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Powering the lucrative future of battery recycling

Gaea wants to underpin this important, growing field

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Today’s startup has its eye on the lucrative market for recycling batteries and critical minerals. Read on to find out what Gaea has in store.

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Gaea wants to power the future of battery recycling

Gaea co-founders George Postlethwaite and Fred Fooks

In summary:

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Batteries are crucial to so much of life now. 

I need to keep my laptop charged up so it’ll work when I’m out and about later today. To get to my destination, I’ll be in my electric car, perhaps playing music from my smartphone’s battery (which will be charging from the car’s battery). Even my watch needs to be charged a few times a week.

But what happens when those batteries aren’t needed anymore? It turns out they can still be valuable, and that’s where battery recycling comes in.

As McKinsey noted last year, the large batteries in electric vehicles are particularly interesting to recycling companies.

But any battery that can provide reclaimed materials to use new ones means less reliance on environmentally questionable mining and more batteries for the devices and vehicles of the future.

But as recycling companies leap to this growing business opportunity (more on market sizing below), they’re finding a problem, according to George Postlethwaite, co-founder of Gaea.

“They're beginning to process a lot of material, but their current way of tracking their processes is very manual. What it typically looks like is a series of spreadsheets connected across the facility to track the different stages.

“As a result, they've got really disconnected data about what's going on in their operations, and it's really difficult for them to understand at an instant what's going on.”

The obvious answer to a problem like this would be to use an enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform from the likes of SAP or Oracle. But they’re too generic for the specialist needs of battery recyclers, and the broader field of critical mineral recovery, without a lot of expensive customisation.

So Gaea has built software designed especially for the task.

Gaea on desktop and mobile

How it works

Functionally, Gaea is a vertical ERP product. In more depth, it’s designed to provide recyclers with a better understanding of how much they should be buying and selling materials for, better compliance with regulations, and more effective on-site operations to optimise costs.

The system is based around QR codes, which are attached to materials before or when they arrive at a facility. These are then scanned to track the materials as they make their way through the recycling process.

The processes themselves are tracked, too.

“Where they take actions like dismantling batteries, or shredding them, we can track that process on our system. Again, by scanning the QR code into production location, but then also tracking the weight transfer of material as it goes through a production step,” says Postlethwaite.

“What that means is that we understand exactly how material flows through these production steps and can give them insight into where their material is going.”

The platform then provides analytics about what’s happening across the facility. Generative A.I. plays a part here, he says:

“We really believe that A.I. can be an operating advantage for us as a business, both for reducing the amount of time it takes to bring customers on board, but also delivering them insights into their operations using machine learning.”

Because the exact processes an individual recycler might use vary, Gaea is configurable to the exact needs of each facility.

For example, different recyclers might weigh material at different points in the process, meaning Gaea has to be flexible as to where weight is factored in the system. 

And some recyclers might only recover small portable batteries rather than electric vehicle batteries, meaning they will have different production steps.

“Customers really are able to wrap it around how they're doing things today, rather than have to change that process to use our system,” says Postlethwaite.

The story so far

Gaea’s story begins with the experience of Postlethwaite’s fellow co-founder and long-time friend Fred Fooks

As a data science specialist focused on supply chain problems, Fooks found that the major ERP platforms didn’t perform well at managing on-site processes. 

Spotting a particular opportunity to solve this for the growing recycling market, he teamed up with Postlethwaite to do something about it.

Postlethwaite started his career at Deliveroo as an intern, working his way up to the level of being responsible for signing up major supermarkets and managing relationships with them when the company launched its grocery delivery service.

Following a stint at job search startup Otta, Postlethwaite began working on Gaea with Fooks in late 2023.

After building a first version of the software, Postlethwaite says they launched a pilot with metal recycling company EMR across three facilities last year.

“This enabled us to really test out whether it works. We spent a huge amount of time on site, interviewing customers, really understanding the pain points of site workers using the software. That enabled us to build the understanding of what we need to build, to build a SaaS product to take to the market.”

He says that after launching two months ago, Gaea has its first two customers live on the platform and is in negotiations with more.

“We've really focused on the market in a vertical approach. I think why this has really benefited us is that we've been able to be really clear about how we solve problems just for battery recyclers. 

“But our approach to scaling this business will be tackling different verticals at a time. We're already broadening out to cover all critical minerals. And over time, we'll think about how we can cover the broader recycling space as well.”

And there’s more!

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