Closing the Loop on Electric Vehicle & Energy Storage Batteries with Nth Cycle’s Megan O’Connor
Electrification is a critical part of decarbonization - but ensuring emissions come down in the process means ensuring the processes that get us there don’t create their own excessive impacts. The global appetite for electric vehicles and battery-based energy storage has grown considerably, and with it, the need for more raw materials to produce them. But as the first generations of electric vehicles and battery storage start to retire and replace batteries, processes for recycling them at end-of-life are still being refined and facilities scaling up. Coming in with a fresh solution is Megan O’Connor, CEO and Co-Founder of Nth Cycle, a metal processing technology company that works with both lithium battery recyclers and miners to increase the supply of critical minerals for the clean energy transition. On this episode, Megan shares with host Lincoln Payton the story of Nth Cycle’s beginnings in a Yale laboratory, how she and her team took the technology to scale, and its potential to make meeting global needs for battery materials more localized and more efficient.
Electrification is a critical part of decarbonization – but ensuring emissions come down in the process means ensuring the processes that get us there don’t create their own excessive impacts. The global appetite for electric vehicles and battery-based energy storage has grown considerably, and with it, the need for more raw materials to produce them. But as the first generations of electric vehicles and battery storage start to retire and replace batteries, processes for recycling them at end-of-life are still being refined and facilities scaling up.
Coming in with a fresh solution is Megan O’Connor, CEO and Co-Founder of Nth Cycle, a metal processing technology company that works with both lithium battery recyclers and miners to increase the supply of critical minerals for the clean energy transition. Nth Cycle’s electro-extraction technology, the OYSTER, provides more efficient harvesting of these materials from batteries during recycling as well as mining, from both low-grade ores and waste streams.
On this episode, Megan shares with host Lincoln Payton the story of Nth Cycle’s beginnings in a Yale laboratory, how she and her team took the technology to scale, and its potential to make meeting global needs for battery materials more localized and more efficient.
- Nth Cycle’s mission is to change the perception of the mining industry by creating a much cleaner way to process these materials to try and get as much of these metals back in circulation, and enabling manufacturers to source those materials in other ways.
- Electro-extraction only uses electricity and water – meaning no high temperatures, high pressures, or solvents. As a technology, it not only helps increase the efficiency of battery recycling but also reduces the carbon footprint by over 40%.
- Nth Cycle developed the OYSTER unit to be mobile and each has a 1200-ton processing capacity, and its initial use has been focused on the nickel scrap sector. The heaviest concentrations of nickel production are in Indonesia, so Nth Cycle’s technology offers an opportunity for companies looking to localize or diversify supply. Another area of opportunity is other types of heavy industrial nickel scrap sources such as catalysts from oils and gas.
Dana Dohse: On this episode of The Decarbonization Race.
Megan O’Connor: What if we rethought what that supply chain at the end of life looked like for this distributed waste and create a recycling system that can go right on site, to completely avoid the transportation and still have the same unit economics? These mass facilities were built for a reason, it’s because they’re economies of scale, but could we get that same cost structure but at a much smaller scale?
Dana Dohse: Megan O’Connor, co-founder and CEO of Nth Cycle, a metal processing company enabling clean minerals for the clean energy transition joins our host Cleartrace CEO, Lincoln Peyton, to discuss electrification and the technology she and her company built to create sustainable ways to recycle batteries. Megan shares Nth Cycle’s ambitious moves now and for the future as they continue to develop their new technology, electro-extraction.
Megan also shares details on how her technology works, her work with lithium battery recyclers and miners to increase the supply of critical minerals for the clean energy transition and Nth cycle’s mission to change the perception of the mining industry. Ready to lead the sustainability pack? This is The Decarbonization Race.
