Embedded Battery Detection in E-waste

63 Submissions
$10,000 USD
Challenge under evaluation

Challenge overview


Can you help to improve the recycling of e-waste by identifying devices with embedded batteries?

Iren Ambiente are searching for solutions, ideas, or mature technologies and providers that can detect battery-powered devices earlier in the disposal chain, in order to prevent the potential risks associated with processing batteries. This Challenge’s aim is to improve the circularity of recycling, bring new life to end-of-life devices, and help keep employees safe throughout the process.

Your solution or technology will help Iren to be able to identify, alert, and improve the recycling of e-waste.

This is a Prize Challenge which requires a written proposal to be submitted. Awards will be contingent upon the theoretical evaluation of the proposal by Iren Ambiente. For this Prize Challenge, Solvers are required to transfer non-exclusive rights to the Intellectual Property (IP) in their proposed solution, to be awarded.



Iren is one of the largest and most dynamic multi-utility companies in Italy. It operates in many sectors including the generation and distribution of electricity, production of thermal energy for district heating, and gas. It also manages electric grids and provides integrated water services, as well as environmental and technological services.

Iren serves a multiregional area in the Northwest of Italy. It employs more than 10,000 people and provides a portfolio of services in the energy sector (2 million customers), integrated water sector (2.8 million customers), and environmental services (3.8 million citizens served). Iren is the largest operator in Italy in the production of thermal energy for district heating.

Iren operates mainly through its business units: Iren Energia, Ireti, Iren Mercato, and Iren Ambiente. The current Challenge is sponsored primarily by Iren Ambiente, the company dealing with integrated environmental services.

Employees of Iren Group and its subsidiaries (and members of their families) are not eligible to receive awards for this Challenge.

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As our world grows more digital, the amount of electronic waste, also referred to as WEEE (waste electrical and electronic equipment) or e-waste, produced annually is experiencing a rapid rise. E-waste comprises an extensive array of gadgets like computers, refrigerators, monitors, chargers, solar panels, domestic equipment, and mobile phones.

The presence of batteries within electronic devices creates distinct recycling needs for different parts, and complexity in design can prove a difficulty in recycling. E-waste encompasses a diverse combination of substances, including certain hazardous materials. Improper handling of these discarded devices can lead to significant environmental, health, and security issues.

One of the many problems that the recycling industry is facing with e-waste is recognizing equipment with embedded batteries, more precisely, those with Lithium-ion batteries. These can cause major safety issues in disposal plants if the discarded devices are not detected in the e-waste streams.

If a Lithium-ion battery is placed under mechanical stress or exposed to high temperatures, it can lead to a rapid increase in temperature within the battery, causing a self-sustaining reaction that releases heat, gas, and potentially leads to a fire or explosion. When mixed with other E-waste, the fire can easily expand thanks to the flammable environment.

Treating this type of E-waste is creating significant complications: it not only signifies a huge loss of potential profit for the recycling industry but, more importantly, it threatens the safety of employees while working with these types of appliances. Moreover, E-devices consist of valuable and scarce resources that can be recycled and reused through efficient waste management practices.

The Challenge

In order to tackle this problem and bring added safety and value to the recycling supply chain, Iren Ambiente are looking for a technology that will allow the identification of electronic equipment with embedded batteries. By using this technology in early stages of the disposal chain, before recycling itself, it will reduce the risks to employees and facilities through the removal of e-waste with batteries.

For this Challenge, the focus for identification is on small household appliances, electronic or digital appliance, IT and consumer electronics. This waste stream is a subset of the e-waste categories: e-waste category 4 per the WEEE coordination center, the point of reference for those involved in the WEEE supply chain in Italy. This category of e-waste has become one of the swiftest expanding categories.

In Iren Ambiente facilities, the e-waste arrives already filtered in its categories. This means your identification of waste typography will only require finding e-waste with embedded batteries, not also require determining what is classified as a ‘small household appliance’.

Your involvement in this Challenge will help to identify small household appliances with embedded batteries so that they can be removed from the disposal stream for proper handling. These pieces of e-waste can include, but are not limited to: radios, e-cigarettes, smartphones, earphones, microwaves, fans, electric razors, vacuum cleaners, video cameras, and handheld or portable electronics.

