The great electric vehicle transition may only be starting, but Tesla co-founder JB Straubel is determined to lay the groundwork for a serious push into battery recycling. And if the former Tesla CTO’s recent statements are any indication, it appears that his labor of love, Redwood Materials, is already showing a lot of business potential.
Straubel was recently interviewed by the Associated Press, where he touched on several subjects such as the need for battery recycling and the state of Redwood’s current operations. According to Straubel, he initially thought that Redwood would be pretty early in the battery recycling game. So far, however, the company is learning that there is already so much demand for battery recycling — so much so that the company has more feedstock than it can process.
“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. 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,” he said.
Redwood Materials, which is based in Carson City, Nevada, currently employs over 300 workers. The company has secured contracts for battery recycling with several companies. Panasonic, which produces 2170 battery cells for the Tesla Model 3 and Model Y at Gigafactory Nevada, also provides Redwood materials with scrap. The Japanese battery maker announced that it would be using Redwood’s recycled materials for battery production later this year.
While Redwood is really just starting to gain its momentum, Straubel revealed something very interesting in his recent interview. When asked by the AP if Redwood was already “selling this stuff and making money,” the Tesla co-founder was quick to point out that the company is currently focused on growth. But if one were to look at Redwood Materials’ actual battery recycling operations, that part of the business is already profitable.
“We are. We’re not profitable yet because we’re growing so quickly and we’re reinvesting and will be for quite a few years. But the actual operations of recycling these batteries, that is profitable today. There’s really a quite a hunger for these materials,” Straubel said.
Redwood Materials will be extremely busy over the next few years. In a recent press release, the battery recycling company announced plans to ramp its copper foil production to 100 GWh of product annually over the next few years. Such an amount would be enough copper foil to support the buildout of about 1 million electric vehicles annually. The company is also looking for its next site, which would be focused on cathode production instead. An announcement for Redwood Materials’ upcoming cathode plant is expected to be released sometime this year.
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