Lincoln Peyton: Hello everybody and welcome to the next thrilling installment of The Decarbonization Race. I do say thrilling, because we’ve got something very exciting to talk about and extremely relevant. That person is Megan O’Connor, who’s joining us from Nth Cycle, really addressing I think a question that’s very much out there for everybody, which is as we look at the electrification, we look at storage and batteries and we look at some of the raw materials equations there in their entirety and challenging. Delighted to have Megan from Nth Cycle. Megan, tell me first of all a little bit about yourself. What part of the world did you grow up and what started you down the direction to a real technology approach to improving the climate and the decarbonization of the world?
Megan O’Connor: I grew up in upstate New York in a small town called Plattsburgh. It’s about an hour south of Montreal, so very far upstate New York. I grew up on Lake Champlain, so I was always outdoors, always camping.
Lincoln Peyton: Oh, beautiful.
Megan O’Connor: I just fell in love with nature as I was growing up and in undergraduate, I went to school for environmental chemistry and so that opened my eyes to all of the things in the natural world that the industrial world was having an impact on. That’s really what led me down the path to Nth Cycle.
Lincoln Peyton: What’s your story professionally then, if you had that very lovely element in growing up and then sounds like you were already quite technically accomplished as you started your education, what’s the process been for you moving from education to a very practical technical solution to some of our big challenges?
Megan O’Connor: When I was in graduate school in 2014, there was a combination of events that led us to starting Nth Cycle. The first one was I met my co-founder, Chad Vecitis, who was a full-time professor at Harvard and he was giving just an academic talk on the technology that’s now actually core to what we do at Nth Cycle, but he had spent the past six years before I saw that talk, working on this technology for a completely different application in wastewater treatment.
I thought, “Wow,” it was really fascinating and sort of ingenious that he thought to combine two separate processes that had been used in industry, water filtration and sort of an electrochemical process used in the mining world, combining them to make it more efficient. After that, I didn’t really think much of it, just that he was a really smart guy and it was really cool technology.
Fast forward about a month later, I found myself in what was called the Green Electronics Summit. It was a room full of decision makers from Apple and Dell and the consumer electronics brands who had come to the university to talk about sustainability issues they saw coming down the line over the next five to 10 years and they all kept talking about the same two things, how they wanted to be more transparent in their supply chain and be more responsible with recycling the material.
Apple, where it’s like their iPhones, everybody gets a new iPhone every year and what do we do with those? I don’t think people realize, and they even said it in that room, electric vehicles are another large form of e-waste, wind turbines, solar panels, and what are we going to do with all this stuff once it reaches its end of life?
Lincoln Peyton: Yes.
Megan O’Connor: Even if it’s decades down the road. The other issue we kept hearing in that room was supply chain. All of these companies use pretty small amounts of say cobalts or copper, and can you imagine when EVs start to come on the road and they use orders of magnitude, more of these metals, these critical minerals like cobalts and nickel are the true building blocks of everything we’re building for the energy transition. I walked into that room wondering why has nobody tried to use or build new technology and innovate in the space to solve both of these problems at the same time or to kill two birds with one stone? How do we take what we have already built in once it reaches the end of life, recycle it back into these metals to solve the supply chain issue, to create this secondary source of materials? Then I thought back to Chad’s technology that I had seen a month before and thought, “I wonder if this could work for this application?”
Lincoln Peyton: Right.
Megan O’Connor: To make a very long story short, I walked into my PhD advisor’s office and I was changing my project that day to work on this. I had already called Chad and asked him if I could use the technology to do this, and he became a member of my PhD committee. For the next three years we worked on this and had a moment where like, “Oh, shit. This works way better than we ever thought it would.” I decided to take it out and commercialize it with no background in business. But I had a lot of people tell me, “You can learn what you need to learn along the way,” and was very open with what I don’t know. I said, “I’m going to find the team that’s done this before and has the skillsets that I don’t have.”
I’m very technical, but I can find people to help me really commercialize this thing and make it what I always knew it could be, which is really changing and modernizing the way that we chemically refine materials, which is in the mining world and in the recycling world to deal with all the things that we need to transition away from fossil.
