Redwood Materials’ EV battery recycling pilot program has been going on for a year in California, and today the company shared an update on how things are going.
Redwood Materials was founded by JB Straubel, former Tesla CTO and one of Tesla’s five cofounders.
The pilot program started a year ago, collecting old EV battery packs from Volvo and Ford. Since then, Redwood has partnered with other automakers, such as Audi and the rest of VW Group, and the company even scored a $2b loan last month to help it scale.
Redwood’s headquarters is in Nevada, near Tesla’s Gigafactory, though the company is planning to expand to South Carolina as well.
Right over the border from Redwood’s Nevada HQ is California, the largest and most mature electric vehicle market in America, which gives Redwood easy access to a large number of aging hybrid and electric car battery packs for recycling.
Currently, those packs include a mix of NiMH and Li-Ion packs, the former being used primarily in older hybrids and the latter in newer EV and hybrid packs. Redwood has accepted 1,268 battery packs from 19 separate BEV and Hybrid models, which presents challenges to recyclers as every pack is designed differently and cell formats differ as well.
These packs weighed a total of half a million pounds, and Redwood managed over 95% efficiency in recovering important metals from them. This is incredibly high efficiency – especially compared to the 0% recycling efficiency of gasoline, the energy storage device for competing vehicles.
And Redwood has already struck a deal with Panasonic to sell the results of this recycling in the form of high-nickel cathode materials.
Redwood doesn’t only accept electric vehicle battery packs though. Through its partnership with Audi, it accepts batteries from old phones, laptops, and the like. These collections are done through 11 dropboxes in seven states, or you can ship your batteries directly to the company.
To find out more about Redwood’s Consumer Recycling Program and how and where you can recycle your batteries, check out its website here.
Battery recycling is expected to become increasingly important in coming years, as EV battery packs start reaching end-of-life. Currently, only the earliest EV batteries are starting to be recycled (for example, this author’s 15-year-old Roadster battery is still working, but showing its age).
With the EV market rapidly growing (16x as many EVs were sold in the US in 2022 as in 2012), recycling of old batteries will necessarily make up a small minority of EV battery material supply for years to come, but it will still be an important percentage especially with new government incentives.
The Inflation Reduction Act tied the EV tax credit to battery sourcing requirements which stipulate that “critical minerals” must be extracted, processed, or recycled in the US or in a country the US has a free trade agreement with. That last section is important – even if the battery materials originate elsewhere, as long as they are recycled in the US, they’re fair game, which means that recycling companies are well-positioned to provide these minerals to automakers.
Redwood’s strategy is to partner directly to these automakers to keep costs down. Redwood says that this increases safety and efficiency and helps to keep cost down, improving competitiveness of US-recycled materials when compared to freshly-mined ones.
The company also endorsed the idea of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), a legal framework where producers of recyclable goods are held responsible for the recycling of those goods. California modified its battery recycling laws in 2022, taking an EPR approach to batteries, and the state and several other regions in the world are currently considering expanding that approach to other materials as well, such as plastics. But Redwood opined that any battery EPR scheme should allow recyclers and OEMs to partner directly, in order to increase efficiency and keep costs down.
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