These days there’s a lot of buzz about electric vehicles (EVs) and their batteries. Companies like QuantumScape and Panasonic are promising better, cheaper batteries, but there’s one one big problem. As anyone with a laptop knows, lithium ion batteries lose the ability to hold a charge over time, so every laptop becomes a desktop eventually. The same goes for the batteries currently in use in EVs, but it’s not like you can leave your Tesla plugged in while you drive down the highway! So you replace the battery, but then what do you do with the old one? You can’t just throw away batteries.
This is where Redwood Materials steps in. Founded by Tesla Co-Founder and Chief Technical Officer, JB Straubel, the Nevada-based startup is recycling lithium batteries near the end of their usable life and selling the valuable chemicals, elements, and rare materials back to consumers. Redwood Materials is hoping to create a “closed loop” that takes in drained batteries and recycles them into useful batteries. As their website states, “We at Redwood are planning ahead to address the problems and opportunities coming when millions of EV’s batteries need an end of life solution and when the electronics piled up in your drawers at home find a new life.”
Cleantechnica reported that roughly “11 million tons of lithium-ion batteries are expected to reach the end of their useful life by 2030.” If they aren’t properly recycled, then hazardous materials from the batteries can leak into the earth and cause unknown damage to the environment, so Redwood Materials prevents that by receiving, dismantling, and redistributing the valuable components inside. In this way, Straubel operates a circular supply chain. During an interview with TechCrunch, Straubel said, “In terms of customers, we have customers on both sides of our company — on the incoming side there is material we recycle for companies and then on the outgoing side there are chemicals and materials that we sell back into the supply chain.”
While the company employs around 50 people currently, they have plans to drastically expand their operation, and a new investment from Amazon might accelerate that expansion. Redwood Materials received an unknown-sized investment from the tech giant as part of Amazon’s $2 billion Climate Pledge Fund. With the additional capital, Redwood Materials is poised to become the largest car battery recycling company in the United States. Currently, Redwood Materials works with Panasonic recycling the waste from their Nevada manufacturing plant, but the new investment means Amazon will be turning to them for the recycling of their EV batteries and other technology.
For the time-being Redwood recycles whatever they can get their hands on. In that same interview with TechCrunch, Straubel shared, “We’re recycling and processing things as diverse as cell phone batteries, laptop computers, power tools, power banks, scooters, and electric bicycles.” With Amazon as their newest backers, it might not be long until some of the biggest companies in the U.S. are shipping their used-up batteries to Nevada. For EV enthusiasts, that’s good news because as the cost of recycling batteries decreases then the cost of the electric vehicles should decrease as well. Redwood’s states, “We imagine a world with renewable energy, electric vehicles and sustainable materials that power the future.” The promising future of this company might just recycle that dream into reality.