Eric Lundgren Phoenix EV

He's done it again.

Eric Lundgren took parts that other people thought were trash, turned them into a DIY, long-range EV he called the Phoenix.

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Last month (on April 1, somewhat unfortunately, since people thought it was a prank) he went on a range test versus a handful of OEM EVs and beat them all. Last week, to both emphasize that it wasn't a prank and to correct for some of the perceived faults in the first run, Lundgren took the Phoenix out again, cruising from the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles down to San Diego and back.

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As befitting a stunt like this in the Internet age, there's a video:

Let's make one thing clear at the outset: while Lundgren loves electric vehicles (he owns three, including a Tesla), this stunt isn't really about EVs.

Instead, it's about hybrid recycling, a term he coined to highlight the tremendous amounts of electronic waste that Americans generate.

As ITAP's YouTube videos show, this is a problem we have the ability to solve, we just need the desire. Lundgren figured if he could take literal trash and use it to beat brand new EVs on the road, that would draw attention to his mission of diverting valuable electronics from the landfill and back into use.

Eric Lundgren in the Phoenix EV

Eric Lundgren in the Phoenix EV

Here's some of our conversation with Eric, edited for clarity. As you can see, even on an hour-and-a-half of sleep after finishing his drive, he's quite the talker. I recommend setting aside some time to read the whole thing.

What is 'hybrid recycling,' and why bother?

EL: We set out to prove a point. We really want to bring awareness to hybrid recycling, which is an inefficiency in America. Basically, revolving around electronics. It's not a sexy topic. Since we do that on a micro level, I decided to blow it up into a macro level just to garnish attention, and to gain interest from people that would otherwise not care about hybrid recycling. I also wanted to push the EV industry. I own two of those cars that go 90 miles on a charge. They're just annoying. I also own a Tesla. I spend, or my company spent, $145,000 on this Tesla, and it gets 255 miles with a nine percent degradation the first year out. I'm big fan of Tesla. They make really cool looking cars. I'm a big fan of Elon Musk, except when it comes to hybrid recycling. That company is not practicing hybrid recycling, and they should be. They're the industry leader when it comes to green, and environmental inefficiency. The thought that they just melt their battery packs irks me being that it's my industry.

I'm hoping that if nothing else, those out there, the powers that be, that read what you write will be pushed and motivated to start practicing hybrid recycling. When I say the powers that be, I mean corporations that manufacture these electronics, but then, in many cases, don't actually salvage the working parts and components, or let others salvage the working parts and components for different applications away from the auto industry. When it's mandatory to put something into a landfill, that's just an archaic solution to the fastest growing waste problem in the world, which is electronic waste. If we do things like this, and nobody hears about them, then we're having a rock concert in the middle of the woods with nobody listening.

In regards to China. There's a place in Southern China, right next to Shenzhen. I lived there for four and a half years. I went over there when I was 19 years old. Then I went back when I was 23. I stayed until I was 28. When I lived there, I learned the language. I speak fluent Mandarin. I went over looking for opportunity in the recycling realm. I analyzed everything that they did correctly, and everything that they're doing wrong. They neglect  having a full recycling process where zero percent of the product goes into a landfill or hurts the environment. But they were also doing something right. One thing that we don't do in America. They were reusing the parts. They were reusing the components. In America, sometimes, we reuse parts, right? We'll take RAM or a hard drive, or maybe we'll replace the LCD screen. What we won't do is, we won't reuse batteries. When you drop your electronic device in America, we instantly identify cosmetic defect as functional defect. We identify that if it has one functional defect, now it's trash. It's been ingrained in us as a consumer society.

What that's creating, is the world's largest waste epidemic called E-Waste. It's not really mandated well. It goes into our landfills, in your backyard, and it leaks harmful chemicals into our environment like lead, and mercury, and bromine, and cadmium. Then we drink our water, and eat our food, and wonder why we get cancer. It's just one of the many reasons why we get cancer. But it's a big contributing factor. Our solution, in America, is to shred it, or smelt it, melt it down, or bury it in the dirt. All three of those solutions destroy any potential value, don't allow for any potential reuse. They're just primitive. It's bad for the environment. It's bad for business.

This thing that I do, hybrid recycling, it's a global solution. You need to be able to get the working parts back to wherever things are getting manufactured. In America, we don't value batteries, and capacitors, and RAM, and IC chip sets, and all that jazz. In the world, those products are highly valued. When I went to China and stayed for five years, I saw a lot of people make millions of dollars very quickly. What they were doing was buying America's trash from corporations, and from landfills, and from recyclers or fake recycles. Guys would aggregate, collect, and then sell to China. They were buying it all up, and then they were selling each piece by piece to factories to build new products. It was brilliant. When I came back to America, I said, "Well, why don't we just do that here?" So, we did. We started a company to do it here. It started out, the moral of the company was, "We're going to become successful by doing something that's good for society."

It was hard to change the mentality of corporations. Every corporation thought, "Wait a minute. You're going to pay me for this trash? I've been spending millions of dollars a year to get rid of it, processing it in an environmentally friendly fashion. Now, you're going to pay me to take it? What's the catch?" Right? It throws people off. We're doing this cool thing, hybrid recycling, but the problem is, nobody understands it yet. When I try to explain it to people, it either goes over their head. If they understand, they don't care until they start seeing the applications. When I start showing the cool things that we can build, that's when you getting people's attention. We're going to build a solar power array out of used batteries, made from over 95 percent trash, and it's going to tour around with a well-known rock band. They're going to play every one of their rock concerts off of garbage, off of what consumers threw away.

