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Redwood Materials Works to Close the Loop on Lithium-Ion Batteries

Getty Images Lithium-ion Batteries

Materials in lithium-ion batteries are infinitely recyclable and Redwood Materials is seizing the opportunity to bring them back into the supply chain as demand for the technology increases, especially as more electric vehicles come on line and others retire that contain these valuable materials.

Alexis Georgeson, vice president, Communications and Government Relations for Redwood Materials, discusses how the young company is working to increase supply and create a closed loop system. She touches on deals the West Coast recycler, who receives 60 tons of batteries a day, has inked with Amazon and Panasonic. And she tells a little Redwood’s plans moving forward.  

Waste360: Tell us about Redwood Material’s founding and how the company has since evolved.

Georgeson: Redwood was founded in 2017 to provide battery and automotive manufacturers with raw materials to build new lithium-ion batteries. The company is focused on inventing sustainable materials by creating circular supply chains, turning waste into profit, and developing a solution for a fully closed-loop recycling system for energy storage and electric vehicle (EV) batteries before hundreds of thousands of vehicles start returning from the field in a few years. 

What is really important is that these materials can be reused infinitely without degrading. They do not lose integrity, so the raw materials provide the same quality and performance many times over.

We have two recycling and processing facilities in Carson City, Nevada. And in just a few years we’ve become the largest lithium-ion battery recycler in North America, receiving 60 tons of batteries a day or 20k tons a year.

Redwood is focused on steadily improving recycling economics with technology to reduce the cost of materials and ensure a sustainable, circular economy for these critical materials. 

Waste360: I understand the company launched solely to recycle lithium-ion batteries. Why this focus? 

Georgeson: Redwood is creating a closed-loop supply chain for electric vehicles and energy products, making them more sustainable long term and continuing to drive down the costs for batteries. We believe that within the coming decades, all transportation will be electric and all electricity will be sustainable. The lithium-ion batteries and other materials needed to power these solutions will need to be re-used in a closed loop and, therefore, advanced recycling will need to displace terrestrial mining.

Recycling of our scrap is only the first step: Redwood is currently developing processes to produce battery-grade raw materials from our total processing activities to resell into the battery supply chain. We’ve partnered to do all the recycling for Panasonic products that come from the Tesla “Gigafactory. This includes recycling production scrap, battery cells, and modules that do not pass validation.

Another big development is that we recently formed a partnership with Amazon to recycle EV and other lithium-ion batteries and e-waste from parts of their businesses. We’re recovering about 95 to 98 percent of the elements from the batteries (like nickel, cobalt, lithium, and copper) and are focused on returning those raw materials to battery and EV manufacturers.  

Waste360: Who are the people who got Redwood Materials going, and what was their experience and interest in this?

Georgeson: Redwood was founded by JB Straubel (former Chief Technology Officer and Co-founder of Tesla). At Tesla, JB built one of the best engineering teams in the world and, among many endeavors, led cell design and supply chain. He also led the first Gigafactory concept through the production ramp of the Model 3 vehicle. JB had a direct role in both R&D, team building, and operational expansion, from prototype cars through to mass production.

Another Redwood executive is Kevin Kassekert, Chief Operating Officer. He was Vice President, People & Places and Vice President, Infrastructure Operations at Tesla. He led the Gigafactory construction and operational ramp; and he built the first US Supercharger Network. Both Kevin and JB recognized the importance of ensuring there is a supply chain that will allow the world to responsibly ramp production of electric vehicles and energy storage products to ensure a more sustainable future. Batteries are the most valuable component in an electric vehicle. They do not belong in landfill.

The leadership at Redwood recognizes the importance of ensuring there is a supply chain that will allow the world to responsibly ramp production of electric vehicles and energy storage products to ensure a more sustainable future. Batteries are the most valuable component in an electric vehicle. They do not belong in landfill. Recovering the valuable and rare materials from batteries is critical to creating a sustainable circular supply chain for the future production of electric vehicles and energy products. 

Waste360: What’s important to know about Redwood’s partnership with Panasonic to recycle the scrap from its battery cells?

Georgeson: Redwood began a partnership with Panasonic in 2019 to reclaim the scrap it generates in making battery cells.

Our plan for the future is to develop a circular materials supply chain with Panasonic, producing raw material that can be returned to the supply chain to build new batteries. This is a formula that Redwood will repeat with many other companies that will be beneficial for both their sustainability efforts and from a cost savings standpoint.

Additionally, we recently partnered with Envision Advanced Energy Supply Corporation (AESC) to recycle all of its production scrap (cathode and anode material and cells and modules that don’t pass validation and cannot be repaired). AESC is a manufacturer of lithium- ion batteries for electric vehicles and energy products that are produced at its facility in Smyrna, Tennessee for electric buses, energy storage, and the Nissan LEAF vehicle, among other products.

Waste360: Tell us about Amazon’s investment in Redwood Materials. 

Georgeson: Redwood will be offering Amazon sustainable ways to recycle batteries, electronics, and other end-of-life products through environmentally sound processing and refining technologies that create a sustainable, circular supply chain. Redwood Materials will also help Amazon properly recycle EV and other lithium-ion batteries and e-waste from other parts of Amazon’s businesses for reuse.  We hope to have more to share soon. 

Waste360: What funding have you received and from who?

Georgeson: In 2020, Redwood closed its first fundraising round with $40 million from Capricorn Investment Group and Breakthrough Energy Ventures, an environmental investment fund that includes Amazon.com Inc. founder Jeff Bezos and Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates. Additionally, we received an investment from Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund, which was created to support development of sustainable and decarbonizing technologies.

Waste360: What next?

Georgeson: At Redwood Materials we’re excited to be part of ensuring an electric transportation and energy future and that the batteries that power our world can truly make these products sustainable through their infinite reuse. We are focused on continuing to innovate our technology and ramp our processes in order to be ready for the hundreds of thousands of electric vehicles that will be coming off the road in the next few years and ensure that the batteries that power them do not end up in landfill.

 

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