11 September 2010

Recharging Michigan's Economy

Livingston Daily

About two years ago, Brian Martin found himself unemployed after working for 25 years in the automobile industry as the state’s economy only continued to worsen.

For the next 18 months, Martin, who made plastic parts for injection-molding machines, was among the ranks of Michigan’s unemployed formerly in the auto industry

His luck changed when Recupyl Battery Solutions LLC, which recycles alkaline batteries, opened for business in Green Oak Township in June.

Today, Martin, a Wixom resident, is a shift supervisor at the plant.

“In Michigan, there’s not much. You kind of base your life on automotive, and when the bottom fell out here two years ag, it was real hard to get back on your feet,” he recalled.

“I was kind of excited when all of this came up, kind of something new to get into,” Martin added.

Most employees at the Green Oak recycling operation formerly worked in the auto industry, said General Manager John Herschelman.

In a June radio address, Gov. Jennifer Granholm said Michigan is becoming a “center for advanced battery production” primed to diversify the state’s economy and create jobs.

The state has obtained millions of dollars in incentives for battery-related operations to set up shop in Michigan.

While Recupyl Battery Solutions located in Livingston County on its own, it’s one of the first new battery operations to open since Granholm’s declaration.
The operation

Recupyl Battery Solutions is a joint venture between Genoa Township-based Battery Solutions Inc. and French-based Recupyl.

The alkaline batteries are shipped to Green Oak from the Genoa facility, where they’re sorted along with a variety of other batteries taken from all 50 states.

The Green Oak facility off Kensington Road only recycles alkaline batteries, but plans to begin recycling lithium-ion batteries in November at the roughly 10,000-square-foot facility.

Green Oak Township officials in April approved a roughly $1.2 million industrial tax abatement for the operation with the expectation that at least 12 new jobs will be created in the next two years.

“We’ll always exceed that expectation,” Herschelman said.

He said there’s great potential for his company to open additional battery-recycling plants in Michigan. The facilities are up and running quickly once necessary equipment is received from France.

“This is just the beginning of battery recycling here,” Herschelman said.

“Just the utilization of what people throw in the garbage is just a nice thing,” he added.

At the plant, batteries are ground up into dust and broken down and melted into zinc, manganese and steel. Zinc and manganese are the primary products of the recycling.

Paper and plastic from the batteries are also recycled.

At the plant, the batteries are sent to a series of grinders that burn them; grind them into a fine powder; and separate them to labeled containers for zinc, manganese, steel, paper and plastic.

A control panel inside the plant can be seen in France in real time to monitor operations.

Herschelman said recycling batteries not only keeps landfills from piling up, but also protects the Earth’s natural resources.

“The more we recycle, the less we have to mine. It just makes so much sense,” he said.
Jobs solution?

It remains to be seen how much, if at all, new battery-related businesses will fill the massive void of jobs in Michigan.

Granholm in June said there are 16 advanced-battery companies building facilities in Michigan and hiring Michigan workers, representing $5.8 billion in capital investment projected to create almost 62,000 jobs.

Just before that time, it was announced that LG Chem, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of lithium-ion batteries, began construction of a battery manufacturing plant in Holland.

Also in June, the governor attended a groundbreaking ceremony in Northville Township for TSC Michigan, a company she said is “on the cutting edge” of developing new, advanced electrolyte materials, key components in the manufacturing of advanced lithium-ion battery cells.

The state has created tax credits to entice battery companies to set up shop in Michigan. The state last year received more than $1.35 billion in grants from the U.S. Department of Energy to support the manufacture and development of advanced batteries and electric vehicles

“Through our diversification and education initiatives, we’ve laid a foundation for the new Michigan economy. We’ve put in place the best policies to promote long-term economic health. A brighter future for Michigan requires that we continue moving forward on this path,” Granholm said.

Officials have said the massive, vacant Ford Wixom Assembly Plant is prime property for battery manufacturing.

Last year, Ford Motor Co. cut a tentative deal to sell the abandoned Wixom plant to two renewable-energy companies, in a $725 million industrial conversion that promised to create 4,300 new jobs.

Michigan may be a prime location for battery businesses if they serve Detroit’s Big Three automakers, said Todd Coy, vice president of Anaheim, Calif.-based Kinsbursky/Toxco, a battery recycling operation.

Coy said the funding incentives could propel the battery business in Michigan.

“It seemed to be a fit. There’s enough economic incentive being put forward,” he said. “It would seem to me a great fit, actually.”

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