Here's what Redwood learned in its first year of EV battery recycling

Here's what Redwood learned in its first year of EV battery recycling
Mar 2023

In February 2022, Redwood Materials began a pilot program in California to recycle electric vehicle batteries. The startup partnered with the state government as well as Ford, Volvo, Volkswagen, and Toyota, plus the car dismantling industry, to source end-of-life lithium-ion and nickel metal hydride traction batteries. Now a year in, it has shared some findings from those first 12 months.

In total, Redwood recovered 1,268 battery packs, amounting to more than 500,000 lbs (226,796 kg). Most of these were from cars that had reached the end of their particular road--Redwood says that less than 5 percent were "damaged, defective, or recalled."

Those packs came from 19 different EV and hybrid models, and the vast majority--82 percent in total--was lithium-ion, with the remaining 18 percent NiMH cells. Redwood says it recovered 95 percent of the lithium, cobalt, nickel, copper, and other metals from these packs. And as we noted last month, the company is already producing production-grade copper anode foil.

Redwood says that the main cost driver in the whole process comes down to logistics, particularly now that there are so few end-of-life EVs waiting to have their battery packs recycled. Redwood says that "in time, as end-of-life pack volumes increase, the logistics cost will decrease so that batteries will become assets that will help make EVs more sustainable and affordable in the long run."

Interestingly, Redwood says its recycling process is already profitable for smaller batteries like those in cellphones and laptops or when using production waste. It anticipates that the same will be true once EV battery packs become available for recycling at scale.

That might take some time, however. For one thing, fears that EVs would require battery replacements en masse as they reached 8 years old have proven mostly unfounded. And even once a battery is too degraded for use in a car, it can enjoy a long second life as static storage before taking a trip to the recycler.

Redwood says that it is essential that automotive OEMs work with battery recyclers capable of refining used batteries into "battery grade" metals for use in new cells. Failing to do this would lead to intermediate recycling in the US, with those materials then being sent overseas. By contrast, lithium, copper, or other metals refined from recycled batteries here in the US count as 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 extra costs to the EV battery value chain will put both California and the United States at a competitive disadvantage during this critical period of transition toward clean energy and electrification," Redwood says.