Redwood Materials, the startup founded by former Tesla CTO JB Straubel, is launching an electric vehicle battery recycling program in California with Ford and Volvo as inaugural partners as pressure mounts to source materials for EVs.
The basic plan is that Redwood Materials will work with dealers and dismantlers in California to recover end-of-life battery packs in hybrid and electric vehicles. Straubel said the program will be free for those turning in vehicle batteries. The cost of retrieving, properly packaging and then transporting the batteries back to Redwood’s recycling facility in northern Nevada will be shared by the startup along with partners Volvo and Ford. Redwood will accept all lithium-ion and nickel metal hydride batteries in the state, regardless of the make or model of the vehicle.
“It is messy right now and there’s not a great, you know, obvious, clear solution to people,” Straubel said. “That is a really key part of what we want to change and make it as easy as humanly possible, for everyone in the United States initially, and in the world more broadly to, very simply recycle batteries and make sure those materials are recovered in very high percentage.”
Redwood has launched a portal that scrapyards and dealers can use to organize the retrieval of the batteries.
The pilot program is still at an early stage with some pieces not clearly defined.
“I want to emphasize that we are learning in all of this and, you know, it’s a bit of the Wild West,” Straubel said. “I think that’s maybe partly why some of these things haven’t been more formalized today because it is a bit complex.”
Redwood was launched in 2017 with an aim to create a circular supply chain. The company recycles scrap from battery cell production as well as consumer electronics like cell phone batteries, laptop computers, power tools, power banks, scooters and electric bicycles. It then processes these discarded goods, extracting materials like cobalt, nickel and lithium that are typically mined, and then supplies those back to Panasonic and other customers, including Amazon, Ford and AESC Envision in Tennessee.
The aim is to create a closed-loop system that will ultimately help reduce the cost of batteries and offset the need for mining.
Electric vehicles on the road today are equipped with lithium-ion batteries. A battery contains two electrodes. There’s an anode (negative) on one side and a cathode (positive) on the other. An electrolyte sits in the middle and acts as the courier that moves ions between the electrodes when charging and discharging. The anode is typically made of copper foil coated with graphite.
As automakers ramp up the production of electric vehicles — and eventually replace those with cars and trucks equipped with internal combustion engines — demand for batteries and the materials within them is expected to skyrocket. Nearly every major automaker that committed to electrifying their vehicle portfolio has also locked in partnerships with battery cell manufacturers and other suppliers in an effort to shore up its supply chain.
Earlier this year, existing partner Panasonic announced that battery cells made at the Gigafactory it operates with Tesla will use more recycled materials by the end of 2022 as part of an expanded relationship with Redwood Materials.
Redwood Materials will start supplying Panasonic with copper foil produced from recycled materials, a critical component of the anode side of a battery cell. Redwood will begin producing the copper foil in the first half of the year; the copper foil will then head to Panasonic where it will be used in cell production by the end of the year.