Companies team up to support electric vehicle recycling in Michigan


Electric vehicle battery disassembly in action. Image: Battery Solutions

By Chioma Lewis

As electric vehicle demands grow, one focus of concern is how to make them more environmentally sustainable.

A new project by recycling company Battery Solutions and sustainability-focused group NextEnergy aims to make electric vehicle recycling opportunity recommendations to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy by February 2022.

The project is funded by a $50,000 grant from the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy as part of their NextCycle Michigan initiative.

A major part of the project is to build capacity in the state for repurposing and recycling electric vehicle batteries, said Jim Saber, the president and CEO of NextEnergy.

The six-stage project will involve cataloging, evaluating and analyzing Michigan’s electric vehicle battery supply chain and infrastructure.

The project will also analyze gaps in electric vehicle battery secondary use and recycling opportunities.

When you identify those areas within the actual chain that are sometimes a challenge, it provides opportunity for Michigan to enhance its foothold within sustainability, said Danielle Spalding, the director of marketing and communications at Battery Solutions.

The downsides to not recycling these batteries are largely environmental, said Thomas Bjarnemark, the president and CEO of Battery Solutions. People don’t want this stuff to show up in landfills or otherwise contaminate the environment.

Another downside is the reliance on natural resources extracted from the ground, said Matt Flechter, a recycling market development specialist at the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy.

Recycling and repurposing will be better for the environment, and in how people best manage all the natural resources that are available to us, Saber said.

Bjarnemark said that during recycling, batteries are disassembled into components that can be used to manufacture new batteries or be repurposed for other industrial uses.

Other applications involve reuse of the batteries for renewable power or energy sources.

“So even if they don’t go into new battery manufacturing, they can be put to good use,” Bjarnemark said.

The more that people can understand what these opportunities are in the size of the markets regionally, they can actually develop these things to be a circular economy application, Saber said. “Where we use it locally, we repurpose it locally, and then we recycle or redeploy locally.”

Flechter said there are many reasons why people might want to recycle.

“It’s not only an economic issue that moves materials back into manufacturing,” Flechter said. “It’s also an environmental issue where we can reduce greenhouse gases and save energy while supporting the environment and the economy.”

The NextCycle Michigan initiative provides grants that fund ideas and opportunities for recycling.

Flechter said recycling is a system that depends on experts using their skills to inform residents and businesses about how, why and where to recycle.

The partnership between Battery Solutions and NextEnergy strives to do that, he said.

“It’s also really important in that system, that we think about the entire lifecycle of that product,” Flechter said. “Once I’m done with it, who can use it next? And how can partnerships create opportunities for those materials once thought of as waste?”

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