JB Straubel, one of the co-founder of electric car pioneer Tesla and its former technology chief, says he wants his new company Redwood Materials to become the world’s top battery recycling company, as well as a leader in battery materials.
At the TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 tech conference on Wednesday, the ex-Tesla executive described his plan to focus on one of the less glamorous aspects of the electric vehicle industry: what to do with all those batteries.
“This is something that is a major industry and a major problem, and it’s a big part of why I want to spend my time on it,” Straubel said, as reported by Tech Crunch.
Straubel, who served as CTO for Tesla until July 2019, founded Redwood in 2017 and it has since established major partnerships with Panasonic and Amazon, and in September became one of a handful of companies to receive part of a $US2 billion Climate Pledge from the retail giant.
Redwood Materials will recycle enough batteries to power 10,000 electric cars in 2020 according to Reuters, but Straubel has his eye on set on a much more ambitious goal.
“I want to do something that can actually make a really material impact on sustainability in the world. And you need scale to do that. So I am very excited to keep growing this and to be one of, if not the major battery recycling company in the world. And eventually, one of the large battery materials companies in the world,” he said.
Redwood currently takes scrap from Panasonic’s Nevada operations, and extracts minerals such as cobalt and nickel to supply back to customers, including Panasonic, to create a “circular economy”.
It also has plans to assist Amazon in recycling both li-ion batteries from its planned fleet of electric delivery vehicles, as well as e-waste and other components.
The company’s Nevada-based operations are growing quickly, says Straubel.
“We’ve been able to grow extremely quickly and to ramp up our capacity and I expect that will follow roughly the scale of lithium-ion production, lagging by a few years,” he said.
But with a gigawatt hours worth of batteries currently being processed annually, Redwood Materials still needs to rapidly ramp up its recycling operations if it is to reach its goals.
Panasonic’s operations in Nevada currently has a 35 gigawatt hour annual capacity, and as Tesla boss Elon Musk estimated at Battery Day in September that 20-25 terawatts of batteries a year need to be produced for 15-25 years to achieve a world that runs completely on sustainable energy.
Celina Mikolajczak,VP of battery technology at Panasonic Energy in the US noted how vital it is that minerals are recycled to be able to make more batteries more quickly.
“It takes a lot of time to bring a mine on line,” said Mikolajczak at the conference.
“We’ve already dug these metals out of the ground, we’ve put them in cells, they’re sitting there,” she said.
“And yeah, it’s a little difficult to handle cells, they process a little differently than a typical metal ore, right, but at the same time, we have a much higher concentration of the metals we need than a typical metal ore. So it makes total sense to go after recycling and to do it aggressively because there’s a lot of it, there’s a lot of batteries already out in the world.”
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She specialises in writing about new technology and has been writing about electric vehicles for two years. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.