on how to properly dispose of the ULABs.
Generally speaking, batteries can be classified into two groups: primary batteries which are disposable and cannot be recharged, such as alkaline batteries, mercury batteries and zinc carbon batteries found in radios, toys, cellular phones, torchlight, etc; and secondary batteries that are rechargeable once emptied, such as lead acid batteries found in automobile, industrial equipment, and renewable energy systems, which are the focus of the workshop.
The organizers have together with the Waste Battery Recycling Association of Nigeria and Ibeto Group – a private company that is into recycling of used batteries – started the Alliance for Responsible Battery Recyclers (ARBR) which will set the template for how renewable energy companies and other companies across the country including importers of batteries and recyclers should manage used batteries as a form of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) program.
The Alliance is already looking past ULABs, but also at lithium batteries, small batteries for electronic appliances, mobile phone batteries, UPS and automotive batteries.
The goal is that the framework that will be developed by the Alliance will be accepted and adopted by the government and can be used as a template for other industries that make use of lead-acid batteries. This will nip in the bud a growing problem that if nothing is done about will only get worse.
As the renewable energy sector grows with increasing investments such as the World Bank & the Rural Electrification Agency $350m project, it is imperative that a battery management framework is created which will also increase interest in the sector among foreign donors and investors. Such a system will be a closed-loop system where when batteries reach the end of their life cycle go through a proper storage and transport channel to a certified battery recycler.
This will also help to unlock the economic value in the industry through the recycling of lead which goes for as high as $2,565 per ton, encourage local recycling, reduce the export of hazardous waste and the risk of ULAB-related illnesses. Currently, there is a high incidence of lead-related illnesses and considering the fact that informal recycling plants and substandard smelters have high lead pollution around them.
The EPR program of the Alliance will have guidelines that will operate under existing regulations such as the National Environmental Base Metals, Iron and Steel Manufacturing and Recycling Regulation (2011) National Environmental Vehicle and Miscellaneous Assembly Regulations (2012). These existing regulations will also provide a basis for developing a proper policy with the Ministry of Environment for battery recycling as well as advocating for the domestication of the Basel Convention on Trans-boundary Movement of Hazardous Waste.
Another important tool that will help in building standards for the battery will be a benchmark assessment tool which will focus on five areas:
- Building a stakeholder coalition;
- Assessing the best practices for the collection and supply of ULAB and the minimum standard states that batteries should be collected and delivered with the acid;
- Environmental Status and the location of battery recycling plants which ideally should be situated in an industrial zone;
- Proper handling of occupational hazards that can arise from the handling of ULAB; and
- The safety level of the process.
It will be ideal for the Alliance to also go further in supporting take-back schemes for renewable energy companies through financing and policy support, collating data on the battery sector, conducting research and development of new and innovative technologies for the Nigerian renewable energy sector for their energy storage batteries, trainings and workshops for stakeholders in the sector and support expansion and upgrade for the battery recycling trade.
This is a laudable effort by the industry itself in ensuring that in a bid to solve a perennial power supply problem, another problem of how to dispose of used batteries does not arise. Hopefully, this will get the necessary support and cooperation of the government in achieving the goal of preventing a waste disposal problem with respect to used batteries not just for the renewable energy industry but for the whole country.
Mark Amaza is the Lead – Strategic Communications at Power for All, Nigeria. Power for All is a global campaign for the market development of decentralized renewable energy as the fastest, most cost-effective way to create energy access for all.