Various estimates about the scale of the potential e-waste problem have been bounded about, with research by Leicester and Newcastle Universities suggesting that a million EVs creates around 250,000 tonnes of battery waste alone. Given that in the race to reduce emissions, the International Energy Agency predicts that up to 44 million EVs could be sold per year by 2030, we're looking at a huge issue.
The IEA's research concurs with that undertaken by the UK universities, in that a quarter of the waste will come from batteries. Based on that 44 million EVs figure, this means 11 million tonnes of spent batteries per year – the equivalent of filling Wembley Stadium 20 times for a sense of scale.
Aceleron, which is a developer of sustainable and reusable batteries, and Eco Charger, which makes zero-emissions quad bikes (and other ATVs) have joined forces to help solve the waste problem. A bit like Renault is doing across a number of markets and industries with its spent batteries, the two British companies are working together to create a 'circular economy'.
Circular economies are devilishly simple and, in the case of EV batteries, both potentially very profitable and eco-friendly. In the case of Aceleron, its UK-designed and made batteries are created to be repaired, upgraded, reused and recycled rather than discarded once spent, broken or obsolete. It reckons that of the batteries it supplies to Eco Charger for use in its quad bikes, more than 90 per cent can be repurposed for second-life application through a buy-back scheme.
“By designing batteries for the circular economy from the outset, we can prevent mountains of battery waste from being created worldwide,” said Dr Amrit Chandan, CEO and Co-Founder of Aceleron. “The decarbonisation of transport is critical, but we are currently solving one sustainability issue while ignoring another. Waste is the elephant in the room. Fortunately, there’s a simple solution and companies like Eco Charger are providing a blueprint to follow.”
It's a sign of the confidence in the circular economy business model Aceleron has that it is prepared to buy 'spent' batteries back. It demonstrates that the company knows there's profit in doing so, and that profit has to come from a useful product – in this case recycled components or repurposed batteries. In fact, buy-back schemes are becoming more and more of a talking point within the industry as policy makers and car companies wrestle with the argument of who 'owns' the e-waste problem caused by EVs. We reckon such schemes will gather momentum in the coming years.
Aceleron also reckons that through regular battery servicing and component upgrades, it can extend battery lifespan significantly – as much as eight times in some cases.
For Eco Charger, reducing its carbon footprint whilst improving its products is a virtuous cycle all of its own. It has also enabled it to stay ahead of the e-mobility game in its own specialised field of ATVs. CEO, Jon Hourihan, said: “By choice or by law all industries will soon have to decarbonise. Aceleron’s batteries demonstrate that tailored engineering can provide low-carbon solutions across all e-mobility scenarios.”
Aceleron thinks that it can expand its expertise across the energy storage spectrum – just as Renault and other vehicle manufacturers are gradually starting to do. Second-life storage is the obvious one, with the company not only focussing on automotive applications, but also moving into the telecommunications, manufacturing and electronics industries.
This flexibility and pursuit of a circular economy on a small scale is a lesson in how bigger players can tackle their own waste mountains.