January 27, 2021

Following a Phone Battery from Creation to Destruction


In July 2020, UL Xplorlabs® released their third module, Extraction to E-waste: The Lithium-ion Battery Supply Chain. In Extraction to E-waste, students follow a mobile phone battery on its supply chain journey from resource extraction to device disposal. Once they have been equipped with a greater understanding of the supply chain complexities facing the world, students are immersed in a real-world study in which they collaborate to devise solutions to the problem of e-waste.

UL Xplorlabs was created in early 2017 to encourage a new generation of problem-solvers to find solutions to real-world engineering challenges. Students learn about STEM skills and STEM careers with interactive videos, instructional experiences and hands-on classroom activities based on problems encountered by Underwriters Laboratories employees. Students investigate these real-world problems. Then, they are positioned to solve these problems by practicing processes of design and engineering.

Each Xplorlabs module is founded on the safety science research of Underwriters Laboratories scientists and engineers, including Vice President of Research Dr. Tom Chapin and Research Director of Electrochemical Safety Dr. Judy Jeevarajan. They informed the research that Extraction to E-waste is founded upon. Throughout the module, Dr. Chapin and Dr. Jeevarajan act as virtual guides to students. They provide context, background information, and practical advice relevant to the curriculum.

“Lithium-ion batteries are powerful, portable and versatile,” said Dr. Jeevarajan. “They are also a source of great risk.”

Throughout Extraction to E-waste, students learn about the chemistry that powers a lithium-ion battery, the relevance of lithium-ion batteries to safe and sustainable cities, and the social and environmental implications of the supply chain. Students use 3D modeling, timeline satellite imagery and videos to investigate each step of the supply chain. Linked articles from UL’s On the Mark further illustrate the relevance of the material. Extraction to E-waste has applications in science, engineering, social studies, environmental science, and scientific literacy.

The modules are intended for a secondary school audience and they are free to use. Today, there are three Xplorlabs modules: Portable Electrical Power, Fire Forensics, and the newly released Extraction to E-waste. Each module can be accessed, along with teacher and student guides online.