Gopher Resource and Oak Ridge National Lab Launch Innovative, High-Tech Research Collaboration

Photo Credit: Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee

Year-long project funded by U.S. Department of Energy aims to significantly enhance sustainable nature of lead recycling, impact on entire value chain.

Gopher Resource is excited to announce that its research collaboration with the talented team at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Oak Ridge, TN, has officially begun. The “Reverb Furnace Productivity Project” is a joint, year-long initiative to advance the sustainable nature of the lead recycling industry – and help the metallurgical industry as a whole. 

Elevating Lead Recycling Sustainability

With a 99% recycling rate, lead batteries are already the embodiment of a circular economy. As a closed-loop leader, Gopher Resource wants to further reduce its environmental footprint by improving its reverberatory furnaces.

Reverb furnaces transform battery scrap into a high-purity lead metal that gets remanufactured into new lead batteries. Therein lies the opportunity, according to said Dr. Alexandra Anderson, an engineer with Gopher Resource and the research project’s principle investigator.

“This project has the potential to significantly increase the energy efficiency of lead reverb furnaces, resulting in a reduction of energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.” Dr. Anderson is responsible for managing Gopher Resource’s energy utilization program for the reverberatory furnace, within our overall furnace productivity portfolio.

The Research Model

Dr. Anderson, along with Dr. Joseph Grogan, who is vice president of research and development at Gopher Resource, recently attended the ORNL project launch. They had the opportunity to visit the lab’s Summit Supercomputer, the fastest supercomputer in the world. Gopher Resource and ORNL will together use Summit’s impressive, high-performance capabilities (HPC) to develop new multiphysics reverb furnace models.

The main objective of the project is to better understand the impact of various furnace design and operational parameters on overall energy efficiency, productivity and refractory lifetime for Gopher Resource’s reverb furnaces. Summit will model the complex, multiphysics interactions that occur within our reverb furnaces. The computer’s HPC will significantly increase model complexity and reduce the time needed to obtain computational results.

“The learning gained from this project will enable Gopher Resource to make effective design and process changes that increase the energy efficiency of our reverb furnaces. That will reduce the overall amount of energy needed for the continued recycling of lead batteries,” Dr. Anderson explained.

Industry Firsts and Future Applications

The development of the proposed model, with the aid of HPC, will be a first of its kind for lead furnaces. Dr. Anderson said the project has the potential to impact the complete value chain for the battery industry. It could be applied to other metals manufacturing processes, as well.

While at ORNL, the Gopher Resource team also had the opportunity to visit the Manufacturing Development Facility. It focusses on the future of additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing. Dr. Anderson and Dr. Grogan learned about the new technologies being developed and discussed the exciting potential for applications in the recycling industry.

DOE Funding for Energy Innovation

The Reverb Furnace Productivity Project is funded by a $2 million Department of Energy (DOE) High Performance Computing for Energy Innovation (HPC4EI) Initiative meant to advance the national energy innovation agenda. See the original announcement here.

The Gopher Resource-ORNLA collaborative team expects to begin seeing research results by mid-2020.