Lincoln Peyton: Look, it’s a fantastic story and there’s a couple of hidden facets in there. Young women in science, okay. Everybody’s very keen to see more of that. How was that experience in, clearly you were in a very erudite higher education environment. Any observations on that? Any words of advice or comment?
Megan O’Connor: Yeah. It was definitely interesting being one of the few females in the classroom and in the department in general. But I’ll say I was very lucky in the chemistry department. I was in an undergrad, had majority female staff, which is unheard of in chemistry as well as in the environmental engineering department I was in, in graduate school.
You always face people saying that you don’t belong there or what are you doing here, so you just have to tune that out and find your people to help you bring through. My PhD advisor, who female herself, had been through this process before was amazing. Not just with the mentoring of what was in school, but how to deal with everything outside of the classroom and the university as well.
Lincoln Peyton: Excellent. That’s a great story. Really good. Then another sort of tangent question there, clearly there’s a physical testing exercise pre-production to what you’ve developed here. You had some trial and error and some experimentation. How did all that go? How did you get support and help for putting that together?
Megan O’Connor: The first funding that we got after we left academia, which was back in 2017, was through a program called Innovation Crossroads. If folks have heard of Activate or Cyclotron Road, there’s lots of these great programs popping up through the Department of Energy. The Department of Energy funds essentially these programs for young entrepreneurs that are related to energy and they’ll give you anywhere between $100,000 and $500,000 to go to this national lab for two years to have the support. Not just the staffing that’s there, but also the lab space and all the equipment that as a young entrepreneur you usually don’t have access to. A lot of this equipment is very expensive, even just to rent time on.
We were down there and this was at the Oak Ridge National Lab. I was down in Tennessee for two years here in the states and it was a great landing place for us as a company that had a device that fit in the palm of my hands. Very small and to get it to the scale that it’s at now, we just needed that time and the resources and again, really the free staff time to help us build what we needed to build and for myself, get up to speed with all the things that comes with running a successful business other than the technology.
That was really fantastic, but there was a lot of iteration that happened over those two years of the form factor and the business model. It was not just on the technology itself, but everything that comes along with that and developing a new innovation for a space that is not used to innovation. We work heavily in the mining world, which is not Houston. I was actually just on a panel yesterday.
Lincoln Peyton: A legacy business world model.
Megan O’Connor: Yeah, exactly. Trying to flip a very old industry on its head takes a lot of iteration of how to really get that adoption that you need.
Lincoln Peyton: You’ve led us to where I’m sure I, but also everyone is looking to go storage of electricity. Let’s start with the basic stuff here. I think we are all familiar with the lithium ion model and the pros and the cons. What were the problems you were looking to address in that beginning stage when you had the light bulb moment going off and then lead that in please to what it is exactly that your technology and your processor, Nth Cycle is doing?
Megan O’Connor: Absolutely. The two issues that we saw immediately, regardless of if you’re looking at lithium batteries or wind turbines, any of these clean energy technologies is that we simply don’t have a way to recycle them or to dispose of them properly once they reach their end of life. We were continuing to build up this clean energy economy but making the same mistakes that we’ve made in the past of ignoring the waste issue.
Unfortunately for this industry there’s going to be quite a bit of waste, but it’s valuable waste. It has all of these metals that we’re currently struggling to source enough of. The other problem that really came along with that was how do we get more of these materials? I think they’re called the critical minerals. There’s a whole list that the US and the European Union put together, and I believe there’s 35 now, which is quite a lot.
They basically list them, they’re criticality based off of where we source them and how difficult it is to sort of pull them out of the ground, because there’s actually not a shortage of these materials in the earth’s crust, but it’s where and how we source them is what makes it difficult, especially for the western world. We wanted to really solve the problem of, “Okay, how do we use this waste for the benefit of the world and create the secondary source of materials?”
