PeopleForBikes encourages people to ride bicycles and governments to improve facilities for bicyclists. Call2Recycle helps people recycle the batteries in their electronic devices responsibly. Together, they have created the Hungry For Batteries program that focuses on recycling e-bike battery systems in the US.
The new program says that millions of electric bikes are being ridden on roads and trails across the US today. Those e-bikes are helping Americans replace car trips, reduce their personal carbon footprint, and access the countless benefits and joys of the great outdoors. With those bikes, there are also millions of lithium-ion batteries that will need to be properly managed at their end of life.
The bicycle industry recently came together to establish a battery recycling program to reduce negative impacts on our planet by removing e-bike batteries from our waste streams. The new program, powered by Call2Recycle and endorsed by PeopleForBikes, has already recycled more than 36,000 pounds of batteries.
The Hungry for Batteries campaign coordinates electric bike battery disposal for 52 e-bike brands and suppliers. It includes more than 1,800 retail drop-off locations in the United States, a vast network that should make recycling much simpler for cyclists.
According to Cycling Tips, riders who own an e-bike from one of the participating brands can drop their e-bike battery off at the dealership where they purchased their bicycle. That dealer then works with Call2Recycle to transport the battery to a local sorter or recycler.
Each dealer is trained to collect the battery using special recycling kits. Batteries that have been compromised in some way — swelling, loose wires showing, or obvious signs that the battery has been tampered with — go into one kit, while uncompromised batteries go into another kit. The dealer then works with Call2Recycle, which adds the batteries to its recycling stream.
The goal is always to keep the battery close to its original starting point, according to Call2Recycle. There’s no point in transporting a battery long distances to be recycled if it can be done closer so less energy is used. Call2Recycle currently works with Redwood Materials, Li-Cycle, RCI, and Interco. Once a recycler receives a battery, it determines how much of it is reusable and proceeds to extract the materials and minerals contained inside. Up to 90% of a battery submitted for recycling can be completely reused to make more batteries.
E-Bike Battery Recycling Is Just Beginning
PeopleForBikes points out that “Hungry for Batteries” is far from a finished project. The original program started in November of 2021 through a partnership with Specialized, Call2Recycle, and PeopleForBikes. Since then, other brands and their retailers have been brought on board. The program focuses on making sure retailers receive the correct training so they can handle the returned batteries properly. With that training completed, the e-bike battery recycling process will be able to run as smoothly as possible.
The “Hungry for Batteries” program is about educating the public about how to recycle an e-bike battery responsibly. It features Watts, a character that may look familiar to fans of The Muppets. PeopleForBikes says it plans to introduce more characters and more stories that aim to educate the public about why recycling an e-bike battery is important and how to properly maintain the batteries used in e-bikes.
Responsible E-Bike Battery Recycling
Most of us are aware of the number of battery fires in the news recently. More than a dozen people in New York City have been killed in fires attributed to faulty batteries in e-bikes, electric scooters, and hoverboards. The problem is the batteries in these products do not have a cooling system like most electric cars have.
EVs have elaborate battery management systems, but an e-bike battery typically has a rudimentary BMS at best. Many of the fires reported to date involve batteries that are being charged. Industry experts urge people not to leave the batteries connected to chargers overnight. They recommend the charger be disconnected as soon as the e-bike battery is fully charged.
Most CleanTechnica readers know that the lithium in a battery can create microscopic spikes called dendrites when the battery is charged or discharged. If those spikes of metal touch both the anode and cathode inside a battery cell, they create a short circuit. When that happens, the battery cell can quickly reach temperatures of 500º C. What takes place next is known in the battery business politely as “rapid disassembly.” Most of us would simply call it an explosion. If one cell overheats, that can cause adjoining cells to overheat, and soon there is a full-on conflagration.
Lithium-ion battery fires are not new, but the number of devices powered by batteries has increased dramatically, which means the total number of fires has increased as well, even if statistically the odds of any one battery cell catching fire is infinitesimally small.
Most of the batteries for personal mobility devices like electric bicycles come from China. Consumers know little about the battery cells inside their e-bike battery pack. Who made them? Do they all come from the same manufacturer? Are cells from different companies with different electrical properties being thrown together to make battery packs? We simply don’t know, and so we rely on the integrity of the bicycle manufacturer to keep us safe.
There is a move afoot to bring some order to the chaos of batteries for personal transportation devices. One suggestion is for consumers to insist that the battery pack for their e-bike carry the Underwriters Laboratory seal of approval. UL has been promoting the safety of electrical devices for generations, but it tests only a fraction of the batteries used today in e-bikes, scooters, hoverboards, and the like. Requiring the UL seal would be a big step forward for safety, but could limit the number of battery-operated personal mobility devices available for sale to the public.
The one thing everyone agrees with is that people absolutely, positively must not dispose of lithium-ion batteries in the trash. Sadly, it is much too easy to do precisely that. America needs more battery recycling programs. The materials inside an e-bike battery are much too precious to discard in a landfill, and the risk of a catastrophic fire that could injure innocent people is too great.
To find one of the 1,800 e-bike dealers in America that participates in the battery recycling program near you, check the Hungry For Batteries website. Only batteries from participating manufacturers are accepted.
The program does not address the issue of recycling the battery in an e-bike purchased online. Before you buy for a digital retailer, you may want to inquire about its recycling policy. If it says it doesn’t have one, you may want to look elsewhere.
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