Retired Air Force colonel and eco-entrepreneur Lonnie Garris III returned to his home city Thursday evening to help show that the path to a climate-friendlier future — and a less carbon-intensive means of recycling lithium-ion batteries — goes through Chapel Street.
Garris is the founder and CEO of a battery recycling startup called Cool Amps.
On Thursday, he joined over 100 local and state officials and fellow environmental businesspeople for the grand opening of ClimateHaven.
That’s the climate-tech “incubator” based out of a 10,000 square-foot office space on the third floor of 770 Chapel St. Eight months after incorporating, it’s already home to 17 startups working on projects from producing “stronger, self-healing construction materials from the ocean” to converting carbon dioxide into renewable methanol to decarbonizing industrial water treatment practices.
“The climate movement is the modern industrial strategy,” ClimateHaven CEO Ryan Dings said, and entrepreneurship is “the best economic development tool of all time.”
Amid a flurry of such encomiums to the job-creating and profitable power of innovation to help solve the crisis of manmade climate change, Garris and Cool Amps Director of R&D Nick Anderson were on hand to show what that type of climate-conscious business focus could look like.
They did so by talking through a prototype of their company’s signature invention, a “laminar flow extraction module.”
What’s that, now?
Anderson explained that the device drills holes in the tops and bottoms of lithium-ion batteries. With the help of Cool Amps’ proprietary solution, the device extracts the “valuable materials” — nickel, manganese, cobalt, lithium — from those batteries.
Those materials are then stored, recycled, and resold to manufacturers to make more batteries.
Garris, who grew up in Beaver Hills and currently lives in San Antonio, Texas, said that the current method of recycling lithium-ion batteries involves shipping them to “big, large-scale industrial centers to have them smelted down. That’s a lot of carbon and energy use,” and a lot carbon added to the environment.
“Ours is very localized,” he said about the Cool Amps recycling method, and the metals “are put back into the production cycle.”
The focus of Cool Amps’ company is in Connecticut, he said, in New Haven in particular.
As is the case for the other startup founders who made their pitches on Thursday to a crowd that included Mayor Justin Elicker, Gov. Ned Lamont, (soon-to-depart-for-Yale) state Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Alexandra Daum, and others.
“I believe innovation is the answer to just about everything,” Lamont told the attendees as he applauded ClimateHaven’s work so far in helping new climate-focused businesses get off the ground by providing mentorship, office space, training, and other resources.
He implored those in attendance to think big and creatively about how to make sure Connecticut has “reliable, affordable, and green power” — through wind and nuclear and hydro and batteries and carbon capture and energy efficiency technologies. “Those are just some of the big-ticket things you ought to be thinking about,” he said, with the hope that the Chapel Street hub could give birth to the answers to some of the most vexing environmental problems of the day.