Redwood Materials, the battery recycling venture founded by former Tesla CTO JB Straubel, has signed an agreement to recycle scrap and defective battery cells for Envision AESC, which manufactures batteries for the Nissan LEAF in Smyrna, Tennessee.
Recycling batteries is not only environmentally sound, but it may soon become an economic necessity, as demand for batteries outstrips supply. As CNBC reports, cobalt, lithium, nickel, and other raw materials used in EV batteries have become hot commodities, and prices have soared to 52-week highs.
“To make the batteries the world needs in 10 years, the industry will need 1.5 million tons of lithium, 1.5 million tons of graphite, 1 million tons of battery-grade nickel and 500,000 tons of battery-grade manganese,” Sam Jaffe, Managing Director at energy consulting firm Cairn ERA, told CNBC. “The world produces less than a third of each of those [quantities] today. New battery materials sources are highly valued and desperately needed.”
Allan Swan, who oversees Panasonic’s part of Tesla’s Nevada Gigafactory, says that the massive plant’s current production capacity of two billion battery cells per year isn’t enough. “Here in the United States, we certainly need four, five, six of these factories to support the automotive industry,” he told CNBC.
Celina Mikolajczak, VP of Engineering and Battery Technology at Panasonic Energy North America, says recycling will be a critical source for key minerals. “There’s a lot of energy spent extracting these minerals and it makes absolutely no sense to landfill them,” she said. “We would be really foolish if we didn’t take advantage of the capacity of older cells, to create the next generation.”
Redwood recycles all types of lithium-ion batteries, not just EV battery packs. Straubel quipped that “the largest lithium mine is in the junk drawers of America.”
“The sheer magnitude of the waste and scrap problem and the magnitude of batteries that need to get recycled is, I think, shocking to most people,” said Straubel, who is now the CEO of Redwood Materials. “We bring the materials back to a very clean and sort of fundamental state so there is no loss in effectiveness. It’s actually indistinguishable whether there is cobalt coming via an old battery or from a mine.”