Carlton Cummins is making old things new again with his company Aceleron which he co-founded two years ago in the United Kingdom.
The 27 year old Barbadian, who considers himself an average Joe, was recognized on the Forbes 30 under 30 list for 2017, interviewed by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and was named top young entrepreneur in the UK.
But the humble lad said he didn’t put Barbados on the map regarding renewable energy; he just contributed.
“We were always on the map, Barbados pioneered as it relates to renewable energy from the early 70’s with water heating, so my contribution is an ideology or ethos that was inspired from the inside. Barbados has always been doing exciting and interesting things in this area,” he said.
Cummins recalled that growing up he didn’t necessarily know what he wanted to do, but knew what he liked.
“I liked making and creating things and my father encouraged that a lot because he was the type of dad where, if I wanted a cricket bat, he would hand me a piece of wood and show me how to use the jigsaw. His background was technical; for him if you wanted something, you fixed it or made it and that rubbed off on me,” Cummins said.
It would be a trait that would take him through Sharon Primary School, The St Michael School and ultimately Harrison College where he’d gravitate towards any subject that allowed him to create.
“I did visual art, I did art and design, I did technical drawing, I did electronics, I meandered through academia doing what would allow me to make things,” Cummins said.
Finishing secondary school, Cummins wanted to pursue industrial design, but at the time it was not being offered in the region. So, instead, he went to Trinidad to study mechanical engineering at the University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine Campus.
He would return home to Barbados for three years, working with Innogen Technology before the opportunity would arise to pursue a Master’s at Brunel University in the UK, an opportunity which he took and one that would open many doors thereafter.
“I was able to work part time for an electric motorcycle racing team whilst I was studying. I became the battery engineer on the team and learnt so much about batteries during that time,” Cummins said.
“From there, I got an internship at a consultancy that specialized in zero emissions vehicle technology and I saw first hand the trend where more and more people were buying EVs but no one was paying attention with the waste it produces afterwards,”
Ideas sparked in the young man’s mind and he continued to do research trying to answer the question, ‘what can we do with the ‘waste’ afterward?’ “And then I realized all it needs is a process to take the waste and transform it into something else,” Cummins said.
Whilst most companies were focusing on developing new batteries and new battery chemistry, Aceleron chose to address the question of ‘What do you do with them afterward?’ As a result, Cummins and co-founder, Dr. Amrit Chandan, developed a process and technology to transform used lithium-ion batteries, with a goal to build better batteries worldwide.
It would take a few years to bring the idea to fruition as Cummins and Chandan explored the business model.
“We entered it into several student competitions to get expert feedback, over 30 competitions and though we lost a lot, we also learnt a lot, until eventually we started to win,” he said.
“Aceleron now transforms batteries from consumer electronics like laptops all the way up to large batteries from electric vehicles into low cost energy storage that you could use to store energy from solar panels and those kind of stationary energy storage applications,” Cummins said.
But the additional value the company brings is in the way they build batteries from used lithium-ion cells.
“The way we repackage the cells, we design them in such a way that when our batteries come to end of life, they can be repaired and refurbished,” he explained.
Cummins posited that Aceleron was truly birthed out of a growing battery waste problem occurring across the world. “We don’t realize it but a lot of what we use is transitioning from fossil fuels, from the standard double A battery to lithium-ion, particularly because lithium-ion has the ability to store way more energy compared to the previous batteries we’ve had,” he explained.
“As a result of so many devices now using this technology [lithium-ion], lithium-ion’s price is falling relatively well, but the problem is that in many countries, we don’t have a strategy to deal with the waste that comes on stream and so people throw their phones with batteries in them in the bin.
The battery lithium-ion consist of compounds and these eventually leach into the soil and from the soil into the water. Though lithium itself is not toxic, it’s more the other compounds that are found in the battery. It is not something you want to leach into your water way,” Cummins said.
He revealed that the Caribbean does not have the capacity to handle lithium-ion battery waste and this is why he has all intentions of launching Aceleron for the Caribbean, basing it in Barbados. “The truth is batteries don’t immediately die, they may no longer be able to use for its intended purpose but they can serve in other ways,” he said.
Which is precisely why Cummins wants to be able to produce, waste manage and reuse batteries for the world as he ventures into the Central American and Caribbean markets to create sustainable solutions.