Autoblog has reported that Tesla cofounder and longtime CTO J.B. Straubel has big plans for the battery industry. We already knew that, but we have some new perspective from the recent reporting.
Straubel is trying to turn his startup Redwood Materials into the world’s top battery recycling company. Redwood Materials’ focus is primarily turning waste into profit while solving the environmental impacts of new products before they exist. He also plans to create one of the largest battery materials companies.
Redwood currently collects scrap from consumer electronics companies and battery cell manufacturers (Panasonic, for example), and then processes them and extracts materials such as nickel, cobalt, and lithium. Once these are extracted, Redwood supplies the materials back to its customers so that they don’t have to get as much from mining.
While speaking at a tech conference last week, Straubel noted that he is planning to leverage two partnerships. One is with Panasonic Corp. The other one, announced a few weeks ago, with Amazon. Straubel said that his ultimate goal was to “make a material impact on sustainability, at an industrial scale.”
Go JB! It’s yo burfday! Go go! 🎶 https://t.co/F76bD9FTLW
— Tesla Owners East Bay (@TeslaOwnersEBay) October 11, 2020
Redwood, Autoblog noted, will recycle more than 1 terawatt-hour worth of battery scrap materials from Giga Nevada (the joint Tesla–Panasonic gigafactory) this year. For some perspective on how that fits into the broader lithium-ion battery market, see “Tesla ‘Pilot’ Battery Factory = 13th Largest Battery Factory in World.”
Tesla has huge growth plans, which mean huge battery needs, which it is trying to satisfy with batteries Tesla produces itself as well as batteries from suppliers, and Elon Musk has said repeatedly that he’s looking to recycle batteries to supplement Tesla’s supply of raw materials from mining as the company escalates vehicle production.
Redwood’s partnership with Panasonic began with a pilot operation to recover materials late last year, according to Panasonic Energy of North America’s vice president of battery technology, Celina Mikolajczak. Mikolaczak’s career researching and developing lithium-ion batteries is long. Exponent, her technical consulting practice, focused on lithium-ion cell and battery safety as well as quality. She also held a senior management position at Tesla, which was focused on cell quality and materials engineering. While at Tesla, she developed the battery cells and packs for Tesla’s Model S, X, 3, and Roadster Refresh. “People underestimate what recycling can do for the electric vehicles industry. This could have a huge impact on raw material prices and output in the future,” she said.
Autoblog noted that Straubel’s broader plan will reduce the mining of raw materials over several decades by creating a circular supply chain that recycles the materials retrieved from end-of-life vehicles and grid storage batteries, as well as from cells scrapped during manufacturing. Redwood’s partner, Amazon, granted the company funding from the Amazon Climate Pledge. Funding was previously provided by Breakthrough Energy Ventures as well. Billionaires Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Bill Gates of Microsoft contribute to Breakthrough Energy Ventures.
Regarding Amazon, Straubel shared that he was excited about the work they can do together and pointed out that Amazon has batteries in many devices — from consumer electronics to data centers — not to mention future electric delivery vehicles and drones.
Straubel noted that he eventually wants Redwood to be “one of the large battery materials companies in the world.”
Mikolajczak, at a TechCrunch virtual event, added: “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.”
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