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Jaguar Land Rover and Hitachi are backing this unique battery recycler


To have a low-carbon future, lithium-ion batteries will be essential. However, they are expensive to produce and require significant energy for mining and refining of the metals.

According to research, the worldwide market for lithium batteries is likely to increase tenfold by 2020. recent report by the U.S. Department of EnergyThis is a common feature in electric vehicles and power storage systems for renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind.

There’s good news. While cathode material that stores electricity in the batteries can degrade over time, materials that are used to make them work just fine. These materials can be recycled infinitely. There are many businesses that recycle batteries. However, there is one company who claims to be “upcycling” the waste materials.

Massachusetts-based Ascend ElementsInstead of recycling entire components, Ascend captures the battery metals and forms them into new batteries. These materials can be sold directly by Ascend to other manufacturers.

Although the process appears simple, it has been difficult to perfect for decades. Ascend takes apart used batteries and other manufacturing wastes, then turns them into blackish sand. After removing all pieces of aluminum, plastic and copper, it leaches out impurities and leaves behind nickel, cobalt or lithium, which are the cathodes material for a battery.

Ascend Elements’ CEO Michael O’Kronley said, “We’re actually urban mining. Bringing that material in, and turning it into very useable material for battery manufacturers. Reusing these batteries to make new cathode material and recycling them is a way to cut down on carbon emissions.

Study in the scientific journal JouleThe paper, which was co-authored with Ascend scientist who developed the recycling method, showed that batteries made using the cathode/recycling technique not only perform better than batteries made from scratch but also last longer and charge faster.

Other battery recyclers are available, however they do not break down components to the high-value cathode materials.

This is our core intellectual property. This is what we’re currently commercializing,” O’Kronley said, noting that the company expects to increase its nearly 100-person workforce by opening its first Georgia-sized commercial facility. The company also has smaller facilities in Massachusetts, Michigan and New York.

Ascend has received $95 million from investors like Jaguar Land Rover InMotion Ventures or Hitachi Ventures. OrbiaTDK Ventures, Trumpf Ventures, At One Ventures and Doral Energy. It’s currently involved in another round of fundraising.