Advanced Recycling Technologies: Why Legacy ERPs and Spreadsheets Fail to Keep Up

Advanced Recycling Demands Advanced Operational Systems

Advanced recycling is gaining momentum, driven by regulatory pressures, the increasing complexity of waste, and market shifts. Governments globally are tightening environmental regulations and pushing for more sustainable recycling practices. 

These new rules are not simply guidelines but mandates for change that require the recycling sector to innovate swiftly.

Meanwhile, the items landing on our recycling belts have grown more complex, making traditional methods less effective. Today's recyclable materials increasingly require advanced solutions, from intricate electronics to composite materials used in end-of-life EV batteries, solar panels, and wind turbines.

Manufacturing 4.0 was propelled forward by strong economic incentives and clearer benefits of technological investments to enhance efficiency, production, and profitability. Historically, innovation has focused more on assembly processes than disassembly and recycling.

Now, advancements in recycling technologies are non-negotiable, setting the wheels of Recycling 4.0 in motion — facilities can no longer afford to operate efficiently and compliantly on spreadsheets.

The Race to Recycle Complex Materials Efficiently

As we know, advanced recycling can meet stringent quality standards by breaking the waste down into chemical building blocks and broadening the types and quantities of waste that can be processed.

As recycling technologies advance, specialised software solutions become increasingly critical. The rapid advancement in manufacturing software, which outpaces recycling-specific solutions, stems from broader market demand and economic incentives.

In the past, manufacturing industries have had substantial investment and a clear, pressing need for software that streamlines production, reduces costs, and enhances efficiency, driving swift technological progress.

In contrast, recycling operations are only just beginning to be prioritised in software development; more on that here. 

Recyclers have had to rely on generic ERPs (Enterprise Resource Planning systems) or spreadsheets, which do not adequately meet their unique requirements.

However, the tide is turning. Heightened global emphasis on sustainability and circular economy principles has spotlighted the critical role of efficient recycling techniques. This shift, coupled with increasing regulatory pressures and consumer demand for eco-friendly practices, has propelled rapid development in recycling-specific software solutions.

These recycling-specific solutions (e.g. Gaea) aim to optimise processes, improve material tracking, and enhance overall efficiency and are advancing faster than ever to meet the sector's unique challenges.

Spotlight on Key Sectors Innovating with Advanced Recycling Technologies

Lithium Batteries


As the demand for lithium batteries surges, driven by the EV boom and the proliferation of portable electronics, the recycling industry faces both a challenge and an opportunity.

Advanced recycling technologies are at the forefront, offering sophisticated methods to reclaim valuable materials such as lithium, cobalt, nickel, and manganese.

Hydrometallurgical processes are gaining traction for efficiently extracting high-purity materials with lower environmental footprints. This contrasts with energy-intensive pyrometallurgical methods, which fall short on sustainability metrics despite their efficacy in processing volumes.

Meanwhile, direct recycling emerges as a game-changer. It promises to revolutionise the industry by recovering cathode materials in a state nearly identical to their original form, thus significantly reducing the demand for virgin raw materials.

In collaboration with CellMine, Sheffield-based RS Bruce is pioneering lithium battery recycling by employing a patented mechanical separation technique to purify black mass, thus facilitating the creation of high-quality cathode materials for new battery production.

In Canada, Li-Cycle specialises in recycling lithium-ion batteries, using a patented hub-and-spoke model to recover valuable materials. Bioleaching presents an intriguing frontier, leveraging the power of microorganisms to extract metals in a more eco-friendly manner.

Umicore has partnered with Terrafame Ltd. to secure a sustainable, low-carbon supply of high-grade nickel sulfate, crucial for battery production, leveraging Terrafame's bioleaching process that significantly reduces the carbon footprint of nickel sulfate production.

E-Waste


As electronic waste (e-waste) volumes escalate, driven by rapid technological advancement and the shortening lifespan of electronic devices, the recycling industry has encountered significant hurdles and vast potential. Cutting-edge recycling technologies lead the charge, providing innovative solutions to recover precious metals such as gold, silver, copper, and rare earth elements from discarded electronics.

Excir, a company specialising in extracting precious metals, works on a chemical level to recover 99% of gold from electronic waste. Their technology has the potential to be adapted to battery materials. Areera, an advanced screen recycling facility, uses cutting-edge X-ray technology.

This technology uses air rather than water to separate harmful bromine from plastics in electronic waste in a cleaner and more precise way, making recycling more effective and better for the environment.

Another company making strides in this field is TdVib LLC, which has commercialised a process to extract rare earth directly from shredded e-waste. Their water-based solution targets and dissolves the rare earth magnet, avoiding using acids and reducing the environmental impact.

This process demonstrates the economic potential and efficiently recovers high-purity products suitable for commercial applications​. Electrochemical methods are emerging as effective for their precision in extracting high-value materials with minimal environmental impact. In contrast, traditional mechanical shredding processes, while capable of handling large quantities, often struggle with material loss and contamination.

Adopting these sophisticated methods contributes to a circular economy prioritising resource conservation and environmental protection, heralding a transformative era in e-waste recycling practices.

Rare Earth


Companies like American Rare Earth and Urban Mining Co. are leading innovators in the rare earth recycling space. Through a strategic partnership with HG Ventures, American Rare Earth focuses on recycling batteries, magnets, and e-waste to recover and supply critical and rare earth metals to the U.S. and global markets.

Their first purification facility is expected to bolster their capabilities in recycling various feedstock, including from spent electric vehicles and windmill motors and e-waste​.

Urban Mining Co., on the other hand, has developed a magnet-to-magnet recycling method for neodymium iron boron magnets, commonly used in hard disk drives, audio equipment, and some industrial equipment. The U.S. Department of Defense has awarded Urban Mining Co. $28.8 million in funding to support this endeavour.

Their process is noted for their innovative approach to recycling, which avoids chemically reducing the material and instead recycles the magnet and rare earth elements through a dry powder metallurgical process​.

Indiana-based ReElement harnesses chromatography, an effective method for extracting metals. This approach offers a smaller, adaptable setup over conventional, bulkier metal extraction plants. Its compact nature reduces building expenses and speeds up installation.


In the UK, HyProMag, founded by experts from the University of Birmingham's Magnetic Material Group, employs a unique patented technique called Hydrogen Processing of Magnet Scrap (HPMS) to recover rare earth metals from discarded materials.

HyProMag uses a patented process called Hydrogen Processing of Magnet Scrap (HPMS). Image credit: University of Birmingham


These companies contribute significantly to advancing the circular economy for rare earth elements, highlighting the potential for sustainable and efficient rare earth recycling processes.

Recycling 4.0: The Digital Transformation and Advanced Recycling

The escalating complexity of recycling operations, particularly with the upsurge in electric vehicle (EV) batteries and renewable energy storage systems, highlights the inadequacy of traditional ERP systems in managing the advanced needs of modern recycling operations.

As the industry moves towards more complex and sophisticated recycling processes, the limitations of outdated systems become increasingly apparent.

The recycling sector's shift towards digitisation, propelled by the increasing demand for advancing recycling techniques and the ambitious global recycling goals set by governments, calls for a transition from manual processes and spreadsheet management to sector-specific software solutions.

Our platform, Gaea, offers a targeted solution to the specific challenges of recycling batteries and other complex materials. It enhances material flow management, digitalises processes, and seamlessly integrates with current ERP systems, providing recyclers with a comprehensive toolkit.

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