Recupyl, bringing metals back to life

Farouk Tedjar was an early European player in recycling. He is the founder of Recupyl, a start-up which is growing fast, both in France and abroad. Recupyl is a good example of an innovative company which perfectly addresses today’s major issues.

This success is at the same time a demonstration of French academic excellence and proof of the effective support of the public authorities.

After obtaining an engineering diploma and a doctorate in electrochemistry from the Grenoble Institute of Technology (Grenoble INP) and then a government-recognized doctorate, Farouk Tedjar returned to his country of origin – Algeria – where he worked in a battery plant. He then became a researcher and lecturer and lastly director of Algeria’s first electrochemistry research unit in Sétif, his home town. In the 1990s, he returned to Grenoble as a researcher at Grenoble INP Laboratory of Electrochemistry and Physicochemistry of Materials and Interfaces (LEPMI). “I said to myself that if you know how to manufacture batteries, you should be able to dismantle them too”, says Tedjar.

Set on “bringing metals back to life”, he led a research programme in that area and invented an innovative process to recover 98% of battery materials. This hydrometallurgy process is original in that it combines mechanics and chemistry, considerably reducing emissions of CO2, dioxins and other dangerous gases compared to conventional thermal processes. In 1993, with the support of Grenoble INP and the public authorities, Tedjar created Recupyl, a start-up based on the first patent registered within LEPMI.

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Credit : Recupyl website

The EU directive requiring collection and recycling of spent batteries, which entered into force in 2008, has promoted the growth of the company’s activity. The company is raising funds and developing abroad in three key regions: Europe, Asia and the Americas. These territories hold promise for battery recycling. Facilities are in place in countries where collection already takes place, including Chile, Italy, Poland, Singapore, Spain and the United States.

There is a vast market, as Recupyl doesn’t only know how to recycle batteries. It also recycles cathode tubes and flat screens and treats fumes from incineration and waste chemical baths, amongst other things. The overall aim is to recover strategic metals such as lithium. The future looks even more promising. The European Commission has set itself the goal of increasing the energy efficiency of all EU Member States by 20% by 2020, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions also by 20%.

Yet billions of rechargeable lithium ion batteries are produced each year to power our mobile telephones, laptop computers and MP3 players. Their disposal generates a considerable quantity of waste and particularly strategic metals, some of which are damaging for the environment. At a time when natural resources are becoming scarce, reintroducing materials from used batteries into the value chain has become a major aspect of sustainable development.

It is therefore not surprising that Recupyl “now aims to become the market leader in the recycling of standard batteries and those of electric vehicles, not to mention those used in industry", as Farouk Tedjar puts it. He would like to thank "all those who have helped us, in particular the French Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME) and the General Commission for Investment”. International customers represent 35% of Recupyl’s activity. Scaling up this activity will also be linked to a new roll-out abroad, particularly in China and Japan where the greatest number of lithium ion batteries are manufactured and used.

Sylvie Thomas

Source : Actualité en France n° 4 - Février 2014

Published on 17/02/2014

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