Used Lead Acid Batteries (ULABs); The Way Forward

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By Chisom Okoye*

I remember my first trip to the Automobile repair shop, also known as the ‘mechanic’, oh what a day. My excitement was evident as it felt like an informal welcome to adulthood. However, this feeling of excitement was quickly replaced by anxiety as I observed and noticed the state at which a certain part of this particular shop was in.

This was the most unsanitary thing I had ever seen and I quickly asked one of the attendees why there were so many batteries piled up in the corner, to which he replied “Madam, na there we dey keep am o, until all these boys wey dey pass go come buy am from us”. He further went to explain that he had no idea what they did with these batteries or where these batteries end up. All I could think about were the thousands of battery hills like this scattered in automobile shops all over the country.

Today, as an advocate for clean energy and all the benefit it brings to the Nigerian economy on a broader scale, the same image is plastered all over my mind as I think about the Rural Electrification Agency’s plan to deploy 10,000 mini-grids to power 14% of the population and 5 million solar stand-alone systems for residential and SMEs by 2023 to which there is no concrete plan for the proper handling, transportation, disposal and recycling of Used Lead Acid Batteries (ULABs).

Defining the ULAB market
This market is defined by an organized informal system consisting of battery collectors, scavengers and recyclers. This system fails to adhere to environmentally safe principles for the handling, transportation, storage and recycling processes of ULABs as it lacks standardized methods for these which then presents a unique challenge for improving the entire ULAB value chain and meeting global benchmark for environmentally safe management of ULABs.

To ensure that global standards are met, it is imperative to develop a ULAB policy that gives specific guidance and procedures for the safe collection, packaging, transportation and recycling of ULABs in Nigeria. This policy will set a standard for the renewable energy sector as well as promote adequate health and safety and ensure a legally recognized used battery ecosystem.

What a ULAB policy should address:
As mentioned previously, this policy should give guidance and procedures for the proper handling of Lead Acid batteries throughout its life cycle. From the moment a mini-grid is commissioned, specific activities should be done to ensure that in the next 5 years, which is the average lifetime of a lead acid battery, the batteries will be properly disposed of.

1. Operators and Customers
1.1. A mandatory data gathering of all batteries sold, used and taken back by operators.
1.2. A mandatory take-back contract between the operators and customers.
1.3. A mandate making operators responsible for the direct collection of ULAB from their customers.

2. Recyclers
2.1. A mandatory registration of all ULAB handlers and recyclers in the nation.
2.2. The development of standard of operation for recyclers and handlers.

3. Handling and Transportation
3.1. A detailed guideline for the proper handling and transportation of ULABs; Proper signage, PPE and training of handling staff.
3.2. A standard operating procedure for all ULAB handlers and transporters in the nation.
3.3. An enforcement of a periodic review of all handling and transportation procedures.

4. Disposal and Recycling
4.1. A standard for proper disposal and recycling.
4.2. The development of specific disposal outlets.

Benefits of this policy to the Sector:
The overarching benefit of having a ULAB policy is the improved health and safety of facilities and the reduction of carbon emission which will increase the nations access to green funds. However, listed below are some of the direct advantages of having the policy:

  • Ensure global ULAB management standards are met.
  • Encourage more investors and make investment decisions easy.
  • Improve the circular economy of the nation.
  • Boosts the economic value of ULABs.
  • Enforces responsibility on foreign companies in proper handling of their ULABs.
  • Help develop a monitoring and evaluating framework for the life-cycle of batteries in the nation.
  • Make the renewable energy sector a pioneer and a trend setter in ULAB management.

Lead is a very dangerous substance and must be handled in a controlled environment and the development of a ULAB policy for the renewable energy sector, will pioneer the development of ULAB policies for other sectors in the nation. Not only will this improve health and safety as it will detail proper handling procedures and generate legal jobs for communities, it will also make the renewable energy sector, particularly the mini-grid development community stronger and attractive to more investments, therefore strengthening the economy of the nation.

*Chisom Okoye is a Technical Advisor Energy Access at Clean Technology Hub.
*With contributions from Ifeoma Malo – CEO, Clean Technology Hub.

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