In February 2022, Redwood Materials launched a pilot program in California to recycle electric vehicle batteries. The startup has partnered with the state government, as well as Ford, Volvo, Volkswagen and Toyota, as well as the car scrapping industry, to source end-of-life lithium-ion and nickel-metal hydride traction batteries. Now, a year later, he’s shared some findings from those first 12 months.
In total, Redwood recovered 1,268 battery packs, amounting to more than 500,000 pounds (226,796 kg). The vast majority of these came from cars that had reached the end of their particular road – Redwood says less than 5 per cent were “damaged, defective or recalled”.
Those packs came from 19 different EV and hybrid models, and the vast majority—82 percent in total—were Li-ion, with the remaining 18 percent being NiMH cells. Redwood says it has been able to recover 95 percent of the lithium, cobalt, nickel, copper and other metals from these packages. And as we noted last month, the company already produces production-grade copper anode foil.
Redwood says the main cost factor in the whole process is logistics, especially now that there are so few end-of-life EVs waiting to have their batteries recycled. Redwood says that “over time, as end-of-life pack volumes increase, logistics costs will decrease, so batteries will become an asset that will help make EVs more sustainable and affordable in the long term.” .
Interestingly, Redwood says its recycling process is already profitable for smaller batteries such as those in mobile phones and laptops, or when manufacturing waste is used. He expects the same to be true once EV batteries become available for recycling at scale.
This may take some time, however. For one thing, fears that EVs would require replacement batteries en masse as they reached 8 years they have been proven mostly unfounded. And even when a battery is too degraded for use in a car, it can enjoy a long second life as static storage before traveling to the recycler.
Redwood says it’s important for auto OEMs to work with battery recyclers capable of refining used batteries into “battery grade” metals for use in new cells. Failure to do so would result in intermediate recycling here in the US, with those materials then shipped overseas. Instead, lithium, copper or other metals refined from recycled batteries here in the US count as a domestic supply for the new clean vehicle tax credit rules.
“The value of end-of-life batteries lies in ensuring responsible recycling, and any proposals or actions that add additional costs to the EV battery value chain will put both California and the United States at a competitive disadvantage during this critical transition period towards clean energy and electricity,” says Redwood.