Reviving Dead Batteries: The Future of Electric Vehicle Recycling

The Biden administration awarded a $2 billion green energy loan to a Nevada company that recycles electric vehicle batteries, according to reports. Recycling venture Redwood Materials, which was founded in 2017 by Tesla’s former chief technology officer Jeffrey Straubel, who secured the $2 billion conditional loan from the Energy Department’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program, according to the Associated Press.

The company said it is planning to build a $3.5 billion battery materials campus in Ridgefield, Nevada that will recycle, refine, and remanufacture cathode and anode materials such as nickel, cobalt, lithium, and copper. The Ridgefield facility aims to begin recycling late next year and ramp up component manufacturing capacity to 100 gigawatt-hours by 2025, enough to supply battery materials for more than a million electric vehicles the company said. The Ridgefield facility is expected to supply battery materials to Ford Motor and SK On in Kentucky, Toyota Motor in North Carolina, and Volvo and Envision in South Carolina as part of its expansion.

Can we really recycle every electric vehicle battery?

Redwood Materials claims that its battery recycling facility in California has been a success.  Redwood Materials is in the lithium-ion battery recycling business, they are 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. 

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. 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 are different.

Redwood Materials was able to identify and recover end-of-life packs, totaling approximately half a million pounds of material. 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 company states that lithium-ion represented the majority of the material types collected. They expect it will continue to grow as it is now the only type of vehicle battery on the market.

As of today, the recycling process is already profitable for smaller batteries such as those found in consumer devices and production scrap. Redwood also accepts batteries from old phones, laptops, and the like.

Battery recycling is expected to become increasingly important in coming years, as EV battery packs start reaching end-of-life. 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 making this a growing area for investors.

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