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Ascend Elements upcycles worn-out EV batteries into better-than-new

Drivers and manufacturers are transitioning to electric vehicles in an effort to slash planet-warming emissions, but one element of the fossil-free movement isn't as clean as it could be: batteries. From the labor practices and environmental costs associated with mining cobalt and lithium, to figuring out what to do with rechargeables once they're spent, the race is on to make EV batteries more sustainable.

In Massachusetts, Ascend Elements is tackling the recycling part of the puzzle. Its patented process first shreds whole lithium-ion batteries from laptops, phones and cars. It then sifts out elements like circuits and steel casings, leaving a black mass that can be refreshed into a new cathode, tailored to an auto manufacturer's exact requirements. 

When testing its refashioned batteries, Ascend's founders were surprised to find they performed as well as, or better than those made of new materials, thanks to larger pores in the recycled powder particles. Ascend is building North America's largest battery recycling facility, set to be fully operational by August 2022.

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Products made out of recycled components are generally viewed as virtuous, but maybe not quite as good as those made from fresh, new materials.

Ascend upends that consumer expectation with recycled batteries that charge faster and degrade more slowly. Plus they're produced domestically.

As the circular economy becomes both more viable and more vital, how can you create products that transcend their origins?