When we thought about that and you dig further into this industry, the pain point is really that this waste is very distributed. You have your cell phones or think about your car, they’re all over the place. All of us have our own devices, but they don’t all end up in one place to be recycled. They don’t aggregate together magically. How do we think about recycling these, when traditional recycling facilities are these massive centralized facilities where usually all the waste is shipped to them and right now all that happens overseas.
Do we replicate that model here? Do we just build out a centralized facility and truck everything to that centralized facility or can we think more creatively about this and avoid the transportation? Because one of the issues with lithium batteries is that they can explode. Right? We’ve all seen the unfortunate videos where they spontaneously combust or start smoking and each of you imagine all of these batteries and they’re really, really big ones from EVs, they look almost the same as what is in your phone, but much larger scale.
If you put those in a truck and they’re all jostling together in the back of a truck, there’s been a lot of safety issues with transporting these at their end of life because either they have defects or they’re just more dangerous to put into a moving vehicle essentially.
Shipping them all to one centralized facility didn’t make sense to us. It costs a lot because there is such a hazardous waste and it’s very dangerous. What if we rethought what that supply chain at the end of life looked like for this distributed waste, in creating a recycling system that can go right on site, to completely avoid the transportation and still have the same unit economics? These massive facilities were built for a reason. It’s because they’re economies of scale, but could we get that same cost structure but at a much smaller scale?
That’s exactly what we’ve done at Nth Cycle. We’ve developed this technology called electro extraction. Our system is actually called the OYSTER. The OYSTER has a very funny acronym. It’s very scientific, but we’re in Boston and oysters suck up all of the garbage right off the bottom of the ocean floor and create pearls. That’s why we call it the oyster, because it takes all of our garbage and all of our waste and turns it into these valuable metals that can go back into manufacturing. The real benefit is-
Lincoln Peyton: This is very cool, Megan. I guess we should be glad it could have been the lobster. We’re very happy it’s the oyster. I was imagining it was something to do with the shape of the oyster, but it’s not. It’s the function and the acronym, is that right?
Megan O’Connor: That’s right. It’s the function actually. My marketing team came up with that and they were very excited and I loved it, so I went with it. Essentially the benefit of the OYSTER is that it can go on site. It doesn’t have to be a large multi-billion dollar centralized facility. We can deploy these right onsite, wherever the waste is and have the same unit economics. Then the additional benefit is that we only use electricity and water. We don’t use high temperatures, we don’t use high pressures, we don’t use solvents like you’d see traditionally in recycling and mining.
It’s a much cleaner way to do this as well. Not only does it help with just the logistical challenge of recycling, but it also reduces the carbon footprint by over 40%, which is pretty amazing in our opinion. Not that we’re biased or anything.
Lincoln Peyton: Wow, that’s a real big number. Congratulations. That’s just because of the energy being used. Is that basically the equation, the 40% reduction is the amount of energy that’s going into the process?
Megan O’Connor: Exactly. It’s because we don’t have to use fossil energy to create the heat or any of the solvents that are required. It’s really the reduction of all those things that leads us to having a much cleaner, greener process, if you will.
Dana Dohse: The recycling technology Nth Cycle is bringing to market couldn’t come at a more important time in the energy transition. First, both electric vehicles and energy storage are at an all time high, meaning batteries in the raw materials to make them earn very high demand. Sourcing them more efficiently or from alternate sources will become increasingly important.
Recent reports show that incredible speed at which the EV market is growing. It took eight years to sell the first 1 million electric light duty cars and trucks and less than three years to sell the next million. Cox Automotive reports that 800,000 EVs were sold in 2020 and projects that number will hit 1 million for 2023. In a report from Edison Electric Institute, projects that the number of EVs on US roads is projected to reach 26.4 million in 2023, which would make up nearly 10% of the 259 million light duty vehicles on US roads in 2030.
