Former Tesla exec inks new recycling deal as battery prices soar 

Stroll with JB Straubel by the Redwood Supplies recycling plant in Carson Metropolis, Nevada and one factor stands out: Pallets stacked on prime of pallets crammed with previous batteries, faulty battery cells and scrap materials from the close by Panasonic plant.

“The sheer magnitude of the waste and scrap drawback and the magnitude of batteries that have to get recycled is, I believe, surprising to most individuals,” stated Straubel, the founder and CEO of Redwood Supplies. Straubel spent greater than a decade at Tesla, earlier than resigning as chief technical officer in 2019 so he may give attention to rising his recycling firm.

Redwood Supplies has reached an settlement to recycle scrap and faulty battery cells for Envision AESC, which manufactures batteries for the Nissan LEAF in Smyrna, Tennessee.  It’s the newest transfer for the corporate Straubel began in 2017 to provide battery makers and auto firms with uncooked supplies in brief provide as EV manufacturing surges around the globe. 

“We convey the supplies again to a really clear and kind of elementary state so there isn’t any loss in effectiveness,” stated Straubel. “It is really indistinguishable whether or not there may be cobalt coming by way of an previous battery or from a mine.” 

Cobalt, lithium, nickel and different minerals and metals utilized in EV batteries have turn into extremely popular commodities, so scorching, costs have rocketed to 52-week highs. Fueling the rise in costs is an introduced surge in lithium-ion battery manufacturing as automakers from Tesla to Basic Motors and Ford dramatically improve EV plans over the following decade.   

“To make the batteries the world wants in ten years, the trade will want 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. The world produces lower than a 3rd of every of these supplies at present. New battery supplies sources are extremely valued and desperately wanted,” stated Sam Jaffe, Managing Director at Cairn ERA, an vitality consulting agency.  

To drive dwelling his level, Jaffe factors out U.S. lithium-ion battery demand topped 43 megawatt hours final 12 months and can climb to 482 megawatt hours by 2030.

The expansion is implausible information for Panasonic, which manufactures battery cells on the Gigafactory it operates with Tesla in Sparks, Nevada.  Because of its newest growth, the Gigafactory will produce slightly below 2 billion battery cells this 12 months.

Allan Swan, who runs the plant, says much more manufacturing is required. “Right here in america, we actually want 4, 5, six of those factories to assist the automotive trade,” he stated.  

Celina Mikolajczak, vice chairman of engineering and battery know-how at Panasonic Power North America, believes the booming EV plans means the trade has to take a look at recycling batteries as a brand new supply for key minerals.

“There’s a number of vitality spent extracting these minerals and it makes completely no sense to landfill them,” she stated. “We might be actually silly if we did not make the most of the capability of older cells, to create the following technology.”

Straubel and his group at Redwood wish to say the most important lithium mine is within the junk drawers of America.  It’s a reminder Redwood is positioning itself to recycle a variety of lithium-ion batteries, not simply those who go into electrical autos.  Nonetheless, given Straubel’s lengthy tenure at Tesla and his huge information of the EV market, he’s intently watching the quickly increasing EV market.

As Straubel ripped open the packaging holding an previous laptop computer battery that had been shipped to Redwood Supplies, he sized up the pallet of previous batteries stacked as excessive as his waist.  He estimates there could also be a billion batteries in previous laptops, cell telephones and lengthy forgotten cordless instruments sitting round U.S. houses.

“I am slightly stunned that a few of the huge OEMs (automakers) have taken maybe slightly longer to get absolutely pivoted and oriented on this route,” stated Straubel. “I am additionally slightly stunned at what number of different profitable and rising startups there are.”

A lot of these start-ups have turn into publicly traded firms by SPAC mergers.  Straubel thinks a few of the startups are intriguing, however a couple of might have weak or questionable enterprise plans. Which of them?  Straubel will not say, however he does have these phrases of warning for traders.

“Assume calmly about the true marketing strategy and the long-term potential,” he stated. 

CNBC’s Meghan Reeder contributed to this text.

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