A Lithium Ion’s Tale — Mother Earth’s Friend or Foe?

Marshall Clabeaux
Jan 12 · 6 min read

The year of 2020 — Clean Energy technologies, storage and everyday application of utility has arrived, nearly worldwide.

Here in Michigan, we have upcycled used, discarded 18650 Lithium Ion cells (left) into
custom sized solar storage packs (below), that provide power anywhere the sun may shine!

These custom packs shown
are made up of four 18650 cells, USB charging protection board, nickel strip and a little bit of tender time and love!

(more on the process below)

Global Energy consumption and production are only expected to continue rising from present levels as we enter a new decade and beyond. Let us make certain that our energy consciousness rise above. I could enter a statistician dream world of listing all of the numbers’ — from the million tons of oil that the world consumes and where it comes from, but that overwhelms, even me, an energy and statistics nerd.

The reality is that from 1972 to 2016 fossil fuels have remained the number one source of generation in our finite resource overshot world. Some 75–85% of worldwide energy has been produced by fossil fuels over these symbolic years, each year.

Before we further follow a path of an 18650 Lithium ion friend and the tale of becoming a key force in the Clean Energy Revolution — I explain why:

I chose the symbolic years of 1972 and 2016.

In 1972, the Club of Rome, published its report, Limits to Growth.

“The message of this book still holds today: The earth’s interlocking resources — the global system of nature in which we all live — probably cannot support present rates of economic and population growth much beyond the year 2100, if that long, even with advanced technology. In the summer of 1970, an international team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology began a study of the implications of continued worldwide growth. They examined the five basic factors that determine and, in their interactions, ultimately limit growth on this planet-population increase, agricultural production, nonrenewable resource depletion, industrial output, and pollution generation. The MIT team fed data on these five factors into a global computer model and then tested the behavior of the model under several sets of assumptions to determine alternative patterns for mankind’s future. The Limits to Growth is the nontechnical report of their findings. The book contains a message of hope, as well: Man can create a society in which he can live indefinitely on earth if he imposes limits on himself and his production of material goods to achieve a state of global equilibrium with population and production in carefully selected balance.”

You can download the pdf for free here!


I was first made aware of this work and the depths of our finite planet in 2015 thanks to a friend, cooperator and fellow coworker of Clean Water Action as we worked knocking doors to Shut down Line 5. Shutting down Line 5 remains the number 1 priority I have in the upcycle story being shared.

The year 2016 was chosen as the other symbolic year because in my opinion, that will be the last year of calculating an accurate baseline energy use for the United States. The Trump Administration following inauguration in 2017 quickly and effectively began their orchestration of climate denial. Including the elimination of hundreds of environmental laws, reporting standards and governmental environmental employees. I cannot forget the mention of their washing of online and governmental tool and technology resources in relation to energy and Climate Change.


Since becoming aware of the knowledge that Limits to Growth provides, I have been on a path of transitioning the state of Michigan to 100% Renewable Energy production, my work can be found at mienergytransition.com and current efforts with Michigan Mosaic Energy Cooperative at mmecoop.com

As I undertook the pleasure of a fellowship doing the research for a 100% Michigan, I quickly identified the market absence and importance of home battery storage systems for our energy transition. Being a scrappy environmentalist and someone who knew some of Elon Musk’s Tesla work on electric vehicles (EV), I began the search for local, 18650 Lithium Ion cells.

cell breakdown

The colorful cells above are made of many chemistry variations. Battery bro here, does a great job breaking em’ down, thanks bro.


Whether it be in Australia, Chile or the United States, the mining of any new lithium raises ecological concerns. The Clean Energy transition must examine these concerns if we are to walk the talk and truly transition society to a more just, equitable and sustainable future. Examinations must be made scientifically, politically and most importantly,
humanly,
with the persons backyard being most affected being proportionally represented at the table.

My search to find local 18650’s began with businesses who may have ‘bad’ battery packs from their old work use laptops. This list extended to junk yards, computer repair shops, schools, doctor & dentist offices and general electronic stores. After coming up with an initial 30 long Greater Lansing business list, I cold called or showed up to a listed address to ‘canvass’ their laptop battery situation. In end, I had several regulars, where I could stop by with batteries on hold, some would call for me to pick up and others would have an open bin for first come first serve.

. . .

Charging station Charge / discharge

Our battery packs have gone through many different variations. We have progressed in safety and efficiency as we create our newest pack editions.

From break down, build or sorting, strategies will surely change over time. If you want some of our best tips and tricks feel free to reach out.

Send a message to mmec.energy@gmail.com for the technical details in battery breakdown, charge and discharge process, sort and build processes!

Lastly,

Our work couldn’t be complete without the resource of https://secondlifestorage.com/ , shoutout to the community !

Homegrown Power

Overall, I think this tale ends with these 18650 cells as a friend of mother Earth,
because we were able to upcycle a ‘bad’ supply. We cannot let our limited lithium go to waste if we are to call our transition ‘clean’. The emergence of EV’s will certainly increase the demand we put on Earth for new lithium. New alternatives may emerge but the old remains . .

Have fun hunting your local cells !

and
thanks for reading

best, in cooperation,

~Marshall Clabeaux

Cooperative Community & Energy Enthusiast

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