Battery recycling is among MIT Technology Review’s 10 Breakthrough Technologies of2023 Check out the remainder of the list here.
As Tesla’s previous chief innovation officer, JB Straubel has actually been a significant gamer in bringing electrical lorries to the world. He’s typically credited with developing essential pieces of Tesla’s battery innovation and developing the business’s charging network. After leaving Tesla in 2019, Straubel started a brand-new endeavor: Redwood Materials, a battery recycling business.
Redwood has actually raised almost $800 million in endeavor financing. It’s developing a billion-dollar center in Nevada and just recently revealed prepare for a 2nd school outside Charleston, South Carolina. In these plants, Redwood prepares to draw out important metals such as cobalt, lithium, and nickel from utilized batteries and produce cathodes and anodes for brand-new ones.
I talked to Straubel about the function he sees battery recycling playing in the shift to renewable resource, his prepare for Redwood, and what’s next. You can read my complete piece about battery recycling here
Our discussion has actually been modified for clearness and length. ( Note: I worked as an intern at Tesla in 2016, while Straubel was still CTO, though we didn’t work straight together.)
Why did you choose to leave Tesla, and why did you select battery recycling as your next action?
Certainly Tesla was a remarkable experience, however as it was prospering, I believe it was ending up being more apparent that battery scaling would provide the requirement to get numerous more basic materials, elements, and batteries themselves. That was this looming traffic jam and obstacle for the entire market, even way back then. And I believe it’s much more clear today.
The concept was quite non-traditional at the time. Even your concern type of mean it– it’s like, why did you leave this attractive, interesting high-performance automobile business to go deal with trash? I believe entrepreneurship includes being a bit contrarian. And I believe to actually make significant development, it’s frequently not extremely traditional.
Why do you see battery recycling as a vital part of the energy shift?
Increasingly, the service to a few of these sustainability issues is to amaze it and to include a battery to it, which is excellent, and I invested most of my profession promoting that and assisting speed up that. And if we do not energize whatever, I believe our environment objectives are entirely sunk. At the very same time, it’s an extraordinary quantity of batteries. And I simply believe we truly require to find out a robust service at the end of life.
I believe this whole brand-new sustainable economy as we’re imagining it, with whatever amazed, merely can’t work unless you have a closed loop for the raw products. There aren’t enough brand-new basic materials to keep structure and tossing them away; it would basically be difficult.
Battery recycling is an user-friendly option to those 2 problems, however inform me more about the technical difficulty of pulling it off, and how it would work.
It’s more complex than I believe many individuals value. There’s simply an entire lots of chemistry, chemical engineering, and production engineering that needs to occur to make and improve all of the parts that enter into a battery. It’s not simply a sorting or trash management issue.
There’s a great deal of space for development, and these things have not been well enhanced, or perhaps done at all sometimes. That’s actually the enjoyable things as an engineer, where you get to develop and innovate things that have not been done 2, 3, 4 times currently.
But something that isn’t user-friendly is simply what a high level of reusability the metals within a battery have. All of those products we took into a battery and into an EV do not go anywhere. They’re all still there. They do not get broken down, they do not get jeopardized–99% of those metals, or maybe more, can be recycled once again and once again and once again. Actually hundreds, possibly countless times.
I do not think we’re properly internalizing how bad environment modification is going to be.
There are not going to be a great deal of electrical lorries coming off the roadways for a long period of time How are you thinking of browsing that and dealing with scarcities in your supply of utilized batteries?
I truly see our position as a sustainable battery products business. Among our essential goals and objectives is to take a look at the long term and to make certain we’re architecting the most effective systems for the long term, where recycled product content is most of supply.
But in the meantime, we’re taking a practical view. We need to mix in a specific quantity of virgin product– whatever we can get in the most eco-friendly method– to enhance the ramp-up while we require to shift far from nonrenewable fuel sources.
Was that a clear choice to you, to supplement with mined product versus sticking to just utilizing recycled product?
I ‘d state it’s an extremely natural choice to make. Our objective is to assist decarbonize batteries and lower the energy effect and the ingrained CO2. And I believe it’s much better for the world to get rid of a fossil-fuel car than to state, “Well, we can’t develop an electrical automobile due to the fact that we do not have adequate recycled product.”
When I checked out, I absolutely felt a sense of seriousness. Do you seem like you’re moving quickly enough, and do you seem like this market is moving quickly enough?
I typically do not believe we’re going quick enough. I do not believe anybody is. You understand, I do have this sense of fear and seriousness and nearly– not precisely– panic. That’s not handy.
But I think it actually stems from a deep sensation that I do not think we’re properly internalizing how bad environment modification is going to be. I think I have this stress and anxiety and fear that it’s going to get an entire lot even worse than I believe a lot of individuals are anticipating.
And there’s such inertia to it, so now is our only time to actually prepare and respond. And the scale of all this is so huge that even when we’re running flat out as quickly as we can, with all that seriousness that you felt and ideally more, it’ll still take us years.
Do you feel you can manage any battery chemistry that market creates? What if everyone goes to more affordable chemistries like iron phosphate, or if everyone begins transferring to actually various innovations, like strong state?
I’m actually truly quite agnostic on this. I wish to make certain that we are concentrated on the larger image, which is determining how we make it possible for a shift to sustainability in general. And for that reason, we truly are rooting for whatever battery innovation winds up having the very best efficiency.
And I believe it will be a mix. We’re visiting a larger variety of battery chemistries and innovations.
So when we’re creating this circular system, we require to consider all the various innovations, and they have benefits and drawbacks. Some are more difficult in various methods. Certainly, iron phosphate has a lower overall product metal worth, however it’s definitely not no. There’s a fantastic chance to recycle lithium and copper from those. I believe each one has its own set of qualities that we have to handle.
What do you view as Redwood’s most significant difficulty in the next year, and after that in the long term?
Over the next year, we’re simply in an extremely fast development and release stage. We are innovating throughout an entire lot of various locations all at once. It’s truly amazing and enjoyable, however it’s likewise simply rather difficult to handle all of the parallel threads as we’re doing it. It’s like a big multiplayer video game of chess or something.
In the longer term, it’s progressively going to have to do with scale and effectiveness of scaling. This is simply a big, big market. The physical size of these centers is huge, the quantity of products is enormous, and the capital requirements are actually huge. I believe over years into the future, I ‘d state, where our focus and difficulties will be is making sure we’re hyper-efficient about scaling up to terawatt-hour scale, actually.