Battery storage has gone through similar growth spurts. According to Bloomberg, new energy finances latest forecast, global energy storage installations are projected to reach a cumulative 411 gigawatts and 1,194 gigawatt hours by the end of 2030. That is 15 times the 27 gigawatts and 56 gigawatt hours of storage that was online at the end of 2021, which already represents huge growth over the 0.23 gigawatts and 0.34 gigawatt hours deployed five years prior in 2016.
Driven by recent policy developments, Bloomberg’s 2022 market storage outlook season, additional 13% of capacity by 2030 than previously estimated. Also, the first generation of electric vehicles are starting to retire and replace batteries. An earlier energy storage projects are expected to need to replace modules at some point in the next five years. That means the recycling sector will need to be ready to turn old degraded batteries into recycled materials for new ones, ideally in ways that minimize adding to landfill waste.
This breakout is brought to you by Cleartrace. For more information on how our platform can help you at your stage of The decarbonization journey visit cleartrace.io.
Lincoln Peyton: You’ve got this physical process, where is it typically being deployed at the moment? I know you’re relatively early stage, but I know that you’re making progress and what does it look like? In terms of the type of application, which sounds fairly broad, everything from foam type sizes and smaller but all the way up bigger, what is your expectation and what are you focusing on first in terms of deployment of size and location of installation?
Megan O’Connor: Absolutely. Each one of our oysters has a 1200 ton capacity and we’re focused right now on we call it the nickel scrap world. While batteries is one thing that we look at, and that’s a combination of consumer electronics, so think your cell phones, smart watches, really anything that you have on your person day to day, a laptop as well as EVs. Those are typically collected together. We get a mix of those coming in, but we’re also looking at other types of heavy industrial nickel. Think catalysts from the oil and gas industry. Huge source of nickel that goes unrecycled today, slag from the steel industry, think really heavy industrial processed scrap.
We can take all that in into one of our oysters and then turn it into a nickel product on the other side that can go right back into a battery. Our first oyster is actually we are procuring it now, so we don’t like to say construction because we don’t actually have to construct a new building, but we’re moving into a facility in the Midwest and it should be operational this year in Q3, which we’re very excited about. This will be our first 1200 ton capacity system.
Lincoln Peyton: Wow.
Megan O’Connor: We do have a smaller one operating in Boston today.
Lincoln Peyton: Congratulations. That’s very exciting indeed. From a business model, you mentioned that you’ve spent a lot of time focused on that and I’m sure become as expert in that with your very analytical approach. Are you a service provider here charging a tolling fee for tonnage processed, or are you selling the machine? Are you a principal whereby you are dealing with the commodity when it comes out the end in a reusable manner? Which route have you thought about pursuing, or maybe it’s all of them?
Megan O’Connor: We thought through all of them, but as a young startup, the one where we take commodity risk was off the table. At least for now, we felt much more confident in taking operational risk than commodity risk. Hopefully we’ll get to that stage. But for now, yes. The first one you said, spot on, a tolling model. A couple benefits, right, it takes the commodity risk off our plate. We know how to run the technology. It doesn’t need any specialized labor, but it does give us more flexibility in what we can do with the tech. One of the benefits is that we can easily change the parameters around to work with all the different wastes that come in the door. It’s not usually just one type of battery or one type of material. We bring that added benefit of being able to flex to whatever comes in the door.
But the simple tolling fee also allows our customers to maintain ownership of that material, which if you think about even the recent legislation like the Inflation reduction Act or the battery passport in Europe, all of these big OEMs now really, really want to have that very clear traceable supply chain so that they can show that they have domestic material or lower carbon material in the case of the European Union, because it’s now required by law essentially to get the tax credits at least here in the US for your consumers.
They love the idea that we can come on site and toll for them because we don’t own the material coming in and we don’t own them coming out. It stays with the customer, say it’s Ford or GM or something. They can just simply have us upgrade for a fee and then they can easily track that material’s life till it goes back into one of their own batteries with one of their other supply chain partners. That’s a big benefit and one of the things that we worked really hard with these customers to understand is what’s really important to them and it’s maintaining ownership of that material, but still having that value uplift of the chemical refining step.
