Tesla co-founder’s processing EV battery minerals

Electric vehicle batteries are quickly becoming one of the most important commodities in the U.S. Mineral processing operations are largely happening overseas, except for one company created by a previous Tesla founder that’s now delving into cathode and anode processing. 

Tesla co-founder J.B. Straubel is now in the battery recycling business with his company Redwood Materials, which recycles old batteries to create lithium-ion batteries for cars, according to Bloomberg and a press release. The company recently announced a partnership with Panasonic to supply billions of dollars in battery hardware, marking the first major processed cathode contract to come to the U.S.

The cathode material makes up around a third of an EV battery pack, and Redwood Materials will supply a Panasonic factory in Kansas City, Kansas with the processed mineral starting in 2025. Additionally, most of the Kansas City plant’s battery cells will be destined for U.S. automaker Tesla — another major partner of Redwood’s.

“Panasonic has been a partner for many years, but this is very significant,” Straubel said in an interview. “This is a large portion of their cathode supply. It’s such an impactful announcement for the U.S. supply chain in general — and of course for us as a company.”

Straubel’s time at Tesla led him to recognize a growing need for the materials needed to make EV batteries, not long before Redwood became the largest lithium battery recycler in the U.S. From there, Redwood branched out into processing and producing anode and cathode materials, arguably an equally necessary process.

Panasonic’s cathode material from Redwood will be produced using 100 percent recycled cobalt, and 25-30 percent of recycled nickel and lithium, though Straubel didn’t share where the rest of the plant’s materials will come from. Cobalt remains a pricey and controversial mineral for EV batteries, with the vast majority of the resource coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo where its mining operations have been flagged for human rights violations.

President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act also requires half of a battery’s minerals to be recycled in North America or mined from a free-trade agreement-friendly country — supporting domestic operations such as these at Redwood Materials.

“We were already going at supersonic speeds,” Straubel said of the manufacturing provisions in Biden’s climate plan. He compared their accelerating qualities for the recycled materials industry to “what happens if you attach a rocket engine to supersonic airplane.”

Cathode materials play a huge role in EV pricing too, and Redwood is planning to bring its cathode production up to around 100 Gigawatt hours per year by 2025 — or the equivalent of about one million EVs.

The company has three recycling factories near Tesla’s Gigafactory in Nevada, and cathode and anode material processing are only set to become increasingly needed with rising EV popularity in the coming years.

Anode and cathode materials are “just an incredibly high percentage of the cost of the car,” according to Straubel. “As the world is shifting to electrification, there’s going to be a bit of a new vocabulary and new list of components that everyone will get familiar with.”


Source: Bloomberg / Redwood Materials