Mobisol partners African lead battery firms for solar systems

Solar power company Mobisol has partnered African lead-acid battery manufacturers to supply its solar systems in Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda in a closed-loop programme, the company confirmed to BESB on February 27.

Berlin-based Mobisol has partnered Associated Battery Manufacturers in Kenya, Phenix Recycling in Tanzania and Enviroserve in Rwanda, who will supply their batteries to Mobisol customers in their countries then organize battery collection and replacement through their localized networks.

Corporate sustainability manager Paula Berger told BESB that the firm had selected lead batteries because they were ideal for its residential solar systems, which needed reliable, cheap and above all recyclable stationary storage.

“We are one of the few companies offering decentralized solar solutions that are not based on lithium,” said Berger. “We started selling in Africa in 2013, so these first versions are starting to break down because the batteries last four or five years, sometimes less, and we need an end-of-life solution.

“We got in touch with the International Lead Association and asked them how to go about this, and they put us in touch with ABM in Kenya. We already worked with ABM’s battery brand Chloride Exide and this is why the partnership is very good for us, so we set up an action plan with them.

“Before, when the customer’s battery stopped working they might sell it to informal recyclers or substitute it for a car battery, but they’re not good for this application and have environmental risks.

“We have 1,000 freelancers in these countries, many of them in rural areas, who replace our customers’ batteries for them—so they have a contact person.”

Lead battery recycling in Africa came under the spotlight at a UN meeting in Nairobi in December, when the UNEA3 resolved to promote the environmentally sound management of waste lead-acid batteries.

Lead was found at up to 65 times the naturally occurring level in soil near battery plants in Cameroon, Ghana, Mozambique, Nigeria, Tanzania, Tunisia and Kenya, according to the January report Soil Contamination from Lead Battery Manufacturing and Recycling in Seven African Countries by the NGO Occupational Knowledge International.

However Kenya’s ABM, according to Berger, has facilities that are “way ahead” of many other battery firms.

ABM managing director Guy Jack said the partnership was ideal for Mobisol as ABM already had collection networks, its own lead smelter and recycling plant.

“They needed a mechanism whereby their customers had somewhere to take the spent batteries to—and our networks collect, recycle and convert them into lead,” he said.

“At the moment we’re not talking huge volumes, but over the next few years we hope to roll out several systems a month, eventually to wider central and eastern Africa.”

Mobisol has started selling its systems in bulk to companies in the Ivory Coast and Ethiopia, which will set up their own operating systems to collect and recycle the batteries. Berger says there are already 100,000 systems now operating in Africa.