Lincoln Peyton: That’s very cool for them. I mean, first of all, as you say, they get that continued chain of custody from a scope reporting point of view. Secondly, they actually manage and hedge their own commodity exposure, because the prices of some of these materials is extremely volatile and exposed to geopolitical elements that historically they haven’t been able to control.
Now they keep the same underlying tonnage of material in their own possession. It’s going through process, but it’s coming back to them. It’s almost like a capital cost that doesn’t then give them the volatility. Megan, who are you finding the most receptive to starting to deploy as a new business, a new technology, and somewhat a new market? Recycling is certainly there, but in this very specialized way, who are the types of players that are receptive to working with you and you’re seeing the most interest from?
Megan O’Connor: In the recycling space in general, the first set of customers that we found the most traction with are really both from the OEM side, especially after this legislation has been passed. Then, also the other side of the scrap world, which is the legacy, more regional players that have been around for decades recycling any type of scraps they have. Lead asset batteries, think about all the other types of batteries we’ve used in the past before lithium ion became more prevalent in the marketplace. They all have been really good at the logistics side and the mechanical shredding side.
But the traditional model was to get paid to take that waste from another company, basically to take the liability off others’ books to mechanically shred it down to make it easier to ship and then to ship it overseas to be chemically refined. Now that there’s so much more value in getting those metals out in the same place that they’re collecting those things, they want to be able to chemically process, but they don’t necessarily have the Cap Ex to build out a centralized facility and they don’t have the know-how to operate it.
They love our model, because again, we operate it for them and they only have to pay a small fee per ton of material that we process for them. That’s the other really big audience that we’re getting traction from, because they love the idea that we take all that operational risk off their hands and they get that upgraded material on the other side.
Lincoln Peyton: Wow, that’s a comprehensive offering. Expansion for you means what? It sounds like your application here is broader than just the batteries, which is obviously a big focus point because of electrification, but it covers things like the turbines and the big raw materials that are going into those infrastructure assets. What about geographically? Is it a North American expansion first? In terms of scope and in terms of geography, what are you thinking? What are your plans?
Megan O’Connor: We have three areas or axes that we’re going to expand the business on. The first is with cobalt, nickel, copper, scrap, batteries, all the types of scrap that I mentioned before in the nickel world. It’s North America first and then moving over into Europe. Then, it’s also types of components in the clean energy space that we can process.
You mentioned wind turbines, so those are called rare earth metals. At the very bottom of the periodic table, most people, I can’t even pronounce half of them, but those are used in all of the magnets in wind turbines. They’re the motors in our electric vehicles. They’re the speakers in your headphones that you might be listening to now. Those are sort of the next group of metals that we’re going after. Those are with the same customers actually.
If you imagine customers, a partner of ours is getting an electric vehicle, they’re going to have the motor which has all these rare earth metals in it and the battery. It’s an easy expansion for us on that front and very similar geography of North America and Europe, because it’s really where the biggest need is for more of these materials on the supply chain side. The other area that we’re expanding in is on the value chain. We’re heavily focused on the scrap world today, but unfortunately we just don’t have enough scrap to give us enough materials to truly meet the demand numbers for these materials.
We have to continue to mine and recycle. Our mission is to really change the way the mining industry looks and feels to people by creating a much cleaner way to process these materials. Because I hear a lot of people say, “I can’t wait to get an EV, but I don’t want mining in my backyard.” I say, “Unfortunately, we can’t avoid that anymore, but there is a better way to do this and let’s figure out a more sustainable path because we don’t have to use the old methods that we used before.”
Really changing the way the mining industry works, but those are 10-year projects. That’s a in parallel path to what we’re doing in the scrap industry. Overall mission to try and get as much of these metals back in circulation and using the different sources of materials to build that capacity along the way.
