Carlton Cummins moved from Barbados to the United Kingdom to pursue a Masters in Sustainability. But what followed could only be described as a dream come true.
Cummins started out as an art and design student. His specialty was visual art and design, and he was very skillful in dry media specializing in the human form. According to him, he was very good at capturing hands, human positions and postures.
He initially wanted to pursue industrial design, following his innate passion for making things. However, such a field of study was not available in the Caribbean, leading him to study mechanical engineering instead at the University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine Campus in Trinidad.
“In my opinion, I was a terrible mechanical engineer. They would be teaching me how to calculate the strength loads of a bridge and I would be in my corner drawing something,” Cummins said with a laugh.
However, he fully demonstrated his creation skills when given assignments. Being a man that loves complex situations and problems with many variables, he had a field day with his projects. In fact, for his final one at UWI, he built an electric motorcycle.
“To me, it wasn’t enough to just show the images because that does not do it justice, because I like the concept of creating. To me, that’s where I see my value as a human being,” he said.
It was during the process of building the motorcycle that Cummins saw the potential for electric vehicles. But due to the fact that there was no market in the Caribbean for them, he changed gears a bit and focused on renewable energy.
He worked at Innogen Technology for about three years before going to the UK in 2014 to pursue a Masters at Brunel University to broaden his scope.
It was there the young entrepreneur got exposed to the world of waste management. He started looking at electric vehicles in more detail. After much research, he realized that batteries in electric vehicles were not actually dead when they were no longer useful to power the vehicles; there was still enough juice left in them to power a home.
“A lot of people don’t know that, but ‘dead’ in a battery is a funny term. Batteries don’t die, they degrade. You could take a battery from a remote and put it in a clock and it would work just fine. Batteries exist in a cascading life cycle. Unfortunately, historically we have made batteries for one thing and then we throw them away,” Cummins said.
And that was the same approach taken to batteries in electric vehicles. The battery in an electric vehicle is not the same size as a battery in a regular car; it takes up the entire base of the vehicle. Another difference between the two types of battery is the chemistry. Batteries for electric vehicles are made of lithium ion, the same component that makes up batteries for the cellphone, camera, laptop, etc.
So Cummins got to thinking: “What if I developed a process to take a battery from an electric car and use it for something else when it was no longer viable for the car?”
It was then that the idea for Aceleron was born. Cummins started looking into building low cost energy storage for items such as electric wheelchairs and electric bicycles, in order to test the feasibility of the battery for reuse.
And that, in part, is how the name Aceleron came about. According to Cummins, the goal of Aceleron is to accelerate access to energy storage by trying to make a battery that is accessible to as many regions and societies as possible. So, along with business partner Dr Amrit Chandan, that is what Cummins has set out to do.
“We want to make something that we can put in people’s homes that doesn’t create problems with waste at the end of the day, and solves an existing waste issue,” he emphasized.
Although he has created such a unique product, Cummins does not consider himself a pioneer.
“I feel like someone who takes a common sense approach to significant problems. If I get really deep into my mind I would say I tend to like complex problems. So problems where you need to do a lot of things to fix it, I find those very exciting.”
But the true excitement came when Cummins and Chandan were named in the Forbes magazine 30 Under 30, which identified some of the brightest young entrepreneurs, breakout talents and change agents in various sectors.
Cummins didn’t even know they had been nominated. He was contacted by a representative of Forbes to inform him that they had been chosen for the semifinals. A week after he had returned to the UK following a Christmas holiday in Barbados, he got the news they had been selected.
“I was ecstatic because that was one of my soft goals for life. . . . This was one of those ‘nice to haves’. I am going to be 29 this year, so if it didn’t happen this year it wouldn’t be happening,” Cummins said with a chuckle.
His business partner also shared in his excitement, but the response from Cummins’ mother was that of a typical Bajan parent.
“I told my mother and [she] was like, ‘That’s nice, you eating good? You sleeping properly?’ Can’t get vex with her. If I don’t eat or sleep properly, nothing is going to happen anyway,” he said.
So what’s next for Aceleron? Cummins wants the company to be at the forefront of the circular economy for batteries – he wants to be able to produce, waste manage and reuse batteries, and also create a model that allows batteries to exist as almost a service.
“Right now, you buy a battery but you don’t want the battery, you want what the battery does. So what if there was a model that allowed you to just have the part of the battery that you want, which is the energy storage. So you use it for however long you need it and then you give it back. You don’t want to own the battery, you just want to own what it does, so we are setting up ourselves in the capacity to do that,” he disclosed.
Cummins is also looking to broker relationships with companies that can recycle batteries so that when a battery is no longer useful as a battery, it can be broken down into raw material and used for something else.
Cummins is all about creating solutions for problems today – that don’t create problems tomorrow. That is his definition of sustainability, and with this mindset, his future and that of Aceleron look bright.