Your solution should be able to identify by sight small household appliances with embedded batteries, though elements of innovation are encouraged. Proposals could employ, but are not limited to: infra-red technology; scanners; robotic automation; image recognition; magnetic or electrostatic separators.



Iren Ambiente is open to new ideas, concepts, your existing solutions or your knowledge about already existing solutions that may be adapted to this context if needed. Solutions with Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs) 1-9 are invited: from ideas about WHAT to do, solutions with HOW to achieve this, and more mature proposals advising WHO can provide these outcomes.

The Challenge award of $10,000 USD is contingent upon theoretical evaluation of your submission, as solely determined by Iren Ambiente.

Your technology should be focused on detecting and identifying waste typology or other markers, in order to detect and alert so that identified devices with embedded batteries can be removed. Iren Ambiente is also interested in the potential for the same technology to provide the means to extract detected embedded batteries.

The solution may combine existing components, commercially available components, and/or novel Solver solutions. Ideas leveraged from other industries with similar problems are encouraged. 

Iren Ambiente is primarily interested in technologies that would meet the following must-have requirements:

  1. Identify – your proposal or proposed technology should be able to identify electronic equipment with embedded batteries, particularly small household appliances.
    • Due to safety considerations, your technology should be able to detect equipment with embedded batteries at a 90% success rate.
    • Typology and detection criteria must be applicable across contexts and the immense complexity of items in the disposal chain.
  2. Alert – once identified or detected, your technology should be able to alert operators and employees of the e-waste with embedded batteries in the waste stream.
    • If your alert is sound-based, please keep in mind that these facilities are loud, busy places.
  3. Improve – your proposal must be of net benefit to the recycling processes undertaken by Iren Ambiente.
    • Any solution must be easy-to-apply by any relevant member of staff, so please detail the usability of and/or any training required in your solution.
    • To maintain efficiency, your detection of e-waste in early stages of the disposal process (before recycling itself) should not slow or interrupt the process by any more than 20%.


Iren Ambiente would also be strongly interested in proposed technologies that meet the following ‘nice-to-have’ requirements:

  1. Extraction – your technology could go beyond identification of devices with embedded batteries by providing a method to extract the batteries from them.


This is a Prize Challenge, which has the following features:

  • The best solution in this Prize Challenge has the opportunity to win the award of $10,000 USD for meeting all must-have solution requirements, as solely determined by Iren Group. We encourage relevant submissions that do not fulfil all requirements, for which partial awards will be considered.
  • The Challenge award is contingent upon theoretical evaluation of the submitted solutions by Iren Ambiente and sufficient instructions to allow Iren Ambiente to consider prototyping.
  • Iren Group may also issue “Honorable Mention” recognitions for notable submissions that are not selected for monetary rewards.

To receive an award, the Solvers will not have to transfer their exclusive IP rights to the Seeker. Instead, Solvers will grant the Seeker a non-exclusive license to practice their solutions. If your solution is commercially-available, Iren Ambiente will not require any transfer of IP rights.



The submitted proposals must be written in English and should include the following:

  1. An Abstract and optional Conclusion of the proposed solution.
  2. A Detailed Description of the proposed technology that meets the above Solution Requirements.
  3. A rationale as to why the Solver believes that the proposed technology will achieve the objectives of the Challenge. This rationale should address each of the Solution Requirements described in the Detailed Description and be supported with relevant examples.
  4. Any appropriate supporting data, drawings, etc.


Submissions to this Challenge must be received by 11:59 PM (US Eastern Time) on September 03rd, 2023. Late submissions will not be considered.

Your submission will be evaluated by the evaluation team first reviewing the information and content you have submitted at the submission form, with attachments used as additional context to your form submission. Submissions relying solely on attachments will receive less attention from the evaluation team.

After the Challenge submission due date, the Seeker will complete the review process and make a decision with regards to the winning solution(s), according to the timeline in the Challenge header. All Solvers who submit a proposal will be notified about the status of their submissions.

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