Lincoln Peyton: Very cool. Very cool indeed. Let’s talk a little bit again about how you set up the business. You’ve got some very good support in terms of government and academia. How are you seeing support from capital markets from the big private sector? Because it’s very pleasing to see that academia and public sector has been right at the front in helping you at least to some degree at different times.
Megan O’Connor: Absolutely. After we had the big grant from the Department of Energy, we raised our first seed round and that was with Clean Energy Ventures, so familiar to you guys as well. They were tremendous supporters early on in our growth. We went through the next round and we’re actually raising our B round at the moment to expand now that we’re at commercial scale. But we’ve seen tremendous support from the private sector and I think there’s sort of been a resurgence of capital from the federal level with the infrastructure bill and the Inflation Reduction Act.
We’re starting to see a ton of capital going into the space, which I think is very needed, because we’re all trying to build hardware solutions. It’s not as quick as it would be for a software. We do need that capital outlay over the next several years. It’s been tremendous to see the support both from the private side as well as the federal funding side.
Lincoln Peyton: It’s really a good story. I’m sure that it’s going to catch a lot of traction. Did the IRA specifically, because you do mention that you are in the physical process aspect of technological decarbonization, did the IRA in any specific direct way help you?
Megan O’Connor: Indirect first, the demand for our products has been off the charts, given that we’ll be one of the only companies producing this particular source of domestic nickel called MHP, which I won’t go into, but right now you can only source it from Indonesia. After the Inflation Reduction Act was passed, that was cut off as a source that would be considered compliant. Nth Cycle will be one of the only ones producing it here domestically. Demand has been through the roof, which is exciting.
Then, directly the tax credits that will start to come online and they’re monetizable. It’s not like the solar industry, but directly monetizable tax credits starting I believe next year, which will be tremendous for us as producers of these critical materials. There’s a number of them that we can actually use to our advantage to help us grow even faster. It’s been pretty tremendous to see, and we’ll see after all the interpretation goes through where everything lands, but as it stands today, it looks pretty phenomenal for businesses in the critical mineral production space.
Lincoln Peyton: That’s really good. If we look forwards two years now, which isn’t long, but it is long, things are moving quite quickly. I guess there’s two questions. What would you like it to look like for you with your process and its application, but what do you think it will look like? Are there other players in the industry?
Megan O’Connor: I see a world that processes materials in a much more efficient, sustainable way, and that’s really what we want Nth Cycle to become is the technology to be able to refine any type of material across the supply chain. Regardless if you’re a mining company, a refining company, recycling company, or an OEM or anything in between, we can go right on site with you and be able to process what you have and really bring that metal back into the market as quickly as possible so that we don’t have to continue to mine.
There is a world where we no longer have to mine these materials. It’s still many decades away, but we do believe that we can get enough metal and circulation so that all we have to do is rely on recycling technology, which would be amazing. There are other players in this space, but honestly they’re more focused on the vertical integration strategy, so trying to be battery to battery or other component to other components, really focused on more of the manufacturing of cathodes.Then recycling as part of that to get their own source of materials.
We actually see them as partners or peers more than we see them as competitors, because we’re really just a technology player that’s trying to get as much metal back in so we can actually sell them the metal that we’re pulling out from the slag from the steel industry or the oil and gas industry. It’s not necessarily competing on a same level basis. It’s trying to all work together to get this industry to move forward as quickly as we can.
As you said, this is a massive opportunity and I think we have to all work together to truly solve it. I don’t think it’s going to be one company or another. We all have a very different approach of how to get all of these materials. For us, we’re really just focused on the base metals, not the end products. I love the other people in the space who are trying to do the stuff that we can’t, who are producing the cathodes and the magnets and things, and we’re just trying to be here to support them with the metals that they’ll need to do that.
