Only an insignificant share of lithium-ion batteries worldwide is recycled at the moment, despite the finite resources for raw materials such as cobalt. With millions of tons of waste emerging every year and partly susceptible supply chains, the battery market loses one of its biggest profit potentials. These wasted raw materials are an avoidable problem and reinforce reservations toward the industry’s impact on social and environmental issues. The green start-up Circunomics from the German city of Mainz wants to tackle these challenges with a cloud-based IOT-platform for the Circular Battery Economy.
Battery waste poses an extensive threat to contaminate soil and water due to hazardous components like several heavy metals, including acid, lead, nickel, cadmium, alkaline or mercury, and toxic chemicals. Because of the danger of accumulation of these metals in soil and water, wildlife and humans, the proper disposal of batteries is essential, especially given their sheer numbers: According to AZoCleantech, 180,000 tons of batteries are discarded per year in the USA alone. Thus, the right treatment of obsolete storage media would be either safe disposal, the recycling of suitable battery types such as NiCd, button cell batteries or lead acid batteries – or the transition into a second-life use.
The idea of Circunomics is simple: by collecting big data from real-time telematics to supply chain tracing and lifecycle-management, a learning algorithm creates a digital twin for each battery type and forecasts the remaining capacity. This enables a realistic evaluation of the battery’s remaining value as a storage medium. In a second step, the Circunomics database acts as an open battery exchange where manufacturers can resell, either into a second-life use or for recycling.
What are the evident advantages? The increasing battery demand (plus 35 percent annually!) can be met more sustainably and reliably, with uncounted still functional storage media not disposed of. Rare material like cobalt can be harvested from recycled batteries and in local or regional cycles instead of global supply chains, which suffer from differing standards and susceptibility to extern impacts, as seen in the recent challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, the costs for second-life buyers would decrease significantly, opening new possibilities for the development of future second-life scenarios in the value chain.
But this process is not a stroll in the park. What the second-life storage market is lacking is a compulsory, comparable data standard – like a battery passport, as we call it. With the underlying big data, that is secured and shaped in the IOT-platform, the way of the battery becomes transparent, from the design to the production and use phase as well as to the possible recycling. Standards regarding social and environmental issues will become visible, revealing misuse or unethical resources. Second-life purchasers will know about the value of the product, creating a market that has been neglected so far, because most of used batteries are exported to the key manufacturers in China, Japan or South Korea for recycling. The advantage: since 2018, China requires OEMs to share EV and battery data on a governmental platform, enabling exchange and transparency – and a recycling rate for e-mobility batteries of more than 80%. This initiative is still pending in Europe. But with the global market volume estimated at about USD 9 Billion, the motivation for the industry is especially high. Even renowned global IT and data giants such as Google and SAP show great interest and thus initiated the Circular Economy 2030 Competition at the World Economy Forum in Davos to life. One of the finalists? Circunomics.
Author: Patrick Peter, Founder and CEO | Circunomics
Images: Circunomics | www.circunomics.com