A big question among those of us with environmental concerns is: what happens to the batteries? This is a fair question and one that deserves to be taken seriously and answered correctly. Even RedEarth, which supplies stationary home batteries, considers this to be the most common customer concern. We can quote big companies like Redwood Materials and talk about shredding, refining and recovery, but maybe there’s a battery recycling step before that?
On a recent visit to Substation33 – a social enterprise that reuses tech waste – I was treated to a story that illustrates the circular economy as it applies to electric vehicle batteries.
An early adopter of an electric vehicle bought a Mitsubishi i-MiEV. Although she initially found her range adequate for her needs, when battery upgrades became available she had OZDIY do the work. Used prismatic batteries from the i-MiEV were then sold to Substation33. At S33, these batteries were tested and reused to power signs warning of flooded roads. One i-MiEV battery will power 50 panels, and one panel has the potential to save many lives.
Substation 33 is busy at the moment carrying out orders for flood road warning systems for Brisbane City Council. As the third year of La Niña approaches, they will be put to good use. During the last rainy season, Brisbane saw more than a meter of rain in a few days. Many parts of Queensland and New South Wales were flooded, some twice.
Repurposing EV batteries to flood warning signs is a great example of what can be done once they are no longer suitable for powering an EV.
Substation33 also recycles batteries from digital devices. Since 2020, they have refurbished and delivered over 4,000 recycled laptops to public schools in the Logan area of South Brisbane. Next year they will adopt the motto “2023 in 23”, referring to the number of computers they hope to refurbish and hand over to students and local families.
Tony Sharp, Founder and Director of S33, tells me that since my last visit 12 months ago, S33 has doubled the number of people it employs, doubled its revenue and doubled its footprint. “We don’t have a grand vision,” he says. “We just took the next step.”
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