Redwood Materials plans California electric vehicle battery recycling program with Ford and Volvo Cars
Redwood Materials, a battery recycler created by Tesla co-founder and former chief technology officer JB Straubel, plans to collect used electric and hybrid vehicle packs from Ford and Volvo Cars in California, the top US market for the clean cars, as he builds a business based on making more sustainable plug-in cars and trucks by reusing the valuable mined materials they use.
Redwood today launched a software portal for California auto dealers and dismantlers in the first-of-its-kind program to identify battery packs reaching their initial end of life and arranging for their shipment to recycling facilities in Carson City, Nevada, where the company is headquartered. There it will mine lithium, cobalt, nickel and other valuable elements that are mostly mined overseas, and prepare them for reuse to make new lithium-ion cells in US factories. This kind of closed-loop recycling and reuse is necessary to ensure the sustainability and affordability of electric vehicles, according to Straubel.
“By recycling these batteries, we will recover the valuable critical materials inside and keep these materials directly in the supply chain loop,” he said in a video presentation. “This immediately reduces the need for more mining and importing those same components.”
Redwood aims to become a leading supplier of recycled metals and materials and estimates that it can already recover around 6 gigawatt hours of used batteries, waste batteries and electronics per year, enough to supply batteries for 60,000 electric vehicles. Located near Tesla’s massive Gigafactory, where it salvages Panasonic waste, Redwood has raised about $800 million to expand operations as demand for electric vehicle batteries and the expensive products needed to make them grow. It also plans to build a US$1 billion plant to make “precision” battery materials from recycled elements that it will supply to lithium-ion cell makers.
California is by far the largest electric vehicle market in the United States, purchasing about 247,000 battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids in 2021, according to the California Energy Commission. That’s about 40% of all such vehicles sold in the country last year. Cumulative sales of plug-in automobiles in the most populous one million U.S. units, and Governor Gavin Newsom has set a goal of phasing out sales of new gasoline and diesel models in the state starting in 2035.
“EV batteries contain the minerals that are crucial to our low-carbon, green growth future, including lithium, which is essential for batteries as we move toward this clean energy future,” Newsom said in a statement. briefing. “The pilot programs announced today will show how California can lead and build systems that work in partnership with industry leaders and innovators.”
The state does not fund the program, although Redwood works with agencies such as Cal EPA to streamline collection of used batteries, Straubel said. Program costs, primarily shipping, are shared between Redwood, Ford and Volvo, although the private company does not provide specific numbers.
The volume will likely be low at first and start to increase in about two years when a significant number of electric vehicle batteries begin to reach their expected end of life, he said.
(For more on JB Straubel and Redwood materials, see “Tesla Tech Whiz extracts the riches of your old batteries.”)
Ford previously announced plans to work with Redwood on battery recycling and invested $50 million in the company in September 2021. CEO Jim Farley announced plans to aggressively ramp up production of electric vehicles by the automaker, focusing on higher production of Mustang Mach-E crossovers and the new Ford F-150 Lightning pickup this year.
“We take our commitment to do our part to protect people and the environment very seriously,” Farley said. “This new program with Redwood materials will help us lead America’s transition to sustainability and manufacturing carbon-neutral electric vehicles.”
Volvo Cars aims to be climate neutral by 2040 and to sell only electric vehicles by the end of the decade. “That’s why we’re excited about Redwood Materials’ forward-thinking solutions for end-of-life battery collection, recycling and refurbishment,” said Anders Gustafsson, President and CEO of the American unit of the automaker. “California is the right place to start such a program.”
While Ford and Volvo Cars are the first automakers to participate in California’s recycling program, Redwood says he encourages other automakers to join. It will also continue to expand collection of all types of lithium-ion and nickel-metal hydride batteries, including non-automotive grade, statewide.