On Wednesday, April 14, Companies for Zero Waste held its discussion on “Electronic and Battery Recycling”, an interactive and dynamic talk on how end of life batteries fit into the circular economy and what are the most efficient ways the industry can deal with recovery and reuse. Companies for Zero Waste CEO, Scott Donachie, introduced the event and spoke about the company’s role in 2021 bringing awareness to these important topics that include sustainability, financing, supply chain and infrastructure. He also said there were plans for CZW to hold Lunch and Learns on Fridays to network. He encouraged attendees continue to share their feedback and ask questions during these sessions as they have valuable input about the direction of upcoming discussions.

The event kicked off with Douglas Johnson-Poensgen, Co-Founder of Circulor, a four-year old technology company that specializes in battery traceability, speaking about incorporating circularity in EV battery production. He talked about the lessons that the industry has learned over the last few years and how we can draw from those experiences, including the life of batteries and other e-waste as we as how we can recycle or use them for a second life.  He pointed out that we are collectively over reliant on China and its supply chain. We need to invest our energies into the reuse and creation of batteries and its materials. For example, for vehicle batteries, it is better for it to be re-used than recycled. Data availability and usability are the main hurdles to efficient re-use of scarce material. Logistics play an important part as well. We need to understand the CO2 footprint and that electric vehicles have a long way to go before they are genuinely good for the planet. A lifecycle assessment doesn’t work because it doesn’t take into account the amount of materials that flow through the supply chain. He also discussed value chain steps and the issues, including battery passport (across the battery lifecycle) and the need for full lifecycle management, Second life services (During and at end-of-life of Second Life Battery) and the lack and/or loss of provenance data at ownership change as well as concerns about benefits of second life batteries; finally tracking recyclates and the need for ethically sourced batteries, low carbon batteries and raw carbon materials. Because batteries are one of the most expensive part of the electric vehicle, we need to find a way to make them more affordable and one solution is looking at leasing the battery while using the car. Johnson-Poensgen said these are the early days for using technology to track materials through industrial supply chains; it is happening but not yet ubiquitous.

Next, Ajay Kocchar, President and CEO, Co-Founder, and Executive Director of Li-Cycle, took a look at creating a local critical battery materials supply chain to accelerate battery recycling in the U.S. as well as the economic and sustainability challenges of lithium-ion battery recycling. As a leader in lithium battery recycling, Li-Cycle has reached milestones, including facilities in Kingston, ON and Rochester, NY, and is currently developing a facility in the Southwest U.S. Future projects include a second facility in Rochester, NY and one in Asia. He talked about how the deconstruct and disposal process is incumbent and not only results in less than a 50% recovery rate, but there are also other valuable materials being lost, such as electrolyte, partial plastics, graphite, aluminum, magenese and additional minor elements. As a result, the supply chain collapses, reduces costs and burdens logistics. A big challenge in this industry is trying to centralize everything into one place. Li-Cycle’s approach is from Spoke to Hub: batteries are received, no sorting, no discharge, minimal dismantling, automated process to directly treating hydrometallurgically to recover battery graphite chemicals inclusive of lithium. In this case, there is no thermal processing or loss of components. All of the materials and end-products are redirected to the lithium-ion battery supply chain and broader economy. Currently, there is heightened regulatory attention. Increasingly stringent policy directives have accelerated the need for reliable, efficient and sustainable solutions and it is driving additional capital inflows. This includes California which requires recovery as close to 100% as possible starting in 2022, Ontario requires recovery rates of 70%+ in 2023, China has required recovery rates greater than 80% since 2018 and the European Union proposed an updated to the current Battery Directive. The U.S.’ S.3356 has proposed $150 million towards R&D for battery recycling and collection, California has allocated $14 million to develop the lithium supply chain in California, the EU has planned for $3.5 billion towards the EU li-ion battery supply chain, including recycling; and Canada has put $1 billion towards clean technology investment, including recycling.

