There’s a dirty side to the clean energy business, but Megan O’Connor thinks she has found a solution: She has invented a new way to recycle lithium-ion batteries that power the electric cars considered crucial to weaning drivers off gasoline.
O’Connor leads Nth Cycle, a clean-tech startup that recently settled into new digs in a Cummings Properties building in Beverly, following a $3.2 million investment by Clean Energy Ventures of Boston.
Nth Cycle makes an extraction device that uses electric signals to separate out valuable metals such as cobalt and nickel from mining residue or the black mass left over from discarded electric batteries. The big selling point: This modular system is easy to move and adapt, and is far more efficient and environmentally friendly than the traditional methods of smelting or using a chemical wash to sort out the metals from the gunk. The name Nth Cycle is meant to imply that the startup’s tech essentially gives these materials an infinite life.
O’Connor founded the business with Desiree Plata, an engineering professor at MIT, and Chad Vecitis, a former Harvard engineering professor who left the academic world to lead research and development at Nth Cycle. The startup employs 10 people and is looking to hire more engineers.
As Nth Cycle’s chief executive, O’Connor has had a busy few months. The startup received the highest grant award for 2021 from the Catalyst program at the quasi-public Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, a $250,000 prize. (NewGrid of Somerville and Multiscale Systems of Worcester also received the max amount.) Nth Cycle also finished 2nd out of more than 300 startups in the TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 pitch competition. And O’Connor is gearing up for an installation at her firm’s first commercial customer, a metals recycler, early next year.
The startup was previously at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, a federally subsidized lab in Tennessee, but O’Connor relocated it to the Boston area last year. Moving here was a no-brainer, she said, given the support system for firms like hers available through the MassCEC, the Greentown Labs incubator, and the broader clean-tech community.
“As we started to grow, Massachusetts was such an innovative space,” O’Connor said. “It has the resources and the state-level support that we really needed as a clean-tech company . . . We felt it was the best fit for us for talent as well.”
Big movie. Even bigger screen
Hollywood is coming to the Museum of Science, and it’s bringing giant sandworms.
The arid planet of Arrakis featured in the new movie “Dune” started airing in the museum’s Mugar Omni Theater dome last weekend. President Tim Ritchie said this marks the first time that the museum is running a full-length feature film marketed for regular movie theaters.
Science museum staffers are trying an experiment of their own, by exploring ways to put their new digital projector in the theater to use. Before this $2 million renovation and installation was completed nearly a year ago, made possible with the financial help of philanthropist David Mugar, the theater was limited to showing movies in the five-story dome that were shot on 70-millimeter film.
Now, Ritchie and his team are trying to find the best ways to put that technology to use. Limited runs of feature films — they should have a science or science-fiction angle, of course — represent one such option. Ritchie said he also hopes community groups can run films on the dome as well.
For now, he’s happy to see the fans of Frank Herbert’s classic novel lining up to see the House Atreides, the Fremen and those giant worms on the biggest of big screens. The shows are selling out: Capacity is limited to just under half of the theater’s 266 seats to maintain safe distancing.
“Dune was one of these experiments,” Ritchie said. “We started scanning the landscape for a mission-related film . . . These things have their own sort of geeky, nerdy fan base that we know is an important group of people who care about science centers and would want to see that kind of thing on the dome.”
Cooperative Bank aims to care for older customers
John Battaglia knows what a neighborhood bank needs to survive against the giants.
“We try to be high-tech and high-touch,” said Battaglia, chief executive of The Cooperative Bank in Boston.
Toward that end, TCB unveiled a partnership on Monday with New York’s Carefull Corp., whose eponymous app monitors accounts for late or missed payments, unusual banking activity, and other issues that affect older adults’ finances or signal potential scams. The app also allows family members and caregivers to track the user’s account activity.
TCB is small, with four branches (West Roxbury, Roslindale, Charlestown, and Jamaica Plain) and just $480 million in assets. But with 3,500 accounts held by people over 65, the Carefull app is the kind of high-touch and high-tech service that those customers and their families might appreciate. Battaglia is making the Carefull app available for free to them.
“When this came across my desk from the head of IT, I said this is what we need,” Battaglia said. “We’re the first bank to offer this. We want to show that we are giving back to the community.”
Baker takes Sox in stride
Who says Red Sox playoff action has to be frightening?
Not Governor Charlie Baker, who fielded a softball question lobbed at him on Friday about the upcoming Sox-Astros showdown for the American League championship that night.
Baker was speaking at the Encore Boston Harbor casino in Everett about how his administration is committed to a nearly $50 million project to build a footbridge across the Mystic River, to connect the Assembly T station with the casino property. The project would complete a missing link in the Northern Strand path that snakes up to the city of Lynn. And — who knows? — it might just make the Lower Broadway area in Everett more appealing to Robert and Jonathan Kraft as they mull the possibilities of a home for the New England Revolution, outside of Gillette Stadium.
But Baker wasn’t asked about the Revs. He was asked about the Sox. He liked the team’s chances but was sanguine, even though they were one game away from elimination.
“Any time you’re still playing baseball around Halloween,” Baker responded, “you’ve had a pretty good year.”