A dream company to produce recycled Li-Ion batteries and build electric bicycles

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In 2019, the first e-bike prototype successfully ran on recycled Li-ion batteries. In another year, SM Tanvir and his co-founder, Alim al Rajii, have started their own Li-ion battery recycling business and they are looking to grow the startup.

April 22, 2022, 11:20 a.m.

Last modification: April 22, 2022, 2:25 PM

Borac Energia’s e-bikes can travel 150 km before needing to be recharged. Photo: Noor A Alam

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Borac Energia’s e-bikes can travel 150 km before needing to be recharged. Photo: Noor A Alam

When SM Tanvir Islam was studying aeronautics and military aviation at the Military Institute of Science and Technology (MIST) in Mirpur Cantonment, he dreamed of one day manufacturing jet engines. He had even flown 16 hours on a fighter plane.

Unfortunately, he realized quite early that, living in Bangladesh, it was not possible to pursue this goal because Bangladesh did not manufacture jet engines.

But instead of giving up, Tanvir branched out into micro-irrigation where he made submersible water pumps for irrigation purposes. He made the switch midway through his undergraduate program in 2014.

Tanvir created submersible pumps and equipment for agriculture, but at reasonable prices for poor farmers. But competition from existing businesses has stalled its efforts, and some of its customers have also complained that its pumps sometimes fail. He worked on these issues, but somewhere deep down he was looking to do more, to make something even more impactful.

Then, when he graduated in 2016, he thought of lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries, and instead of manufacturing them, Tanvir sought to recycle the batteries. Used and discarded Li-ion batteries are plentiful and can be easily recovered from scrap dealers.

“In 2018, we made our first prototype e-bike,” Tanvir said. First, the duo perfected recycled Li-ion batteries. And then they decided to make a prototype electric bike using the recycled batteries.

During the construction of the prototype, they recognized how expensive the use of Li-ion batteries was – the batteries alone cost around Tk 1 lakh, rounding up to a price of around Tk 1,80,000 to 2 lakh Tk to make an electric bike. However, by using recycled Li-ion batteries, the total cost could be reduced to 1,10,000 Tk to 1,30,000 Tk for each unit.

In 2019, the first prototype successfully ran on recycled Li-ion batteries. A year later, Tanvir and his co-founder, Alim al Rajii, started their own Li-ion battery recycling business.

In 2020, the duo’s common dream takes the form of Borac Energia.

Alim al Rajii (left) and SM Tanvir Islam, co-founders, Borac Energia. Photo: Noor A Alam

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Alim al Rajii (left) and SM Tanvir Islam, co-founders, Borac Energia.  Photo: Noor A Alam

Alim al Rajii (left) and SM Tanvir Islam, co-founders, Borac Energia. Photo: Noor A Alam

Recently, Borac Energia became the first finalist in the Springboard Program 4.0, an incubator competition organized by Youth Co:Lab, an initiative co-created by UNDP and the Citi Foundation.

By recycling discarded lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries and making them reusable for customers at an affordable price, Borac Energia’s model contributes directly to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7: “Ensure the access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for everything.”

How does Borac Energia revive “dead” batteries?

It’s a trade secret. Nonetheless, the founders shared a tidbit of the process. After buying the batteries from local scrap dealers, they use salt water – among other things – to revive it.

“Either we make e-bikes from scratch using these recycled batteries, or we adapt ordinary bikes with our proprietary techniques. Or our batteries can also be used as electricity storage units coupled with existing solar panel technology “, explained Tanvir.

And why wouldn’t they work with the more readily available lead-acid batteries? “Lead batteries are harmful to the environment and to people. [Also] they don’t last as long as Li-ion batteries. It goes against our motto,” Alim explained.

According to him, every procedure involved in the extraction of raw materials to manufacture and recycle lead-acid batteries is extremely harmful to the environment.

Additionally, the people who recycle these batteries usually don’t have a clear understanding of how to handle the chemicals involved in the process and after long years of mishandling, workers develop lung problems and skin diseases.

Li-ion battery raw materials, on the other hand, are much easier and safer to handle than their counterparts.