Lincoln Peyton: You mentioned earlier on that you’re bringing the whole service. Does that mean jobs as you grow? Are you going to be hiring people to do that or do you expect it to be the institute operators?
Megan O’Connor: We are, yes. We have a delivery and installation team we call it. They will go in, commission the system, get it operational to a certain point and train the local staff that we hire to run it from there on out. We’re very excited to be creating all of these jobs in areas that typically would not have this type of industry there.
Lincoln Peyton: That’s excellent. It’s quite an exciting management formula in and of itself as well. For you now, is there further development technically or is the process what it is, you’ve got it, and it’s just about building the scale or does the technical development continue? Which is it?
Megan O’Connor: It’s a combination of both. For the nickel scrap and the battery scrap and all the things that I mentioned that we’re doing now, the technical development is done, so it’s really just getting more of these machines out into the world. But there will still be a little bit of technical development for the other metals applications that I mentioned before. It’s the same system. There’s just a little bit of development on the parameters that go around it to get it out into those other applications or growth areas, as I mentioned. It’s both in parallel, which again, is a benefit of the technology that we can move across these different materials and expands to help bring all of these metals, not just one or two, back to the Western world.
Lincoln Peyton: Last question on the business. What worries you? You’ve got these other tangents to add in, whether it’s geography, whether it’s extension one way or another. What’s your biggest challenge?
Megan O’Connor: I think our biggest challenge is being able to move fast enough. There’s so much, not just opportunity, but now there’s a real race to get as much of these metals here domestically. When I say domestically, North America and in Europe because we have this legislation now that demands it. It’s not even a race against our competitors, it’s a race against time to get this clean energy economy up in operational as fast as we need it to be to fight climate change. That’s what keeping me up at night.
There’s a whole bunch of other business things that keep me up at night as well. The capital that we’ll need to move this quickly, the support we’ll need from our partners moving into the mining industry will definitely need support from our partners to do that. But also what keeps me going every day, being a founder and CEO, it’s of roller coaster. Some days you’re like, “Why am I doing this?” Then you have to remind yourself of why we decided in the first place. I try to keep that in the back of my mind, especially weeks like this where I’m traveling like a crazy person, but it’s hopefully going to be very rewarding and we’ll all realize it was all worth it in the end.
Lincoln Peyton: It’s a fantastic answer. It sounds like you’re having fun. Tangential question, you’ve spent a lot of time in very cool higher education and had friends and help and partnerships. How do you down the road, give back some of that expertise and obvious success? You’ve got success already, but I think there’s a lot more to come. Do you think about that?
Megan O’Connor: I do. I already work with both of my alma maters as a mentor to both undergraduate and graduate students in the time that I have. I wish I could do more. But one day after, hopefully Nth Cycle’s very successful, I would love to start a nonprofit to help underprivileged females in STEM get the opportunities that I wish I would’ve had an earlier age. Another one of my big goals in life is to help support the underrepresented communities, get better access to all the things that I was fortunate enough to have once I reached my undergraduate.
Lincoln Peyton: You’re a great role model and torch-bearer for that. Very cool indeed. Last question, what do you do when you’re not working? What do you like doing to get away from chemical processes and recycling and really changing thing?
Megan O’Connor: Similarly, I’m not an outdoor cyclist, but I’m an indoor cyclist, so I’m part of the Peloton clan, and then I also like to run.
Lincoln Peyton: Oh, very cool.
Megan O’Connor: I for some reason decided that running very long distances and training for a marathon would help me clear my brain. It was painful, but also it does help. I am also now a runner, I’ll say.
Lincoln Peyton: Fantastic. Thank you very much for joining us and congratulations. It’s a great story and we look forward to following it.
Megan O’Connor: Yes. Thank you so much. This has been wonderful. Thank you.
Dana Dohse: Thank you for joining us on The Decarbonization Race. For more resources to help you lead the pack in the most important race of our lifetime, visit cleartrace.io/podcast.