The American giant of battery recycling
Multi-billion Redwood Materials now planting roots in Europe Metal Tech News – February 9, 2022
Last updated 7/12/2022 at 1:51pm
Redwood Materials Inc., an American battery recycling company that has been quietly prepping for an energy transition before it became a well-circulated buzzword, has already begun its own transition to the European market.
Founded in 2017 by Tesla co-founder JB Straubel, this forward-thinking recycling company has rapidly climbed to a valuation of $3.8 billion as of September 2021.
In a recent interview, Associated Press journalist Tom Krishner asked Straubel whether Redwood Materials was a few years ahead of its time in recycling batteries, considering that the transition to electric vehicles is still in its infancy.
"I actually thought we were a few years early when we started this. But I've been really shocked at how many other sources of current lithium-ion battery materials there are to recycle that weren't being addressed," replied Straubel. "We've actually had more feedstock than we can even process in the first few years of our ramp up. Just based on a combination of production scrap from the lithium-ion manufacturing process, as well as a whole diversity of consumer lithium-ion batteries, things like lawnmowers and cell phones and toothbrushes, there is a lot of material."
With the United States' 2030 electrification goals, the infrastructure to provide the needed materials for even getting to such a point is another topic entirely. Still, as history has shown, the companies that can plan ahead and cut out a slice of an industry before it is truly necessary have a much better chance of surviving competition.
Led by a veteran in the electric industry, Straubel spent 15 years at Tesla, not just as a co-founder but also as the chief technology officer, where he not only built one of the best engineering teams in the world but also led cell design, supply chain, and even the development of the first gigafactory concept through the production ramp of the Model 3.
Having insider information and experience from the company that kickstarted the global transition to full EV production, Straubel made the move to create a company designed to recycle and reuse the materials needed for what he helped build for nearly two decades.
Perhaps the largest lithium and cobalt mines in the western hemisphere can be found in the junk drawers of America.
Redwood's goal is to recover materials from these old products – which can be sustainably broken down to their raw metals near infinitely – to significantly decrease society's reliance on newly mined materials.
Although the math could probably be hashed out, the brief idea at the sheer volume of consumer-level electronics over the last thirty years – phones, computers, televisions, indoor and outdoor appliances, video game electronics, toys, toiletries, the list could go on with microchips, batteries, transistors, and every other aspect that people have used to create electronic devices.
According to the Redwood website, "if you have old lithium-ion batteries or e-waste, we encourage you to send them for recycling! Redwood accepts phones, laptops, tablets, power tools, electric toothbrushes, wireless headphones and any other rechargeable device with a lithium-ion battery."
While even that list does not begin to cover the extent of electronic components used in day-to-day living, it is a healthy start to not only cleaning up the mess of e-waste but to also help alleviate the pressure on mining companies.
After spending several years developing its presence and facilities in the U.S., Redwood Materials recently announced plans to expand into the European market space.
To date, Redwood combines recycling, refining, and remanufacturing to return battery materials to local manufacturers.
While it is possibly a decade or more away from seeing end-of-life EV batteries return to circulation in viable volumes, having the facilities to break them down then rebuild those metals into cathode and anode products is, so far, one of the most sustainable methods for meeting the world's carbon-free goals.
Redwood has been moving rapidly in the U.S. to address the nation's 2030 electrification goals. However, the US is not the only market with similarly aggressive ambitions that also relies heavily on a convoluted, overseas supply chain with high CO2 emissions.
Today, Europe is the fastest-growing EV market globally, with an increasing commitment from automakers – 1,000 gigawatt-hour battery cell production is planned in the European Union to support EV sales that are expected to account for nearly 30% of total passenger cars by 2025.
For Redwood, it hopes to localize global battery supply on each continent, as it is their belief that shortening battery materials supply chains will be critical to driving down costs and increasing sustainability of EVs and clean energy storage.
Last September, Ford Motors announced it had teamed up with Redwood to create a closed-loop battery recycling system for the domestic battery supply chain of its future EVs.
"Increasing our nation's production of batteries and their materials through domestic recycling can serve as a key enabler to improve the environmental footprint of U.S. manufacturing of lithium-ion batteries, decrease cost and, in turn, drive up domestic adoption of electric vehicles," said Straubel. "Redwood and Ford share an understanding that to truly make electric vehicles sustainable and affordable, we need to localize the existing complex and expensive supply chain network, create pathways for end-of-life vehicles, ramp lithium-ion recycling and increase battery production, all here in America."
Redwood is now taking that same attitude and expectation to the booming EV environment of Europe. By 2022, the company stated that it would expand its international team, grow its operations and establish partnerships with automakers and battery cell manufacturers in the EU.
While it seems early to be planning for end-of-life EV batteries, there are literal decades of materials to be found in the meantime; thus, tackling those materials is a worthy endeavor before the circle closes and manufacturers reuse first-generation batteries.
If you are interested in recycling your old electronic goods with Redwood, you can visit their website at this link https://www.redwoodmaterials.com/recyclewithus.