Mathy Stanislaus, Interim Director of the Global Battery Alliance, then talked about the role of data and traceability to drive circularity as well as key policy drivers for circularity. He first discussed circularity as the driver to align the economy with the Paris goals: The flow of materials in the economy is responsible for 50% of GHG and demand is expected to double by 2060. Value-retention manufacturing could reduce raw materials by as much as 80 – 99% and decrease GHG emissions in certain sectors by 79 to 99%. Reusing aluminum, steel and plastics in products could reduce GHG emissions by 96%, 86% and 37%, compared to emissions when products are raw materials. Emissions in a company’s supply chain are around four times as high as those from direct operations, but only about a quarter of companies engage their supply chain to reduce emissions. Stanislaus stressed that the Global Battery Alliance is a multi-stakeholder effort  on facilitating and driving 30 percent reduction in GHG and 50 percent reduction of batteries, focusing on circularity to drive battery demand. Their Battery Passport is a public purpose assurance platform to demonstrate responsibility and sustainability. Characteristics include data transparency, data verifiability and data traceability. The value proposition is the provenance of materials and social impact, enabling sustainable business models, emission footprint disclosure, enabling compliance and circularity. This leads to the Assurance Platform that involves pre-scribing certain rules/framing rules, auditing data, ensuring data integrity and benchmarking. In short, the Battery Passport is a digital representation of battery conveying information about all applicable ESG+ requirements based on a comprehensive definition of a sustainable battery. This aligns with government policies in the draft EU Battery regulation, that covers gathering reliable information, GHG data benchmarks, circularity, due diligence. Remining, advancing circularity, Clean Futures Act were discussed as well. He stressed it is important to get it right—these conversations are crucial because they are opportunities to drive trust.

Then, James Souder, Sustainability Consultant for Circular Products and Services at Metabolic, discussed designing a circular electronics system and the need for cross collaboration for increased supply chain resilience. He first introduced that Metabolic is an “ecosystem” of organizations working with governments, businesses, NGOs and academia to drive global systems change. Its mission is to transition the global economy to a fundamentally sustainable and circular state. He pointed out that in 2020, for the first time in human history, man-made products outweighed the total mass of all life on earth. Because our production system is linear, resources are extracted and used before throwing them away, which results in less than 10% of the materials that pass through our economy each year being recycled. Souder stressed the need for a new operating model that keeps critical metals circulating at their highest value for as long as possible in order to reduce the supply chain risks and environmental impacts. He used an example of a laptop in explaining how the product is designed directly influences material sourcing decisions and associated supply chain risks. When your laptop breaks, there are a variety of options to preserve the value of the critical metals in the device but not all of them are recovered in the current electronics system. Materials are lost when recyclers choose higher value materials to recover like sliver. It is important to understand what can be recovered and what is lost – to think about circularity beyond recycling. This highlights the importance of designing for lifetime extension, reuse and remanufacturing for a circular electronics system. Reuse, Repair, Refurbish and Remanufacture ensure that critical metals in electronics remain in use for as long as possible. Recycling is just one part of the system that works properly in order to maintain a functioning circular economy. A truly circular economy meets the needs of people while staying within planetary boundaries, and progress should be measured across a holistic set of indicators to avoid unintended consequences. Cross-industry collaboration is critical to achieve a circular electronics system. How are you going to fit into this conversation? Look for the opportunities to get involved.

Finally, John Shegerian, Executive Chairman at ERI Direct, engaged in Q&A with CZW’s Donachie covering the trends over the last year and the opportunities for the electronics recycling process to innovate and improve. He said that “The New Normal” is a term that indicates we’ve been beaten by the pandemic. We really should be saying “The New Better”. He stressed that we are going to win and overcome this pandemic and come out better on the other side and that is what ERI has focused on. We all should focus on making ourselves individually better and our companies as well. We need collaboration and Innovation in partnerships; we no longer can go this alone. You need to partner with company within your specialty. ERI has begun to collaborate with strategic partners in metal boards, recovering aluminum (Alcoa) and batteries (Redwood Materials). With regards to ESG and the circular economy, those three partnerships create what we call radical transparency. Having collaboration and partnerships created this type of transition. It is important that all see that there is no one between experts and downstream—a focus on worldwide visibility. He encourages this because the rewards will improve brand and standing in community. He stressed that when ERI got into the industry, e-waste was the fastest growing e-waste stream. Today, it is still the fastest growing stream but much more accelerated. It is a great opportunity to get into this business. He pointed out that ERI started out recycling 10,000 pounds of e-waste; now, they are dealing with 15 million pounds. The opportunity is bigger than ever before to be profitable.

At the end of the discussions, Donachie thanked the speakers and attendees, and opened it up to Q&A and kept the conversation informative and dynamic between attendees and speakers. Topics covered included carbon accounting and circularity, regulations, reuse, and more. It was a great event and we look forward to listening in on more of these discussion in the future.

For more information, visit www.companiesforzerowaste.com.
Upcoming Companies for Zero Waste Events
May 20 Financing RNG Projects
June 17 Sustainable Construction and Tracking Raw Materials
July 22 Supply Chain Problem Solving Workshop
August 19 Renewable Energy Infrastructure
November 11 Zero Waste Annual Meeting