Representatives from throughout the supply chain recently reflected on how batteries and electronics can find their place as greener solutions in the circular economy.

Technologies like electric vehicles and wind turbines were designed to help reduce the planet’s reliance on fossil fuels or support other “green” lifestyle changes, but more work needs to be done to make sure these same technologies don’t pollute the environment when they reach end of life, said panelists at a recent circular economy workshop hosted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Design innovations and reuse and repair strategies can help further circular economy goals for products like solar panels and smartphones, representatives from throughout the supply chain said at the NIST workshop. They discussed the biggest technical and economic barriers to the reuse, refurbishment, and recycling of these products, as well as the most exciting opportunities.

NIST, a non-regulatory agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce, works on science and technology research programs meant to help advance the U.S. economy. Supporting circular economy improvements is an expanded focus for NIST, and the workshop was meant to help the agency find “actionable items” to advance recycling and waste reduction goals, said moderator Martin Green, leader of the agency’s materials for energy and sustainable development group. NIST undersecretary of commerce Walter Copan  also spoke about these goals during the U.S. EPA’s America Recycles Summit in November, saying circular economy projects will have “tremendous societal benefits” for the United States.

Here are just a few of the major themes that emerged from the two-day event on Jan. 27-28.

Managing end-of-life batteries from electric vehicles comes with risks and reward

Passenger electric vehicles are increasingly popular, and several waste haulers have announced they will slowly make plans to retrofit or replace some collection vehicles with electric options as part of their plans to set greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets. Automobiles are responsible for over 15% of global energy consumption, so vehicle electrification is a key strategy for making them more sustainable and energy efficient, said Gregory Keoleian, co-founder of the Center For Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan.

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