Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

Redwood Materials
Image courtesy of Redwood Materials


Redwood Materials Shares Lessons Learned After One Year Of Operation

Redwood Materials reports that after the first year of operation, its battery recycling facility in California has been a success.

Sign up for daily news updates from CleanTechnica on email. Or follow us on Google News!

Mature industries like steel making and bauxite mining pretty much know how to do things. There may be incremental improvements to be had by tweaking the process here and there, but until some disruptive new technology comes along that displaces how things have been done traditionally, each new day means doing exactly what was done the previous day. Redwood Materials is in the lithium-ion battery recycling business, a nascent industry which is in the process of discovering the best way to reuse the materials inside batteries that are no longer serviceable to make new batteries without having to mine and process new materials.

New industries have to design new machinery and develop new procedures. All learning is a feedback loop. We learn what works and what doesn’t by constant experimentation, observing what works and what doesn’t, and incorporating those lessons into improved machinery and procedures. After one year of operating a pilot battery recycling program in California, on March 2, Redwood Materials published a blog post that details what it learned during that first year. “Today, we share a year’s worth of findings in hopes of demonstrating the value of end-of-life [battery] packs, identifying gaps where the industry may need support, and aiding policymakers as they begin to make critical decisions on how best to responsibly manage EV batteries at end-of-life,” Redwood says.

Over the past year, it has collected used lithium-ion and nickel metal hydride battery packs from Toyota, Ford, Volvo, and Volkswagen, as well as from auto dismantling companies. With EVs accounting for nearly 19% of all new car sales in California in 2022, Redwood Materials says management of end-of-life battery packs will serve as a model for other states and the battery recycling industry.

In its first year, Redwood Materials was able to identify and recover 1,268 end-of-life packs, totaling approximately half a million pounds of material. Of the packs collected, about 5% were damaged, defective, or recalled. The rest were safely packaged, transported, and recycled at the company’s facility in Nevada. High quality battery materials for anodes and cathodes are already being produced there and are being supplied to battery cell manufacturers in the US.

“The packs we collected were a mix of older NiMH and newer lithium-ion chemistries from more than a dozen different automakers,” the company says. “We expect mixed chemistries to continue as older, hybrid vehicle models now reaching end-of-life continue to retire in greater numbers from California roads. However, lithium ion represented the majority of the chemistry types collected and we expect it will continue to grow as it is now the only type of vehicle battery on the market.”

At the end of the first year in operation for the California recycling program, the company determined the most significant cost of battery pack collection and recycling is logistics. Finding ways to reduce those costs is essential to achieve economies of scale through increased collection volume. “As the volume of end of life battery packs increases, the logistics cost will decrease so that batteries will become assets that will help make EVs more sustainable and affordable in the long run.”

As of today, the 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 says in its one-year report.

Redwood Materials & Auto Dismantlers

The auto dismantling industry is just beginning to come to grips with the unique requirements of electric vehicles. Redwood Materials says it is grateful for the cooperation it received from the Automotive Recyclers Association and California Auto Dismantlers and Recyclers Alliance. Together, the company and the industry are working to create the safest and most efficient recycling pathways.

“Everyone we worked with in the dismantler community wants to do the right thing and they were excited to partner directly with Redwood to ensure responsible recycling. The dismantler community helped us to establish the most efficient transportation routes and aggregate batteries at their central locations and in return, they were appreciative of the knowledge we shared on handling, packaging and transporting EV packs,” the company says.

Redwood Materials found that automakers are strongly interested in managing how the batteries in the cars they manufacture are managed when they reach the end of their useful life. It encourages an Extended Producer Responsibility approach that allows automakers to partner directly with recyclers or to recycle the batteries themselves. “This is paramount to ensure the market manages EOL batteries in the safest and most efficient manner, while avoiding unnecessary costs to the battery value chain. It also presents an opportunity for the industry to drive down the costs of future domestic battery production and pass those savings to consumers.”

Increasing The Role Of Recyclers

Redwood Materials is clearly concerned that regulators could unintentionally impose requirements that impede the recycling process or add additional costs that would limit its profitability. It warns that mandating a singular Producer Responsibility Organization for EV battery recycling similar to certain existing e-waste frameworks is not the appropriate solution for end-of-life EV battery packs. Instead, it says Extended Producer Responsibility programs will ensure best practices and responsible EOL management without choosing winners and losers. CleanTechnica readers will recognize that “winners and losers” language from other policy debates in America.

