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MerCo Publishing Inc.
525 Route 73 N, Suite 104
Marlton, NJ 08053

Maintained by Lytleworks

The imperative for recycling in the lithium-ion battery industry

By Todd Bluechel

In the heart of Las Vegas, where overindulgence knows no bounds, the environment won big!

For the past 23+ years I’ve worked in sustainability, the past 13+ years in commercial solar sales and solar financing—yet little did I know the recruiting interviews I had at the 2023 RE+ show/conference would unravel into a profound epiphany.

My objective upon entering the cavernous expanse was straightforward: find an Energy Storage System (ESS) company that would inspire me to further advance sustainability, whether through sales, marketing, business development, finance or M&A.

Over the course of three days, I found myself ensnared in a web of discourse with more than a dozen titans of industry, those luminaries responsible for aggressively peddling the wares of lithium-ion batteries destined for homes, commerce, and utilities. It was here, amid the commotion of opulent booths and impassioned conversations, that I discovered a disquieting chasm in the grand tapestry of sustainability; a haunting question was forged and loomed like an apparition in the recesses of my consciousness.

What, I pondered, would become of all these lithium-ion batteries once they had weathered the relentless march of time, when they had reached the end of their useful EV-powering lives (sub 70 percent remaining capacity)?

By the third interview, I could no longer restrain my inquiry, so I asked: “In a decade, when your batteries have fulfilled their designated lifespan, does your company have a plan in place to contend with all this future waste?”

To my disbelief, only one answered in the affirmative. And thus, a seismic shift in my objective was set into motion. I spent the following two weeks after RE+ in San Diego delving into research, meeting with colleagues, and the facts I uncovered were shocking.     Notwithstanding the exponential growth of EV cars, current International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) estimates say that by 2050 there will be 50 million end-of-life batteries.

In the weeks that followed, I eventually accepted there’s nothing new or personally exciting about becoming another ESS salesman, but what I found myself obsessing on—like a kid with a new toy—were the boundless opportunities to spearhead proactive efforts for ESS companies. Using my vast industry contacts, I could forge partnerships, create guidelines, and apply processes that could initiate a new component of the sustainable future we could all benefit from.

In the realm of sustainability, dialogue is the crucible where innovation is forged. Companies have labored in the shadows, crafting solutions out of the burden of both necessity and stewardship. It’s time for the uninitiated to recognize and vocally support the pioneers striving for a sustainable future. Amidst the hostility of voices proclaiming climate skepticism of sustainability’s contribution to reduce the effects of global warming, I stand firm in my belief that individual actions matter.

It is not enough for manufacturing giants to simply acknowledge they don’t have a plan for the inevitable; they must stride purposefully toward implementation, closing the recycling loop with investments and resolve lest we avert one crisis only to create another.

Redwood Materials and Ascend Elements, fortified by recent multimillion-dollar investments, illustrate the nexus of large-scale innovation and sustainability. Their unique approaches to recycling lithium-ion batteries evoke optimism.

Pioneers are not confined to the grandiose halls of industry giants; smaller companies like We Recycle Solar have fought tirelessly for years, emerging victorious and demonstrating that profit can harmonize with environmental stewardship when scaled appropriately.

Disruptive companies like ReJoule are trailblazing the second-life battery revolution. Their proprietary technology precisely analyzes, in only a matter of minutes, the health and remaining useful life of EV batteries, maximizing their aggregate value. The U.S. Department of Energy is so excited about their technology that ReJoule recently received a $10.5 million grant, with others lining up to additionally offer their financial support.

And using a unified electronic and software system that delivers grid-compliant alternating current directly from the battery by individually controlling each cell, Relectrify claims their “CellSwitch” technology makes inverters obsolete.

As the curtain fell at each of my interview-cum-conversations at RE+, I posed one last fundamental question: “Do you envision your company creating its own recycling plan one day?” To my delight, a chorus of affirmatives resounded… Yes! To the countless souls I have conversed with and those I yearn to encounter in the future, I’d like to take this opportunity to extend my heartfelt gratitude. You all have allowed me to contribute my humble part to the symphony of sustainability for the betterment of mankind, and for that, I consider myself immeasurably privileged.

Todd Bluechel has held executive positions in sales, marketing and business development for waste-to-energy, biofuel, commercial solar and solar financing companies. Todd created and runs America’s only sustainable fishing charity: Fish. Food. Feel Good. (www.f3g.org) that collects and donates pelagic fish to tens of thousands of San Diegans in need every year. Todd can be reached at: [email protected].

Q4 2023