Meet the Singaporean - Bryan Oh
Hi Bryan, tell us more about how you started in sustainable technology, and why lithium battery recycling in particular?
Well, my co-founder Kenneth (Palmer) and I had worked on a few start-ups. At one point, we were doing some research in the electric vehicle (EV) market. We realised that lithium batteries, which powers electric cars, are not recycled due to the limitations in recycling technologies. As a result, many of these used lithium batteries are found in landfills. This prompted us to take a closer look at how the industry could be made more sustainable.
Kenneth and I connected with Professor Wang Qing through a research and innovation programme at NUS. He had been conducting research on electrochemical battery recycling, and after hearing that, we knew we had to get him on board our team. We focused our lithium battery recycling solution on meeting the needs of the EVs market and successfully established our start-up, NEU Battery Materials. Professor Wang is now our co-founder and technical advisor.
What makes NEU Battery Materials unique?
It’s the way we recycle the batteries! Simply put, we use electricity to do the recycling. The process is clean and sustainable, with almost zero pollution. Eventually, we’re looking to tap on natural, renewable sources of energy such as solar or wind to power the process.
Very cool. Your team is the first in the world to use this kind of sustainable technology. As a Singaporean, how does that make you feel?
We are definitely humbled to have this opportunity to make a difference in the world! The journey has not been easy, so I really appreciate every bit of help and support we’ve received that brought us to where we are today – be it from fellow start-ups, corporates, academia and even government support.
You’ve probably heard the saying “it takes a village to raise a child”. In our context, it may take a village to grow and nurture a ‘normal’ start-up, but it takes an even bigger village to grow a deep-tech, sustainable hardware start-up!
Sounds like it’s been a journey of ups and downs. Give us an example of a challenge you and your team faced and how you overcame it.
Well, for a start, the scaling-up process is a big challenge – growing from a lab to a commercial operation. We started out working with small quantities of recycled batteries to extract lithium. Over time, we had to develop a different methodology and process to extract lithium in large quantities, and upgrade our equipment accordingly. We had to go through trial and error. Today, we are quite confident with the current size and scale of our operations.
(Photo by Type A)
What do you hope for NEU Battery Materials to achieve in the long term?
We are working closely with a local battery-crushing company to build our first pilot plant in Singapore – one that would be big enough to support Singapore’s recycling efforts. This is to ensure that the batteries we use today have an end-of-life management system.
Eventually, we hope for a NEU Battery Materials recycling plant to be found in any country with big EV manufacturing lines, such as China, Europe or the United States. We may be from a ‘little red dot’, but as a Singapore company, we’d like to leave our mark in the world!
We’ll be rooting for your team to fly our Singapore flag high! Beyond the business, do you have a vision for what a green and sustainable Singapore would be like?
I do! And it's for everyone to adopt a circular economy mentality in the next 10 to 20 years. This means that we must adopt the mindset of making things last longer and finding ways to reuse what we already have. This also means changing the mindset of upgrading our devices every year or whenever a new product launches, and only buy new items when needed. Even something like properly disposing of used electronics and leaving them at e-waste collection points goes a long way.
Everyone has a part to play to achieve Singapore’s net-zero emissions target by 2050.
– Bryan Oh, 28, CEO of NEU Battery Materials
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