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The race to keep electric vehicle batteries out of landfills

electric car batteries
Posted at 11:12 AM, Feb 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-10 13:12:04-05

WESTBORO, Mass.  — Over the course of the next decade, tens of millions of American drivers are expected to get behind the wheel of an electric vehicle. But there's a problem lingering over this expanding industry: what to do with old electric vehicle batteries?

Mike O’Kronley has an answer.

O'Kronley is a battery guy and also the CEO of a company called Ascend Elements. They are at the forefront of electric vehicle battery recycling, an industry that has gained a lot of attention in recent years.

"We’re trying to find new ways to capture those materials and return them back into new batteries, and make that circular economy," O'Kronley said from inside the company's headquarters in Westboro, Massachusetts.

By the end of the decade, hundreds of millions of electric vehicles are expected to be on the road, dramatically decreasing the carbon emissions the US produces.

But there's a problem. As electric vehicles manufactured 10 years ago reach the end of their life, their batteries could end up in landfills, potentially releasing toxic chemicals into the atmosphere.

That’s where all the engineers and scientists at Ascend Elements come in. They have figured out a way to recycle spent lithium-ion batteries into new ones that are longer-lasting and could be recycled into batteries in perpetuity.

"We have to develop new ways of recycling these materials otherwise we’ll continue to destroy our planet," O'Kronley said.

O’Kronley sees the issue of electric vehicle battery recycling as one which has to be dealt with now. By 2030, nearly 145 million electric vehicles are expected to be on the road. That’s up from 11 million in 2021.

"There’s a need and it’s not just a want. It’s a need to conserve our resources, to capture these critical elements, these critical materials and transform them and use them over and over again," he added.

There’s another layer to all of this. Most materials in an electric battery are imported. By recycling electric vehicle batteries here in the United States, Mike O’Kronley believes it could increase the country’s energy independence.

"Once we get those elements imported into the country we certainly don’t want to lose them."