AkkuSer Ltd is seeking future growth from developing countries

AkkuSer, a company that specialises in recycling batteries and accumulators, is forging relationships not only with industrialised nations, but also with developing economies. Finnpartnership’s Matchmaking service has helped AkkuSer make contacts, and the company now intends to apply for Business Partnership Support to analyse future growth potential.

EU legislation requires batteries and accumulators to be sent for sorting, treatment, and recycling. There is no such obligation in developing countries, but it won’t be long before recycling becomes a topical issue for them, too.

“Many developing countries are interested in launching the collection of batteries. Batteries and accumulators currently end up either at refuse tips or in the environment, where the metals they contain pollute the soil and groundwater. Clean water is an increasingly valuable natural resource,” says Jarmo Pudas, Managing Director of AkkuSer Ltd.

AkkuSer operates out of Nivala in Northern Ostrobothnia, Finland. The company treats and recycles used dry batteries, dry accumulators, and mobile phones. AkkuSer has developed the technology to recycle almost all of the materials, that is, metals contained in batteries, accumulators, and telecommunication devices.

Step one – knocking legislation into shape

In addition to the material collected in Finland, products are also brought to Nivala from Sweden, Estonia, Slovakia and Austria. AkkuSer has even received its first delivery from New Zealand.

Future business growth could also come from developing countries. AkkuSer undertook its first sortie into a potential new market in 2007, when Pudas travelled to Malaysia to present the company’s operations and talk with the authorities.

“The legislation governing collection was one of the things we discussed. We need this legislative umbrella before we can begin putting collection into practice.”

Setting up a system for collecting recyclables is challenging. Every country has to decide whose responsibility it is to collect the batteries and how collection will be carried out in practice.

Partners through the Matchmaking service

AkkuSer has made numerous contacts across Asia and Africa through Finnpartnership’s Matchmaking service. These contacts have formed the bases for trips to South Africa, Thailand and other countries. Finnpartnership’s advisory service also provided guidance on planning these trips. Pudas says that the discussions and foreign fact-finding missions will continue. AkkuSer’s plant in Nivala has also received foreign visitors from countries such as South Korea and Taiwan.

“Discussions are ongoing, and things are progressing gradually.”

AkkuSer has self-financed its openings into developing countries. The company has also looked into applying for Finnpartnership Business Partnership Support.

“When our negotiations in developing countries start leading to concrete action, it will be time to apply for funding,” says Pudas.

Progress requires patience

According to Pudas, progress in developing countries requires patience. Even in Europe, legislative changes and the adoption of a system took years.

An EU directive on the collection and recycling of batteries and accumulators was issued in 2006. Two years later, national legislation came into force in Finland, requiring that all the used batteries and accumulators that are collected must be treated and recycled.

At least 25 per cent of all portable batteries and accumulators on the market must be collected in 2012, and 45 per cent by 2016.

In Finland, the responsibility for collecting batteries lies with the importers of electrical products and the producer association that represents them. The association delivers material to AkkuSer’s treatment facility.

At least in the initial stages, products collected in developing countries will also be treated in Nivala. In spite of the long distances involved, Pudas says that their transportation is financially worthwhile.

“Metal prices are high. We have good agreements with metal processors, so we can return some of the sales profit to the customers that handle collection.”

The need for recycling is growing everywhere

The batteries and dry accumulators recycled by AkkuSer are found in wireless devices, such as cameras, mobile phones, and computers. As living standards rise, their use is rapidly becoming more widespread in developing economies, too.

Some batteries and accumulators contain significant amounts of toxic heavy metals, such as cadmium, lead or mercury. Some also contain zinc, copper, manganese, iron, cobalt and nickel. Products are identified and sorted in Nivala, and granules of separated metals are then sent for recycling.

“Developing the technology required to treat hazardous waste is challenging. Our facility handles substances such as volatile gases and powders.”

Environmental issues a competitive edge

AkkuSer’s operations comply with the EU’s strict safety and environmental standards. The company’s environmental system has received ISO 14001 and ISO 9001 certifications.

AkkuSer’s competitors are smelting works that make use of the same exhaustible metals. These smelting works are found all across the globe, but environmental issues are the Finnish company’s competitive edge. Compared to other technologies, AkkuSer’s patented Dry Technology uses significantly less energy – and it does not use any water or chemicals either.

Finland boasts a high standard of recycling and environmental technology, and Pudas thinks it is worth marketing this expertise abroad.

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