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Recycling the batteries in smartphones, laptops, and electric vehicles is extremely hard — but this company may have cracked the code

“We need to act now and build a scalable and robust battery recycling process.”

The Research Group Circular Energy Storage estimates that by 2030, there will be 1.2 million tons of lithium-ion battery waste worldwide. Of that waste, 35,000 tons of cobalt, 86,000 tons of nickel, and up to 125,000 tons of lithium could be recovered.

If those figures prove to be accurate, that could create a reclamation industry worth approximately $6 billion. Startups like tozero aim to take advantage of that emerging market — and make our energy sources cleaner in the process. 

Tozero, a company based in Germany, is currently planning to build a prototype recycling center that will help make use of lithium-ion batteries, the same kind of batteries used in EVs, smartphones, laptops, and more. 

“We need to act now and build a scalable and robust battery recycling process,” Sarah Fleischer, tozero’s co-founder, said when the company launched earlier this year. 

The company’s mission is to extract as many reusable precious metals as possible from discarded batteries and then sell them back to battery producers. This would present a significant step toward a sustainable-circular economy, which is a system where natural resources are preserved and waste is minimized as much as possible.

There’s no time to lose when it comes to the growing problem of battery waste. Beyond the millions of lithium-ion batteries that are reaching the end of their operational life, the growing electric vehicle market will mean even more energy cell waste unless recycling can curb the tide.

Until now, these batteries have been particularly hard to recycle. E-waste — the trash generated from household and personal electronics — is the world’s fastest-growing waste stream. And EV batteries present all kinds of challenges, from their size to the fact that all batteries eventually lose their charge

If companies like tozero are successful, it could signal a shift in the energy storage industry — to view sustainability as an essential part of economic growth.

“At tozero, we’re committed to challenging the status quo of material life-cycle to accelerate decarbonization,” Fleischer added. “This will allow us to enter the electrification era without worries, continue innovation, and increase [our] quality of life without compromising.”

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