However, a brand new Li-ion battery costs four times more than lead-acid batteries, which is why people choose them over the best alternative.

“A recycled Li-ion battery costs even less than a new lead-acid battery but will serve three (or even four) times longer and just as efficiently…we want to disrupt the lead-acid battery industry because they are harmful to the environment”, adds Alim. Because the high cost deters customers from choosing Li-ion batteries, recycled batteries would serve them just as well, but at significantly lower prices.

In the future, when the duo can do more research, they hope to be able to offer their products at a lower price than new lead-acid batteries.

Moreover, Alim and Tanvir would also like to enter the e-bike business. In addition to their current inventory of two prototype e-bikes, they are designing two more prototype e-bikes using seed capital provided by UNDP.

These prototypes, they hope, will be their ticket to the commuter bike industry. “These bikes will travel up to 150 kilometers before needing to be recharged, using only electricity worth 20 Tk and no more.

And using the seed money, we are also trying to create portable chargers for our e-bikes. E-bikers can charge while they are being used, in real time, as people nowadays use power banks for mobile phones. With our e-bikes, we would provide two batteries so they could keep one charged,” Alim added.

Borac Energia’s expansion plans

At the moment, Borac Energia is in the business-to-business model phase.

Alim hopes the government will help them set up smart charging stations at existing gas stations. These smart chargers aren’t essentially fast-charging outlets per se, but Li-ion batteries require much less time – no more than two hours at best – compared to lead-acid batteries.

“We also power existing e-bike companies, such as Green Tiger, with our batteries. And in the near future, we aspire to be able to supply buyers and customers with everything we organize and manufacture,” said Tanvir.

E-commerce businesses demand on-time deliveries. Borac Energia’s electric transports appear to be a cost and time efficient solution. Borac Energia has already taken an order from an e-commerce entity to convert 10 vans with their technology.

“Entering the e-commerce industry will help them as much as it will strengthen our goals and strategies. After all, we are a business entity,” Tanvir added.

Asked about after-sales services and if they receive any complaints, Tanvir joked, “Our buyers want more batteries from us. We cannot meet the demand yet. Once we are able to increase our operations, we may be able to meet this demand. This demand is a good incentive for us to work harder.

Also, neither Alim nor Tanvir want to compromise on the design language (guidance for designing products or architectural scenery) of their end products, which they hope are electric vehicles of all shapes and sizes. Tanvir, in particular, thinks that good design paired with good features at very reasonable prices will work like a charm.

Fast charging is essential if electric transport is to take over. The duo see this as a huge challenge down the road, but the way things look right now, they’re hopeful they’ll be able to deliver.

Addressing all of these discoveries, the duo bases their design on cafe racing bikes, which they say are hugely popular among youngsters.

However, their current number of employees is yet another hurdle in their expansion plan. The work process would be so much more streamlined if they had more hands on deck, according to Alim.

“Youth Co:Lab facilitates a six-month training program for us and once completed, we will pitch our ideas to foreign venture capitalists. If they find our programs viable, we will likely receive grants. With the grants, we can definitely increase our operations and our production lines,” explained Alim.

The journey for Alim and Tanvir

Tanvir added: “Surprisingly, our academic backgrounds do not match our project. Alim studied at the Department of Disaster Science and Management, University of Dhaka and I from MIST. We were supposed to take different paths in life, but here we are, because we both wanted to start a business in the most sustainable way possible.

[As an added advantage] we both come from business-oriented families. This allowed us to think from a business perspective while maintaining our “sustainable” roots. Alim has been heavily invested in how the world is going electric in very quick succession and I was already working in the same area from the backend.”


Co-founded in 2017 by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Citi Foundation, Youth Co:Lab aims to establish a common agenda for Asia-Pacific countries to invest and empower young people. ways to accelerate the implementation of the SDGs through leadership, innovation and entrepreneurship. Youth Co:Lab Bangladesh’s Springboard Program is a platform for young social entrepreneurs to contribute to the achievement of the SDGs through tailored mentorship and numerous national and global networking opportunities.

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