While Elon Musk may have become the face of Tesla, others helped the EV company get started. One of such persons is JB Straubel, who served as CTO.
Straubel has moved on to other things, but he has not exited the EV industry; he has been working in the background for a while now. However, his company, Redwood Materials, has exited stealth mode, buoyed by a new $700 million investment in July. Redwood will be recycling scrap from Panasonic’s battery operation in Tesla’s Gigafactory in Nevada.
To carry out its business, Redwood will build one of the largest battery material plants in the world.
The enormous facility is needed as Redwood wants to supply anode copper foils to battery cell manufacturers. It plans to process as many recycled batteries as it can get its hands on. Raw materials from sustainably managed mines will augment the recycled materials.
Straubel’s company is reimagining how batteries are recycled and has identified bottlenecks in the process. “We’ve shared a lot about our recycling work which is certainly a core component of the battery sustainability equation but is only the tip of the iceberg for Redwood
..This will be a win not only for the US industry but for the environment as well. The existing battery supply chain is a convoluted system that requires materials to travel tens of thousands of miles before they make their way into a final product. In looking at the supply chain for a single component such as a cathode, the logistics required alone contribute enormously to the overall cost and carbon footprint.”
Redwood explains its rather lofty ambitions, “By early 2022, Redwood will announce a site for our North American battery materials manufacturing facility, aiming to produce 100 GWh/year of cathode active materials and anode foil for one million electric vehicles by 2025. By 2030, we expect our production output to scale to 500 GWh/year of materials, which would enable enough batteries to power five million electric vehicles.”
A facility that can handle the production will cost Redwood more than a billion dollars and put it in the same category as the largest producers in Asia.
Even Straubel himself admits the goals are outrageous but thinks it is a necessary step in the evolution of the electric vehicle industry.
“These numbers sound insane, but when you look at what the market needs, I’m like holy cow—is this even aggressive enough? Somebody’s got to do this. In fact, we need at least four companies doing similarly aggressive, crazy things all in the same timeline.”
Redwood has been doing its recycling in Carson City, Nevada, where it has its headquarters. The new facilities will be constructed in Story County, Nevada, where it has 100 acres.
Adding a cathode plant would be the biggest undertaking yet for Redwood. However, according to Bloomberg NEF analyst James Frith, it will also be a notable milestone for the whole EV industry. He says Redwood’s next major project is “a major development for the EV industry. Not only is the cathode the biggest driver of costs, but it’s the most polluting part of battery production. Consolidating the supply chain in the US will dramatically reduce emissions from battery production.”
One of Redwood’s main ambitions is to make its batteries 100% from recycled materials. However, until the volume of electric vehicles can support it, Straubel’s company will have to rely partly on raw materials from the mines. “We’re going to push the recycled percent as high as possible, but that is really going to be dependent on the availability of recycled materials. If we end up consuming 50% or more of virgin raw materials, that’s fine.”
Another lucrative source of materials for Redwood is consumer electronic products. This is because their batteries contain more cobalt than the batteries used in electric vehicles. For example, 166 iPhones will yield enough cobalt for a Tesla Model Y battery. In contrast, it would take 6,147 iPhones to provide the required amount of lithium. Discarded electronics can meet Redwood’s cobalt needs at the moment.
Redwood currently controls more than half of the whole battery recycling market in the US after becoming the recycling partner to Bestbuy, Amazon, Proterra, and Electronic Recycling Services. It can reuse more than 95% of the core materials in the batteries.