Georges Macheta and Gabriel Riegert, current students at the University of St. Thomas, recently spoke with KARE 11 about their business venture, Converteca, which seeks to find the best way to recycle lithium-ion batteries in a sustainable manner.
From the story:
Riegert, a junior at the University of St. Thomas studying marketing and Spanish, used to be a sales representative who would sell equipment that used lithium-ion batteries.
“When a customer would come in, they’d say their lithium-ion product didn’t work. We would take it in, fix it for them right away. But the thing I noticed is that those lithium-ion batteries, where do they go?” asked Riegert.
While they would typically sit on a shelf and then get dropped off at a big-box store, Riegert was curious to find out where they went after that.
“We figured out that most of them end up in landfills, rivers, and they damage the environment,” Riegert said. “So I brought it upon myself, ‘OK, Gabe, let’s figure out the best way to recycle these batteries.’ Where can they go so that we can be more sustainable and the consumer can know where the batteries are really going?”
Then Georges Macheta – an international student from Syria studying computer science and entrepreneurship at St. Thomas – became Riegert’s roommate.
“We competed in a competition with different businesses and then I ended up being like, ‘I kind of want to join your team. It sounds like a cool idea. I think I can add something to it.’ And that’s where we ended up being roommates and partners in the business,” Macheta said.
The more the pair looked into the issue, the more they realized there was a pressing need to find a better approach.
“There’s about 2,000 lithium-ion batteries per person in the U.S. today. That’s so many batteries and only 5% of them are recycled properly,” Macheta said. “I’m from Syria and now there’s this big problem of ... electricity is limited. So a bunch of people are just moving toward solar power and that’s producing so much waste in lithium-ion batteries. So I saw firsthand how big of a problem it is.”