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Former Tesla executives sign new recycling agreement as battery costs soar



Walking with JB Straubel through the Redwood Materials recycling plant in Carson, Nevada, one thing was noticeable: stacking pallets on pallets containing old batteries, defective battery cells, and waste from the nearby Panasonic factory.

Straubel, founder and CEO of Redwood Materials, said: “I think the severity of the waste and waste problem and the number of batteries that need to be recycled is shocking.” Straubel worked at Tesla for more than a decade, and then in 2019 Resigned as chief technology officer in 2009 so that he can focus on developing his own recycling company.

Redwood Materials has reached an agreement to recycle used and defective batteries for Envision AESC, which produces batteries for Nissan LEAF in Smyrna, Tennessee. This is Straubel̵

7;s latest move started in 2017. With the surge in global EV production, Straubel supplies raw materials in short supply for battery manufacturers and automobile companies.

Straubel said: “We restore the material to a very clean and basic state, so there is no loss of effectiveness.” “It is actually indistinguishable whether it is through old batteries or cobalt from the mine.”

Cobalt, lithium, nickel and other minerals and metals used in electric car batteries have become very hot commodities, so prices are high, and prices have soared to 52-week highs. Automakers from Tesla to General Motors and Ford have substantially increased their electric vehicle plans over the next ten years, which has driven a surge in lithium-ion battery production and thus price increases.

“To make batteries needed by the world within ten years, the industry will need 1.5 million tons of lithium, 1.5 million tons of graphite, 1 million tons of battery-grade nickel, and 500,000 tons of battery-grade manganese. One of them has been applied. The value of new battery materials is very high and they are urgently needed.” said Sam Jaffe, managing director of Cairn ERA, an energy consulting company.

To illustrate this point, Jaffe pointed out that the US demand for lithium-ion batteries exceeded 43 MWh last year and will climb to 482 MWh by 2030.

The growth is good news for Panasonic, which produces batteries at the Gigafactory in partnership with Tesla in Sparks, Nevada. Thanks to its latest expansion, Gigafactory will produce nearly 2 billion battery cells this year.

Allan Swan, the head of the plant, said more production is needed. He said: “In the United States, we certainly need four, five, or six factories to support the auto industry.”

Celina Mikolajczak, vice president of engineering and battery technology at Panasonic Energy North America, believes that the booming electric vehicle program means that the industry must use recycled batteries as a new source of key minerals.

She said: “It took a lot of energy to extract these minerals, and there is absolutely no point in burying them.” “If we don’t use the power of old batteries to create the next generation, it would be really stupid.”

Straubel and his team at Redwood like to say that the largest lithium mine is located in a garbage drawer in the United States. As a reminder, Sequoia has positioned itself to recycle all kinds of lithium-ion batteries, not just batteries for electric vehicles. Nevertheless, given Straubel’s long-term tenure at Tesla and his extensive knowledge of the electric vehicle market, he is still closely watching the rapidly growing electric vehicle market.

When Straubel tore open the packaging containing the old laptop batteries that had been shipped to Redwood Materials, he adjusted the size of the old battery trays piled up around his waist. He estimated that in American homes, there may be a billion batteries in old laptops, cell phones and long-forgotten cordless tools.

Straubel said: “Some large OEMs (automobile manufacturers) took longer to fully develop in this direction, which surprised me a bit.” “I also feel how many other successful and growing startups are there. Somewhat surprised.”

Through SPAC mergers, many start-ups have become listed companies. Straubel believes that some startups are interesting, but some of them may be weak or problematic. Which one? Straubel would not say, but he does have these warnings to investors.

He said: “Calm down on real business plans and long-term potential.”

CNBC’s Meghan Reeder wrote this article.


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