Missouri company is the first to create an economically friendly recycling technique for household batteries, and the process is making an impact on the landfill growth emergency.

Batteries are everywhere. For years they were used in millions of products, such as toys, flashlights, and smoke alarms until their power was spent and they were thrown in a landfill. In 2011 that began to change thanks to Dr. Scott Volner. Discarded batteries are now being used to fertilize vegetables, trees, and grass, helping to create a green new world.

Volner‘s ideas and concepts became reality through the creation of Catalytic Innovations in 2011. Volner combined his metallurgical engineering and fertilizer manufacturing experience to use discarded zinc from battery manufacturing waste to produce a liquid micronutrient fertilizer.

The initial output was small with 150 tons of zinc materials producing over 150,000 gallons of high-purity product for row crops such as corn and wheat. Nine years later his company has grown, adding several product lines—some containing manganese and copper—and has plans for expansion.

The Recycling Process 

Truckloads of household alkaline batteries such as AAA’s, D’s, and 9-volt’s are shipped to his Missouri plant where they are carefully sorted and then crushed. A series of chemical steps are used to separate the zinc and manganese. The metal casing is sold to a steel mill for recycling and the zinc is converted to row crop micronutrient fertilizer.

The resulting high-purity manganese is used as animal feed or converted into fertilizer. Just when you think this recycling process couldn’t get any greener, tons of carbon dioxide are used to make specialty use metal carbonates; a low-tech means of sequestering this greenhouse gas.

The Product

Catalytic Innovations recognized that most households are forced to go to landfills for their used batteries except those few places where curbside collection is offered.

The solution? They created a mailable battery collection kit: the GoRecycle Box. This box is DOT permitted to ensure the safe and simple shipping of mixed batteries and to fulfill all regulatory requirements. The customer only has to follow a few simple instructions.

In April of 2020, Catalytic Innovations is poised to debut this product on Kickstarter: an online community that gives entrepreneurs a platform to “crowdfund” their ideas. Using Kickstarter, Catalytic Innovations said they will offer the GoRecycle Box as a means to obtain more spent batteries for recycling.

The GoRecycle Box can come packed with “super-charged” fertilizer made from previously recycled batteries, appropriately named “NUTRI-CELL.” The GoRecycle Box can then be filled with dead batteries and sent back to Catalytic Innovations for conversion into more fertilizer.

Catalytic Innovations wanted to make a fertilizer that could be purchased by the very people that were sending in their batteries. Now everyone that has played a part in the recycling process can personally connect with the circular economy.

“This is how recycling could and should be done”, says Volner.

Catalytic Innovations wasn’t satisfied with bringing a typical lawn and garden fertilizer to market. They improved upon the standard mix of inorganic ingredients by adding humic acid and biologicals. Humic acid aids in increasing the organic matter of your soil, while biologicals provide microbes which aid the plant in the uptake of the inorganic nutrients being laid down.

The Players

Catalytic Innovations’ successes can be attributed to a unique blend of Dr Volner’s extensive experience and the youth and creativity of the team.

Dr Caleb Hull has been leading much of the research and development in the lab for the last eight years earning his Ph.D. in chemistry from the Missouri University of Science and Technology while working at Catalytic Innovations.

Micah Burks heads personnel and has been overseeing processes on the plant floor since 2016. Micah’s wife Sage Burks, a professional artist and illustrator in the local community, is the creative force behind the graphics that are seen on the products. Part time engineering students from Missouri S&T make up a sizeable part of the staff.

The Possibilities

Approximately 150,000 tons of alkaline batteries are manufactured in the United States every year. Having served their purpose and unable to be recharged they are destined for landfills.

Dr. Volner notes, “while many people would be willing to recycle them, few collection mechanisms are in place that are efficient or economical to gather and process them—like we have now.”

Catalytic Innovations is able to process 500 tons annually with plans to increase that to 5,000 tons as they expand and renovate. However, finding and collecting all those batteries may be a bigger task than inventing the process by which they are recycled. They plan to accomplish this increase in collection through their GoRecycle Box.

As Catalytic Innovations expands, landfills will shrink, and gardens will flourish. Catalytic Innovations is the only battery recycler that can retrieve and purify these materials so that they can be reused in the creation of fertilizer, thus completing the life cycle – releasing the metals back into the ground from which they came.

To follow Catalytic Innovation’s progress and be alerted when the Kickstarter campaign begins, interested consumers can sign up at signup.catalytic-innovations.com/optin.