Higher Education, Sustainability, and Technology

College, township partner on portable recycling center

Program finds new application for lithium ion batteries after use in vehicles.

October 23, 2015
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GVSU Recycling
Nick Baine, an assistant professor of engineering at GVSU, shows off the prototype of the recycling center, which runs on four solar panels. Courtesy Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley State University has partnered with Hastings Township to develop a portable recycling center powered by renewable energy.

The two recently teamed up to create a solution to the challenge of recycling in a rural community.

“Hastings Township was looking for help with creating a mobile recycling center,” said Charles Standridge, GVSU professor and associate dean of the Padnos College of Engineering & Computing.

Standridge said the Hastings community wanted to create a recycling center that could be placed in a central location within the township so its residents could participate in recycling more easily.

“Basically, in a rural area, they would like a recycling center so people don’t have to drive long distances to recycle,” Standridge said.

Standridge said Hastings didn’t want the recycling center to be tied to the electric grid, instead wanting it to be powered by renewable energy.

The prototype GVSU came up with runs on four solar panels with energy stored in post-vehicle-application lithium ion batteries that were once used to power hybrid and electric vehicles.

Standridge said because of the high standards required for the lithium ion batteries to be used in vehicles, they are taken off the road while they are still functional.

“At some point, the battery will no longer be able to meet the standards, but it still has plenty of charge capacity,” he said. “It can still hold a charge perfectly well, so it’s well suited for stationary storage applications.”

Essentially, rather than retiring the post-vehicle-application batteries, they are given an opportunity for a second life.

“You’d have to disassemble the batteries and recycle them otherwise,” Standridge said.

The recycling center’s solar panels send power through a system to the bank of batteries inside the unit, which allows lights and a security system to continue to work at night or on cloudy days.

The power bank can provide energy to the recycling center for up to three days without sunshine.

The recycling center was created using a modified semi-trailer. Windows and doors were cut into the sides to allow for recyclable materials to be dropped off.

Nick Baine, assistant professor of engineering at GVSU, highlighted the recycling center’s efficiency, saying it “minimizes operational costs because township staff can use remote cameras to see exactly when the recycling bins need to be emptied."

The batteries also power fans and other operational functions of the recycling center.

The completed prototype currently sits in the parking lot of Hastings Township Hall, and Standridge said he believes the township would like to build more of them. He believes there is a market for post-vehicle applications beyond the recycling centers. He said he’s seen hi-los and golf carts equipped with post-vehicle-application lithium ion batteries, as well.

“They can still be used to operate things, but not vehicles licensed to drive on the street,” he said.

He added the cost is much less than a new lithium ion battery.

“The battery component with the storage system would cost about 25 percent of the new battery, which enables more people to get into these storage systems,” he noted.

Grand Valley’s Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center, or MAREC, was also part of the recycling center project.

MAREC program manager Kim Walton worked with the township for three years in the planning stages of the project and worked with a solar installer to design parts of the system.

MAREC will collect data on the unit going forward.

The GVSU portion of the project was funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Research and Innovation Technology Administration University Transportation Centers program, through the Mineta National Transportation Research Consortium with matching funds provided by Grand Valley.

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