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Call for innovative solutions for second-life battery inventory systems

E-waste is the world’s fastest-growing and most valuable domestic waste stream[1]. According to the World Health Organisation, it is estimated that Nigeria generated N64.2 billion worth of electronic waste in 2019 and ranks second in Africa after Egypt[2]. This leaves the country in desperate need to take the disposal and treatment of electronic waste seriously, to safeguard the environment and public health[3].

This conundrum has birthed the collaboration between Innovate UK KTN Global Alliance Africa and Hinckley Group – together, these organisations have recently launched two Innovation Exchange (iX) challenges, aimed at finding innovative solutions for the recycling and repurposing of lithium-ion batteries in Nigeria.

Hinckley Group’s focus on the disposal and processing of lithium-ion battery systems comes as the technology plays an evermore important role in the proliferation of portable electronics, and as the world looks to alternatives to fossil fuels. However, with less than 5% of lithium-ion batteries being recycled[4], Nigeria’s recycling giant believes that – by partnering with startups, entrepreneurs and researchers with novel ideas – they will be able to find and support cost-effective and sustainable strategies for dealing with the vast stockpile of lithium-ion batteries looming on the horizon.

The first innovation challenge is about finding second life uses for specific kinds of lithium ion batteries, with initial focus on roadside kiosks, light or cooling provision and personal mobility. The second challenge is about finding a battery inventory system that can be used to track, trace and report on lithium ion batteries. These are separate but related challenges, whose solutions will be used to build a robust recycling ecosystem.

Says the Managing Director of Hinckley Group, Adrian Clews: “We receive thousands of batteries a month. Initial work with partners in terms of recovering, testing, and categorising these batteries has been promising in determining their suitability for second-life applications. These recovered batteries often retain more than 60% of their original capacity, giving readings of 80 to 110 ohms. Therefore, we are looking for innovative solutions for second-life batteries – specifically those serving roadside kiosks, light or cooling provision, and personal mobility.”

“With Africa priding itself on its promising tech ecosystem, we believe that the continent will see an uptake in demand for lithium-ion cells, however, the entrepreneurs behind these solutions will face major constraints in terms of procurement cost and availability. Recycling is therefore a vital means of both increasing the availability and reducing the costs associated with lithium-ion systems, and we are especially looking forward to working with local entrepreneurs to solve this challenge,” Clews adds.

The iX challenge is an Innovate UK KTN Global Alliance Africa programme, specifically designed to help organisations search for game-changing and innovative solutions to industry challenges, and provides access to networks, knowledge and resources to accelerate their time to market. By leveraging expertise across its diverse network, KTN promotes innovation transfer, matching real industry challenges from large businesses to companies and innovators already working on the solutions.

“This Challenge forms part of our larger mission in Africa, to accelerate Open Innovation partnerships and help leading organisations such as Hinckley Group find innovative solutions to technical problems that their traditional supply chains cannot solve. We do this by promoting cross-sectoral innovation transfer from organisations beyond their usual supply chains,” says Joshua Adedeji, the Nigerian Knowledge Transfer Manager for Innovate UK KTN Global Alliance Africa.

Adedeji continues, saying that: “This intervention is part of our UK-Aid funded six-year project designed to strengthen and scale local innovation and business environments in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. Therefore, by taking part, challenge holders will be supported in finding innovative solutions to key challenges and identifying collaborative solutions. The solution providers will be provided with opportunities to form new partnerships and gain access to new markets where their innovations can make a difference.”

Applications for the challenges close on 11 November 2022. Solution providers from Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya or globally are welcome to apply. Applicants from the UK are also invited to apply. The winner of these innovation challenges will be required to visit Hinckley Recycling’s facilities in Lagos later this year or in early 2023.