Electric vehicle battery recycler Redwood Materials has provided an update 12 months after it started its California EV Battery Recycling Program.
The company founded by Tesla cofounder and former chief technical officer J. B. Straubel, has a mission to “build a circular supply chain to power a sustainable world and accelerate the reduction of fossil fuels.”
Founded in Nevada in 2017, Redwood launched the California EV Battery Recycling Program in February 2022 to develop pathways for end-of-life (EOL) battery packs to be disassembled, broken down and recycled.
Redwood already processes 6 GWh of lithium-ion batteries annually. This is the equivalent of 60,000 EVs which the company says is currently most of the recycled lithium-ion batteries in North America.
“Non-extractive mining” the path to a circular economy
Termed “non-extractive mining” the goal is to make the extraction of valuable materials like lithium and nickel from used batteries more cost effective than traditional mining which would ultimately pave the way for a circular economy.
The great thing about electric vehicles is that the energy needed to power them can come from completely renewable resources, unlike petrol and diesel which required oil to be constantly extracted and burned to provide energy.
This means if effective EOL battery recycling processes can be developed, the materials involved can enter a closed loop recycling system which would dramatically reduce the need for mining once the world’s fleet is fully battery electric.
During the first 12 months of the Californian pilot program, Redwood says it has collected 1,268 EOL battery packs totalling around 500,000 pounds (227 tonnes) from 19 different BEV and hybrid models.
The company was able to extract over 95% of the metals from the used battery packs which included lithium, cobalt, nickel and copper.
Developing the pathways for EOL battery packs
Redwood has been recycling battery packs for a few years now however the goal of the Californian pilot program was not only to prove the recycling technology but also develop the system of collection and delivery.
The company says that the Californian pilot is the largest program of is kind anywhere in the world.
Initially partnering with Ford and Volvo, Toyota and Volkswagen Group have also come on board and Redwood encourages other automakers to join the program saying they will accept all lithium-ion (Li-ion) and nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries in the state.
Redwood also works directly with dealers and dismantlers to identify and recover end-of-life packs.
Although Redwood is based in Nevada, it chose California for the pilot project because of the state’s longstanding leadership in the transition to electric transport.
In its update statement, Redwood says that California is the oldest and one of the largest EV markets globally and that EVs made up almost 19% of all new car sales in 2022. This means that the first wave of EOL battery packs will largely come from California. The pilot will serve as a model for other states.
Logistics is the major cost in the process
Interestingly the company says that the logistics involved in the system is the most significant cost. The company says that as the volumes of EOL batteries increase, economies of scale will bring these costs down significantly.
In it’s 12 month statement the company says “the key to reducing logistics costs for end-of-life battery packs is to achieve economies of scale through increased collection volume and Redwood is confident that, in time, as EOL pack volumes increase, the logistics cost will decrease so that batteries will become assets that will help make EVs more sustainable and affordable in the long run.”
“Today, Redwood’s recycling process is already profitable for smaller batteries, such as those found in consumer devices, and production scrap. As logistics becomes a smaller component of the overall value proposition, we anticipate a similar trend to happen for larger electric vehicle batteries in the coming years.” the company said.
As EV demand grows we will see EOL battery packs also grow significantly in the coming years. It’s great to see companies like Redwood getting ahead of the curve to develop not only the recycling technology but also the collection and delivery systems that a vital to the success of a truly circular economy.
Daniel Bleakley is a clean technology researcher and advocate with a background in engineering and business. He has a strong interest in electric vehicles, renewable energy, manufacturing and public policy.