Automotive OEMs must also collaborate directly with recycling partners which can sustainably manage the materials throughout the supply chain, collecting and recycling end-of-life lithium-ion batteries, and then refining the materials sustainably into “battery-grade” metals that can go directly back into battery component production, the company says. “It is essential that recyclers have the capability to produce ‘battery-grade’ refined metals. Without this capability, we will end up with a chain of recyclers producing only intermediates, adding to costs, and increasing the likelihood that critical materials could end up overseas instead of being reused in batteries to support the United States’ electrification goals.”

“Our ability to effectively recover a high percentage of metals (~95%) and, in turn, produce downstream battery components from that recycled content demonstrates not only the need for qualified recyclers to manage these batteries but also a clear solution that both addresses EOL batteries and ensures material for future EV production. The value of end-of-life batteries lies in ensuring responsible recycling, and any proposals or actions that add extra costs to the EV battery value chain will put both California and the United States at a competitive disadvantage during this critical period of transition toward clean energy and electrification.”

Impact Of The IRA

The Inflation Reduction Act recently put stringent requirements in place for critical mineral and battery components that will require battery makers and automotive manufacturers to have a reliable domestic supply of both.

“Our program demonstrates the strong market for these materials within the U.S., especially considering the recent expansion of the Clean Vehicle Credit through the IRA,” Redwood Materials says.

“With a year’s worth of knowledge and counting, it is clear that the market economics for EV battery packs and the valuable metals they contain provide an increasingly strong incentive for responsible end-of-life management.

“As policymakers across the nation consider proposals to ensure responsible EOL management of batteries, we encourage them to incentivize responsible recycling here in the US similar to the policies established by the IRA. We also urge policymakers to be mindful that, while still in the early stages, market forces and industry partnerships are already at work to create safe, efficient, and sustainable pathways for end-of-life batteries. As a nation, our focus should be on increasing EV adoption, which requires lowering EV costs so that they are widely accessible to all communities.”

The Takeaway

Redwood Materials has shown its recycling technology works and it is clearly sending a signal to regulators not to gum up the works. Soft costs are like sand in the gears of commerce. We just did a story about BlocPower, a company that is working to lower the carbon footprint of America’s built environment. Central to its mission is reducing the “soft costs” that make its job more difficult and therefore more expensive.

Battery recycling is vital to America getting out of China’s shadow when it comes to electrifying its transportation sector. Redwood Materials is asking regulators to get out of the way and let it do its job. That may be wise, but we have seen what happens when the fossil fuel companies put a lid on regulatory function. Capitalism requires referees. What is needed is for business and regulators to collaborate in a way that fosters business development while protecting people from risky shortcuts that contribute to environmental degradation.

Have a tip for CleanTechnica? Want to advertise? Want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.

EV Obsession Daily!

I don't like paywalls. You don't like paywalls. Who likes paywalls? Here at CleanTechnica, we implemented a limited paywall for a while, but it always felt wrong — and it was always tough to decide what we should put behind there. In theory, your most exclusive and best content goes behind a paywall. But then fewer people read it!! So, we've decided to completely nix paywalls here at CleanTechnica. But...
Like other media companies, we need reader support! If you support us, please chip in a bit monthly to help our team write, edit, and publish 15 cleantech stories a day!
Thank you!

Tesla Sales in 2023, 2024, and 2030

CleanTechnica uses affiliate links. See our policy here.
Written By

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 May Also Like


Sign up for daily news updates from CleanTechnica on email. Or follow us on Google News! Plugin vehicles are all the rage in the...


Sign up for daily news updates from CleanTechnica on email. Or follow us on Google News! Despite some promising countries (mainly Costa Rica), Latin...

Clean Power

Northvolt has chosen Quebec for its first battery factory in North America, thanks to significant government incentives.


Volkswagen announced this week a new plan for the production of electric vehicles that does not include building a new factory.

Copyright © 2023 CleanTechnica. The content produced by this site is for entertainment purposes only. Opinions and comments published on this site may not be sanctioned by and do not necessarily represent the views of CleanTechnica, its owners, sponsors, affiliates, or subsidiaries.