What tends to be overlooked as the EV revolution gains momentum is how to recycle the billions of battery cells that will be powering all those cars and trucks. Nearly 11 million tons of lithium-ion batteries are expected to reach the end of their useful life by 2030. The elements inside them — nickel, lithium, and cobalt, among others — don’t disappear when that happens. They can be recovered and used to make new battery cells, reducing the need to extract, transport, and refine new supplies of them.
Separating those component parts isn’t easy. However, several companies are working at perfecting the systems needed. One is Redwood Materials, led by former Tesla chief technology officer JB Straubel, who has stepped back from that role to pursue other interests. He is joined by another former Tesla executive, Andrew Stevenson, who previously was head of special projects at Tesla.
The new company is located in northern Nevada near the Tesla Gigafactory but is not currently doing business with Tesla, according to Teslarati. On its highly minimalist website, the company says its mission is “Advancing sustainability through research and development, engineering, and operational excellence for next generation recycling processes and programs.”
During Tesla’s 2018 annual shareholders meeting, Straubel told the audience, “Tesla will absolutely recycle, and we do recycle all of our spent cells, modules, and battery packs. So the discussion about is this waste ending up in landfills is not correct. We would not do that, these are valuable materials. In addition, it’s just the right thing to do. We have current partner companies — on every major continent where we have cars operating — that we work with to do this today.
“And in addition, we’re developing internally more processes, and we’re doing R&D on how we can improve this recycling process to get more of the active materials back. Ultimately what we want is a closed loop, right at the Gigafactories, that reuses the same, recycled materials.”
We haven’t heard much about battery recycling from Tesla since then, what with all the news about new factories and new models. With talk about new batteries from Tesla having a service life of a million miles or more, recycling may not be as critical now as it will be in the future. But Straubel and Stevenson are laying the foundation for the efficient, cost effective recycling procedures that will be needed in the future.
KORE Power, based in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, concentrates on building grid-scale battery storage facilities for the utility industry as well as other industrial and military applications. The foundation of its business is an NMC lithium ion battery cell that uses proprietary chemistry and advanced manufacturing techniques. But like Tesla, it is also working on recycling its batteries when they reach the end of their service life.
It has just formed a partnership with Renewance, a company based in Chicago that specializes in battery recycling solutions. The two companies will “collaborate on the execution of battery recycling projects for KORE Power batteries which have reached their end-of-life,” according to a joint statement. It will also create an opportunity for used battery materials to be put to good use again in new batteries.
“This partnership with Renewance is a significant step towards enabling us to implement strong sustainability practices,” says Lindsay Gorrill, CEO of KORE Power. “We are determined to be an environmentally conscious company and to minimize the impact that the manufacture and use of industrial batteries can have on our environment.”
“Renewance is excited to partner with KORE Power on battery recycling projects,” adds Dave Mauer, vice president of sales at Renewance. “This alliance will enable KORE Power to deliver cost effective and environmentally friendly reuse and recycling solutions to their customers. Renewance brings a wealth of experience and expertise on industry best practices and regulatory considerations to all reverse supply chain projects.”
Battery recycling may not be sexy, but it will be a vital part of converting the world to clean energy systems. Thanks to companies with vision like Redwood Materials, KORE Power, and Renewance, the systems the world needs to dispose of worn out batteries properly will be in place when needed.