Sunnking: new thermal runaway mitigation solution to make battery recycling safer and more efficient

Headquartered in Brockport, New York, Sunnking Inc. focuses on reducing the amount of e-waste that ends up in landfills by promoting responsible reuse, repair and recycling of unwanted electronic equipment. Operating throughout Western and Central New York state, the company specializes in e-scrap removal and IT Asset Disposition (ITAD), and oversees recycling volumes of more than 25 million pounds each year.

Sunnking’s sophisticated reuse and recycle techniques maximize asset values, promote environmental sustainability, and meet its government and business sector clients’ strict privacy-ensuring data sanitation requirements. In 2000, it became New York state’s first recycler to be R2-certified – a distinction created by Sustainable Electronics Recycling International to recognize responsible recyclers in the often complicated electronics materials circular stream.

A key facet of electronics recycling is handling batteries, whose dangerous chemicals necessitate special care in the various processes employed in their recycling. Here, Sunnking’s operations include consolidation, sorting and packing of batteries destined for recycling at smelters.

Already an intricate endeavor, battery recycling also has an even more meticulous subset: the disposal of damaged, defective or recalled (DDR) batteries. For Sunnking, its process had typically involved vermiculite, a sand-based insulator intended to capture thermal runaway. While a reasonably effective buffer, vermiculite’s bulk-use heft increases shipping costs, and results in batteries arriving at smelters in cumbersome plastic barrels. From there, the vermiculite dust must be removed for the batteries to be compatible with existing recycling protocols – an inconvenient final step.

“Vermiculite was a ‘least-worst’ solution for handling and packing DDR batteries,” said Matt Carpenter, Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) Manager at Sunnking. “It was inefficient from a volume standpoint and wasn’t particularly practical or user-friendly.”

Amid promising growth, Sunnking was intent on leaving the vermiculite behind as its business moved forward.

“There had to be something more innovative than sand,” Carpenter added.

There was.

Increased Safety, Decreased Hassle

Last year, PACT, LLC – a Waterbury, Connecticut-based supplier of packaging and crating technologies – introduced a paper-based, fire-resistant shipping wrap designed to prevent catastrophes caused by battery explosions during transport. Called Thermo Shield, the wrap employs a novel technology that actively and automatically cools a container’s internal environment.

The protective logistics product prevents damage to the outside shipping container, suppresses fumes or gasses from escaping, and limits external oxygen supply – all crucial elements in mitigating dangerous thermal runaway events.

Two main reasons drove Sunnking’s decision to make the switch in late 2020. First, PACT’s Thermo Shield would allow Sunnking to safely pack and fit more batteries in a single shipment while still controlling for the outsized hazards posed by these batteries.

Second, Thermo Shield had a proven ability to mitigate thermal runaway events even for batteries charged at high levels. This was a critical differentiator, as battery recyclers rarely have a firm understanding of the charge levels of the batteries they handle. And of course, the higher the charge, the more dangerous a thermal runaway event would be. Add that to the fact that many of the batteries handled by Sunnking are damaged or defective, and the importance of a more capable thermal runaway safeguard becomes obvious.

“Thermo Shield is simply a superior product for mitigating thermal runaways – and in fact, it’s designed and developed specifically for that purpose,” said Alan Goodrich, Sales Executive for PACT. “Its ability to prevent runaway at higher charges makes it an especially attractive option for companies dealing with battery and e-waste recycling, where such factors are often unknown and therefore dangerous variables.”

Thermo Shield comprises a lightweight pleated material with a non-toxic moisture vapor application that ensures the safety of lithium-ion products in transport. The solution can suppress thermal runaway and propagation at temperatures up to 800°C, and restrict the temperature outside the wrap itself to 80°C.

Thermo Shield is currently the only paper-based wrap solution that exceeds the proposed SAE G27 lithium battery packaging performance standards for safety in shipping via air, land and sea. The shipper also is lightweight and reusable, lending to cost efficiency both at initial purchase and during use.

Thermo Shield also brought the benefit of being 100% recyclable – an important distinction for a recycling specialist such as Sunnking.

“As a professional recycler, we knew that any move away from vermiculite would need to include adopting a sustainable solution,” said Carpenter. “So the fact that PACT’s wrapping product is fully paper-based and completely recyclable was an important factor for us.”

Since incorporating Thermo Shield into its battery recycling processes, Sunnking reports significantly improved efficiency and zero runaway events. The company’s battery recycling operation is running more smoothly than ever, and with more peace of mind.

“Few things are as volatile to ship as damaged batteries,” concludes Carpenter. “Having the best-in-class thermal runaway protection has provided extra reassurance even while simplifying the packing and shipping process. “The thought of using simple sandbags is now a thing of the past.”

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