The Phoenix electric car by ITAP

The Phoenix electric car by ITAP

On building the Phoenix:

We built this car. It broke the world record that we're going to talk about today. We built the whole thing. 88 percent of the car is literally garbage. The chassis is a 1997 E39 528i BMW chassis. When I got it, it had a blown motor. I think we spent 500 bucks at a landfill. We dragged it out of a landfill. It didn't even have an axle. The thing was getting ready to be crushed in one of those giant cube-it-up machines to go ahead for steel value. The batteries all came from cable boxes for your home TV that had little 18650 batteries in them. 2,800 milliamp, 18650 batteries. We used those. Then we used laptop batteries from a well-known brand that I called up and said, "Hey, do you mind if I use your laptop batteries?" Then we used EV batteries that the EV industry said, "Nope. They're dead." That car company said, "Well, these ones are toast."

What we found was, when you open up the pack, 80 percent of the actual batteries are perfectly working. They're perfect. The problem is that once over 20 percent degradation occurs in the pack, in America we say it's trash. We aggregated all these batteries and made this giant 130-kilowatt power battery pack. Slapped two seats in there, an AC-51 motor. The entire car was built in less than 35 days in somebody's backyard, under a tarp. We have videos where it's pouring down rain, we're under a tarp building this thing at three o'clock in the morning, and I'm paying my engineers in Keystone Lights. That's what they took for payment.

They just wanted to be a part of something like this because they believed in it. It was a group effort. There's a lot of people that jumped on the bandwagon. It became this cool movement where the entire car was built for $13,000, in 35 days.

Mercedes-Benz Energy - Storage Grid

Mercedes-Benz Energy - Storage Grid

What about grid storage for old EV batteries?

EL: You need to mass-produce a grid storage solution. Companies like Tesla know how to do it with a brand new battery because there's less variables. It's harder to do it with a bunch of batteries that all have different chemical structures, right? And all have different levels of degradation. We built a giant Cadex machine that has the ability to test every chemical type of battery. Then we built a giant power array so that we don't waste the power, but we cycle it between one battery to another as we're testing the batteries. Then we built a giant line in my facility to be able to demanufacture these packs, and get the cells, and test each cell, and grade each cell so that you can have uniformity.

Once we got to that point, it's really easy to apply them in any new application. We have the ability as a country and as a society to reuse all of the EV batteries. When degradation goes below 80 percent in the EV realm, EV companies say the battery is garbage. They send it to guys like me, recyclers. Or they try to recycle it themselves. Now, at that point, you have smart EV companies. Fiat and Chrysler jumped on the bandwagon very quickly and said, "We don't want to be wasteful. Let's find solutions for these batteries." I don't do recycling for Chevy, but I have to say, I'm impressed with what they've done with their Volt battery, and power grid storage. They've gone as far as making the chassis of that battery into a bat cave habitat. Bats love that dark environment.

Is that a scalable solution? No. But we don't need a scalable solution for the fiberglass or the plastic. We need scalable solution for the batteries. That's 95% of the carbon footprint that goes into making a pack, is the actual cells. Those cells are what hold such a high utilitarian value in our society. Again, you have to be able to reuse them in a non-competing field, right? In my industry, it gets very particular. I can't take batteries from Tesla, and go make cars out of them. Tesla's going to go, "Hey, wait a minute. We sell cars, right? You're competing with us."

That's not what I want to do. What I want to do is, I want to take all of the batteries out there from every kind of EV, okay? I want to extract the individual cells. On a cell level, for example, on a Tesla, there's what? 6,000 to 8,000 cells depending on the model? Right? I want to take each one of those cells out. I want to Cadex test those cells. I know that it's actually, economically feasible to do this. It's profitable both for Tesla, for me, or for Chevy, GM, Honda. You name it, it's profitable to do this for the company which is important, otherwise they're not going to do it, right? They answer to shareholders. If it's not making money, then they'll figure out a reason to say why they can't do it.

It's a natural process for the EV batteries to end up in power array systems. How cool would it be if, when you're driving your EV, and you drive out into the middle of nowhere, where at best you're going to get 220 volts. You can swing by a charger set-up, which is a solar power array to used battery packs to a fast, in the middle of the desert, and plug in and fill up in 30 minutes. That is my goal. That's what I want to do with these batteries.

The EV world says, "Oh, garbage at 80 percent degradation." That's after you drive a car for, let's say five to seven years. Let's say you drive a car, and you get in an accident. Then you have to replace your battery pack. You start getting these battery packs in within the first week of a car coming out. They have to change the battery pack out if it was damaged in any way. None of these are Frankensteined together in America and refurbished. They're all just replaced. It's a lot of waste that we're talking about here. When the EV says it's trash, we should use them in solar powered supercharger array that works around the country.

When I say 'we' I'm not talking about pipe dreams. I'm talking about I'm going to be doing this. I'm going to be producing. I can do 1,000 of those a year right now with my little company. We can knock out 1,000 of those a year, a fast-charging network of solar powered stations built from 90 percent trash. The next step is, when the batteries degrade to a point where they're not useful in that realm, then you use those same batteries at your house.

From a corporate level, I'm like this little training ant. I have a company of 113 people. We have four facilities. We have 240,000 square feet in four countries. I started that company five years ago with $100,000 that we were loaned. We're now at $48,000,000 a year. That, to me, people can go, "Oh, that's big." I go, "No, no, no. I'm like this little, tiny ant that's barely able to scream loud enough for these giants to hear. I crawl up a giant like Tesla's shoulder, and I just scream as loud as I can in their ear." I go, "Please just turn right. Just a little bit, just one percent. Just turn right just a little bit." When they do, the change is just momentous. We're able to take that and really impact change in these giant companies. That trickles down to impacting everybody else.