One of the projects undertaken by CORE is the scanning and sorting of products that may contain batteries (so-called “battery suspect products”). This poses a major problem for many processors; the cost of processing battery-suspicious products is substantially higher than products that are certain not to contain batteries. However, the risk of passing batteries through the processing chain is high, given the risk of battery fires.
The solution to this is the use of artificial intelligence (AI) combined with various sensors. This combination makes it possible to automatically separate and sort products with a battery from products without one. The main goal here is to minimize false-negatives, i.e. to avoid products being incorrectly marked as battery-free.
The technology of this process consists of two scanners suspended above a conveyor belt. The waste is deposited on this conveyor, after which it is viewed by the scanners.
First, an optical sensor is deployed, in the form of a camera system. This camera is connected to a computer system. The images are analyzed by a neural network trained to recognize different electronic devices. This forms an initial assessment of products that almost certainly contain a battery (phones, laptops, but also drills, for example) and devices where this is not the case (contaminants on the line such as Styrofoam and rubber, or electronics such as hard drives).
After this optical sensor, an industrial X-ray system follows. This is trained to recognize cells within the products themselves. This makes it possible to also process new products that are not yet recognized by the camera. If a new form of power bank enters the market that does not necessarily look like one, the cells, which are much more uniform in shape and size, will still be detected.
Upon detection by both systems, the position on the belt is automatically tracked in a world model. If a product is marked as battery-holding, the time and location is noted. This, in combination with the known speed of the conveyor belt, makes it possible to track the product, and remove it from the belt at the end. This can be done manually at the beginning, or later through the use of robotic arms or other mechanical solutions.
The result of the system is a sorted stream, where the batteries can be removed manually or mechanically in a safe manner. This saves transportation costs for the processor, and increases safety by preventing battery fires.
What is a battery fire?
The main problem with batteries is that they can become unstable due to various causes, potentially resulting in spontaneous ignition. Because a battery also contains a lot of oxygen, the fire is almost impossible to extinguish; this phenomenon is also known as thermal runaway. Apart from this, parts of the battery can also be ejected due to the pressure build-up, damaging other batteries in storage. This problem is particularly troublesome in the recycling of electronic products, where the batteries are well packaged, such as Bluetooth music speakers.
But battery fires also play a big role in other industries. In the metal industry it is the number one cause of fires. In paper recycling companies it even ranks third. According to the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, the reason for this can be found in the low percentage of batteries collected. Only 24% of lithium-ion batteries in the Netherlands are collected, the rest end up among the PMD waste, residual waste and waste paper.
A circular future
And Team CORE’s ambition doesn’t stop there. They are currently busy developing a factory in Moerdijk, based on the technology of melting waste streams, and turning them into basalt products they unveiled in November 2020. “We want to make the maximum contribution we can to reaching the zero-age. That is the era in which humanity converts all the waste it generates back into raw materials. In other words, 100 percent recycling. The team focuses on developing techniques that can actually be used in industry, where we can make the most impact.”
Follow us on our journey
We want to thank all our partners, relations, and fans that have followed us in the past years and have been supporting us from the start. And for everybody that joined us today, be welcome on our journey to the first circular generation! Together we are going to make this technology, this dream, a big success!
If you would like to become a sponsor of the team or want to get into contact for business or research proposals, you can contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org or 0681696508
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