JB Straubel Plans Circular Supply Chain For Batteries, With Emphasis On USA

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Today, the world’s battery manufacturing powerhouses — CATL, Panasonic, LG Energy Solution, and SK Innovation — are mostly found in Asia. JB Straubel, Tesla co-founder and former chief technology officer (CTO) for several years, wants to change that paradigm and bring more battery production to the United States. A big part of his plan involves ramping up the recovery of essential battery raw materials such as lithium, nickel, copper, and cobalt by recycling old batteries. That was the founding principle of his new-ish company, Redwood Materials, but Straubel wants to go even further.

Citing a report by Bloomberg, Tech Crunch says Redwood is scouting locations for a $1 billion factory that will have over a million square feet of floor space. The factory would be dedicated to the production of cathodes and anode foils — the two essential building blocks of a lithium-ion battery. It wants the factory to be capable of supplying raw materials for up to 100 GWh per year — enough for one million electric vehicles — by 2025. And if Straubel is able to make his vision a reality, by 2030 the factory will up its output to 500 GWh, which would be enough to power a whopping 5 million electric cars each year.

Tech Crunch says those numbers are incredibly ambitious. If Redwood can pull it off, it would be putting itself squarely among the ranks of the largest materials giants in the world. BloombergNEF estimates that consolidating the cathode supply chain to the United States while using a certain percentage of recycled materials could cut emissions from battery-pack production by 41%.

Recycling alone won’t make those kinds of production numbers happen. In a statement, Redwood says it will produce the anodes and cathodes from both recycled batteries and “sustainably mined material.” The company is silent on who its partners might be in this new venture, but Tech Crunch expects that information will be forthcoming soon.

Redwood Materials has recently been moving aggressively to expand its footprint. A few months ago, it announced plans to triple the size of its 150,000 square foot recycling facility in Carson City, Nevada. It has also purchased 100 acres of land near the Tesla Gigafactory in Nevada. The company recently completed a $700 million Series C funding round. Major investors such as Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund, Baillie Gifford, and Goldman Sachs Asset Management all participated in the latest funding process, which brought Redwood’s valuation to $3.7 billion.

The company has recycling deals with Tesla, Amazon, electric bus maker Proterra, and electric bike maker Specialized Bicycle Components. Redwood says it can recover between 95% and 98% of the lithium, copper, nickel, and cobalt contained in existing batteries that are ready for recycling. Shifting the center of gravity in the battery industry away from China, Japan, and Korea will be a significant advantage to the US electric vehicle manufacturing industry.

Straubel had enough vision to help bring Tesla into being. Can he make lightning strike twice? The smart money says yes.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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