In late 2020, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced the winners of Phase II of its Lithium-Ion Battery Recycling Prize. Among the seven winners was Seattle-based Team Portables, a collaboration led by Everledger, an independent technology company that uses blockchain, artificial intelligence, intelligent labeling and internet of things to help companies uncover and unify asset information. The London-based company says its technology brings increased transparency to supply chains, benefiting stakeholders who adopt sustainable practices while bringing visibility to their end consumers.
The other companies participating in Team Portables are Palo Alto, California-based electronics manufacturer HP, the Atlanta-based battery stewardship organization Call2Recycle and Amsterdam-based cellphone manufacturer Fairphone will use the $357,000 cash prize to develop a prototype app called Reward to Recycle, where consumers can learn how to earn a reward from contributing partners for recycling their portable lithium-based batteries (LIBs), as well as keep a register of their rewards. LIBs are commonly found in smartphones, laptops, tablets or cordless power tools.
The group’s solution, “Closing the loop on portable lithium-ion batteries,” aims to help the DOE achieve its goal of capturing 90 percent of all discarded or spent LIBs in the United States for eventual recovery of key materials for a sustainable reintroduction into the supply chain by focusing on portable personal electronic devices, such as cellphones, laptops and tablets, and incentivizing consumers to properly recycle them.
With the help of its cash prize, Team Portables is developing and testing its app, which establishes a Battery Passport to track portable LIBs and support final recycling. The Battery Passport can be accessed by IOT identifiers as part of the labeling for each LIB. Using their smartphones, registered users will be able to find out more about recycling and actively earn rewards for doing so.
Lauren Roman, Everledger’s business development director for Metals & Minerals Ecosystems, says that while Team Portables partner Call2Recycle has an app that tells consumers where and how to safely recycle their LIBs, consumer awareness remains low. Everledger’s solution involves adding a QR code to the devices and batteries that directs consumers to the Call2Recycle database of recycling locations, she says. Scanning the code also registers the battery. Once the consumer arrives at the collection site, he or she scans the QR code at the site, validating that they have recycled the battery. At that point, the consumer is given a reward in the form of a coupon or points that can be applied toward a future coupon, Roman says.
She adds that the DOE’s goal is to go from what it says is the current 5 percent recycling rate for LIBs to a 90 percent recycling rate. “That’s quite a stretch,” Roman says, particular because many products containing LIBs are not marked. “Just giving a consumer an app is not enough, you need to incentivize them.”
That incentive will come from tech manufacturers, such as Team Portables member HP. Roman says the manufacturer had a similar project with Best Buy that was paused because of the COVID-19 pandemic. For every device that consumers brought into Best Buy for recycling, they would get a coupon that could be applied toward a new HP product.
The full end-to-end solution will involve the program sponsorship by the DOE, with participation from HP, Fairphone and other manufacturers of LIB-powered products, Call2Recycle and other collectors and sorters in the recycling chain and the incentivization of end consumers.
Through the app, consumers will be…