Battery plant denied permit over competency fears

The Environment Agency has refused Fenix Battery Recycling a permit for its facility in Willenhall in the West Midlands, according to a decision document published yesterday (5 April).

The Environment Agency says there are currently 500 tonnes of mixed chemistry batteries at Fenix's Willenhall site

Fenix announced plans for the shredding and recycling plant in September 2020, claiming it would be the first in the UK to offer on-site recycling for multiple battery types (see letsrecycle.com).

Fenix said it would recycle 20,000 tonnes of batteries a year once technology was in place to recycle lithium-ion batteries.

The Agency, however, says it does not believe Fenix will operate the facility in accordance with an environmental permit.

It adds that it does not believe Fenix is “competent to run the site” due to “actions at the Willenhall site and other locations in the case of the applicant’s directors”.

And, the Agency says Fenix’s application was “still deficient in several important areas such that the Agency cannot favourably determine the application based on the information currently submitted.”

The Agency lists issues relating to the Fire Prevention Plan, out-of-date Technically Competent Management details, and how waste including black mass and hazardous electrolyte would be handled and stored, among other things.

The Agency says there are currently 500 tonnes of mixed chemistry batteries at the site, with processing equipment in place.

‘Extremely disappointed’

Damian Lambkin, one of Fenix’s five listed directors, told letsrecycle.com: “Fenix Battery Recycling Ltd are extremely disappointed by the Environment Agency’s refusal of a permit for the proposed facility at Willenhall.

Fenix Battery Recycling Ltd are extremely disappointed by the Environment Agency’s refusal of a permit
Damian Lambkin, Fenix

“The facility would have brought brand new battery recycling technology to the UK and created lots of jobs in the local area.

“We are considering our position and taking advice on our next steps. We don’t want to prejudice our position by commenting specifically on the reasons given by the Environment Agency for the refusal.

“Meanwhile, we will concentrate on operating our battery recycling facility in Kilwinning, Scotland, where we hold a waste management licence issued by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency.”

Non-permitted activities

Within its decision document, the Agency says its battery regulation team asked the Environmental Crime Team (ECT) to visit the Willenhall site in August 2020 due to concerns that batteries at the facility were imported to the UK as waste batteries.

ECT officers visited the site in September 2020 and met with Fenix’s director, Miles Freeman, the Agency says.

At the time of the visit, Fenix had approximately 430 tonnes of alkaline batteries stored on site, the Agency says, with no environmental permit nor waste exemption registered. As such, it was considered an illegal waste site.

Mr Freeman confirmed the batteries were imported on to the site from a location in Weston-Super-Mare, the Agency says, and admitted that he did not have a permit or exemption registered authorising the importation and storage of the batteries at Willenhall. However, the Agency subsequently agreed that the company could keep the batteries at the site providing it did not receive any more.

Fenix raised a number of points itself in discussion with the Agency.

Following a visit in May 2021, the Agency said it was “clear Fenix had simply ignored letters from the EA telling them not to import any more batteries on site.”

Aurelius

Within its decision document, the Environment Agency gives a summary of Fenix’s directors and their history in the waste industry.

The founders of Fenix Battery Recycling (l-r): Dr Athan Fox, Miles Freeman, Neil Muttock, and Damian Lambkin

On Companies House, Fenix lists five directors: Dr Athan Fox, Miles Freeman, Isabel Knight, Mr Lambkin, and Neil Muttock.

Dr Fox was previously technology director and Mr Freeman chief principal officer at another company, Aurelius Environmental Ltd (company number 09126634), a battery recycling business based in Tipton in the West Midlands.

Aurelius was incorporated in July 2014. The operator had a “poor compliance history” between 2016 and 2020 whilst Mr Freeman was in control of site operations, the Agency says.

The Agency says the site suffered a vehicle fire caused by the inappropriate storage of batteries and a visit to check compliance with producer responsibility battery recycling activity resulted in 28 actions being set for the company.

Directors

The Environment Agency also details Mr Lambkin and Mr Muttock’s work within the waste industry.

Damian Lambkin is one of Fenix’s five listed directors

Prior to joining Fenix, Mr Lambkin was a director at The Electronic Waste Company (company number 05942876) and A1 Compliance Ltd (company number 08048523), the Agency says, which were respectively suspended from operating as approved authorised treatment facilities in 2012 and 2015.

Details relating to Mr Lambkin when he worked at Ecosurety are also given.

Meanwhile, Mr Muttock was a director at Eco Waste and Recycling Ltd (company number 07656615) between August 2015 and March 2021.

In January 2019, the Eco Waste and Recycling site suffered a fire which burnt a building, a baler, and waste documentation. Visiting in June 2019, Agency officers found the plant was accepting fridges and paint, which were not authorised by the permit, and storing baled waste outside the permit boundary.

The Agency document notes: “Whilst it is acknowledged that neither the Applicant nor its directors hold formal relevant convictions there is, nevertheless, such a persistently poor record of compliance associated with the Willenhall site, and other sites run and/or managed by the directors of the Applicant, that this history cannot be ignored when considering the suitability of the Applicant for an environmental permit.”

Related link
Environment Agency report: Fenix Battery Recycling

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