By all accounts, e-bikes are having a bit of a moment: at one point during the pandemic, sales of powered bicycles outpaced all others by a considerable margin. The appealing of easy, socially distanced rides can be hard to ignore, but the resulting boom in sales has led to a pivotal moment for e-bike makers: What do they do with the batteries once they can’t power rides anymore?
For Specialized, the third-largest e-bike producer in the United States, the answer came in the form of a partnership with former Tesla co-founder Jeffrey Straubel — or more specifically, his firm Redwood Materials. According to a report from The Verge, Redwood — which currently recycles batteries for larger electric vehicles — will assess those depleted bike batteries and do two things. First, the company identifies components like connectors and brackets that could feasibly be reused. Then, the batteries themselves are processed so elements like nickel, cobalt, and copper can be extracted and used once again in the battery production process.
As for reclaiming those batteries in the first place, Specialized told The Verge that it plans to collect them from its retail partners, and that a pilot program has so far seen all recovered batteries landing in Redwood facilities. And perhaps most importantly, all of Redwood’s domestic bike battery recycling happens in the United States. That to some extent reduces the use of fossil fuels to transport depleted cells elsewhere for processing, and more importantly, prevents old batteries from being shipped to developing countries where the people paid to break them down and recover usable materials enjoy very little in the way of safety and environmental protections.
This isn’t the first time — and hopefully won’t be the last — we’ve heard of e-bike companies considering the long-term sustainability of their products. Lime, a San Francisco-based short-range transportation company, recently announced a partnership earlier this month that would see some batteries no longer fit for use in e-bikes wedged into Bluetooth speakers. Still, when you consider the scores of e-bike batteries that will be depleted in the years after this pandemic-fueled sales boom, comprehensive plans to handle them responsibly need to be the norm, not the exception.