An artificially intelligent optical sortation device has started sorting some of the millions of pounds of batteries collected across the U.S. by stewardship group Call2Recycle.
Atlanta-based Call2Recycle signed a three-year contract with Battery Solutions for battery sortation. Battery Solutions says it’s the only operation in North America using automated sorting technology to separate batteries by chemistry so they can be recycled.
Battery Solutions already handles about 40 million pounds of batteries each year at its Howell, Mich. and Mesa, Ariz. locations. The partnership with Call2Recycle is expected to add about 7 million pounds this year.
The sortation system, purchased from Swedish company Refind Technologies nearly a year ago, is operating at the Michigan location. The machine can only sort cylindrical batteries, so irregularly shaped products are removed by hand before entering. The technology uses a visible-light camera to examine each battery, and the computer determines its brand and chemistry based on label colors and shapes. To learn which shapes and colors correspond with which brands and chemistries, the computer examines a database of battery photos, with each battery having been photographed more than 100 times.
“There’s a massive database of batteries and you use that database to train the machines,” said Thomas Bjarnemark, Battery Solutions’ CEO. “Then it just recognizes the way the battery looks.”
As with optical sorters for plastics, air jets then blow the materials from the conveyor into the correct container. The machine averages 2,000 pounds per hour, with speeds depending on the mix and cleanliness of batteries.
“If you compare with Europe, collection rates in the U.S. are still relatively low, and we believe that’s going to change over time,” he said. “We believe that sorting technology – it’s an absolutely enabling technology to allow for that to happen.”
Call2Recycle has seen year-over-year increases in battery volumes since collections began 19 years ago. In 2015, its network of U.S. collection locations brought in 7.1 million pounds.
“The single biggest opportunity to improve the efficiency of managing waste batteries is by partnering with the leader in sorting technologies,” Carl Smith, CEO and president of Call2Recycle, stated in a press release.