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RideApart

Suzuki Develops Tech To Recycle Lithium Batteries Into Streetlights

On May 23, 2022, Suzuki announced that it has apparently developed a technology to take small lithium-ion batteries from end-of-life vehicles and reuse them to store energy for solar-powered street lights. Although Suzuki sells its vehicles all over the world, this use will, for now, remain exclusive to the Japanese market. Still, it’s encouraging to see, isn’t it? 

Now, Suzuki didn’t give any details at all about what this technology entails—the announcement was basically just to say “hey, look at this cool thing we’re doing.” It also stresses that this effort is non-profit in nature, and that the tech was developed using some of the money granted to Suzuki through Japan’s existing vehicle recycling fees. Wait...vehicle recycling fees? 

Here’s where it gets interesting—particularly if you’re a person who enjoys motor vehicles, but who would also very much like to not destroy the planet. For those unfamiliar, Japan has had laws on the books for decades about proper waste disposal, and companies that produce items playing a role in the proper disposal of end-of-life items.  

In 2002, the Japanese government specifically enacted its Law for the Recycling of End-of-Life Vehicles (ELVs, and it’s nothing to do with Orlando Bloom, J.R.R. Tolkien, or those Keebler guys). In accordance with what it calls “extended producer responsibility” or EPR, the law says that automobile manufacturers are required to collect and either recycle or destroy the reclaimed materials processed from ELVs that they originally produced, as appropriate.  

Once this law went into effect, if you bought a new vehicle in Japan, the recycling cost was something built into those miscellaneous fees that always go along with new vehicle purchases. For those who purchased vehicles prior to the law, a fee would be assessed at the time of their next vehicle inspection. 

This context is important to understanding Suzuki’s development of its new technology to recycle existing small lithium-ion batteries harvested from ELVs. Would the company have been compelled to address this concern if it wasn’t required to recycle or destroy those reclaimed elements by law? We can’t know for sure. However, in this timeline, it’s what Suzuki has done, and it seems like a good thing. 

It’s also important to note that Suzuki says it plans to make this technology public in order to help push development forward, as part of its non-profit recycling and sustainability initiatives. Could Suzuki—or another company using Suzuki’s technological building blocks—utilize this technology outside of Japan? Lots of places have street lights, lots of places are already using solar power for various things—and lots of people have access to the sun. If it works as well as Suzuki wants us to think that it does, why can’t this strategy be deployed in a whole bunch of countries going forward?