Ex-Tesla executive Straubel aims to build world's top battery recycler
Tesla co-founder J.B. Straubel wants to build his startup Redwood Materials into the world's top battery recycling company and one of the largest battery materials companies, he said at a technology conference Wednesday.
Straubel aims to leverage two partnerships, one with Panasonic Corp, the Japanese battery manufacturer that is teamed with Tesla at the Nevada gigafactory, and one announced weeks ago with e-commerce giant Amazon.
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With production of electric vehicles and batteries about to explode, Straubel says his ultimate goal is to "make a material impact on sustainability, at an industrial scale."
Established in early 2017, Redwood this year will recycle more than 1 gigawatt-hours' worth of battery scrap materials from the gigafactory — enough to power more than 100 Tesla cars.
That is a fraction of the half-million vehicles Tesla expects to build this year. At the company's Battery Day in late September, Chief Executive Elon Musk said he was looking at recycling batteries to supplement the supply of raw materials from mining as Tesla escalates vehicle production.
Redwood's partnership with Panasonic started late last year with a pilot operation to recover materials at Redwood's recycling facilities in nearby Carson City, according to Celina Mikolajczak, vice president of battery technology at Panasonic Energy of North America.
Mikolajczak, who spent six years at Tesla as a battery technology leader, said: "People underestimate what recycling can do for the electric vehicles industry. This could have a huge impact on raw material prices and output in the future."
Straubel's broader plan is to dramatically reduce mining of raw materials such as nickel, copper and cobalt over several decades by building out a circular or “closed loop" supply chain that recycles and recirculates materials retrieved from end-of-life vehicle and grid storage batteries and from cells scrapped during manufacturing.
In September, Redwood said it received funding from Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund, following an investment by Breakthrough Energy Ventures, backed by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
“I’m excited about the work we can do together," Straubel said of Amazon. “They have batteries in many devices," from consumer electronics to data centers, as well as future electric delivery vehicles and drones.