How Tesla’s Battery Brain Tackles Electric Vehicle’s Biggest Problem
In a new video, CNBC explains how Tesla’s battery brain solves electric vehicle’s biggest problem. The video begins with thousands of plastic bags full of batteries. These batteries come from electric vehicles, phones, scooters, laptops and other electronic devices. Since these batteries are both flammable and toxic, it is essential that they do not end up in landfills. And it would be a waste if they did – after all, batteries still contain “like new” material.
JB Straubel, Tesla co-founder and former chief technology officer for many years, started Redwood Materials in 2017. He sat down in an interview with CNBC to talk about the importance of battery recycling and shared an overview of Redwood Materials’ premier recycling facility, which is located in Carson City, Nevada. Straubel pointed out why the materials of old batteries are still as good as new.
“Batteries are amazing this way because the metals in the critical materials inside them are very highly recyclable. We recover 95-98% of many of these critical materials like nickel, cobalt and copper. Essentially, all of these metals can be reused over and over again. “
Straubel was the brains behind many of Tesla’s core technologies, especially those focused on battery technology. Although he started Redwood Materials in 2017, he only left Tesla in 2019. Eventually, however, he decided he wanted to focus entirely on recycling batteries. CNBC noted that Redwood Materials is already recycling tons of batteries and sending some of the recovered materials to Panasonic so they can put them right back into Tesla electric cars.
Celina Mikolajczak, vice president of battery technology at Panasonic Energy North America, also shared her thoughts in the interview. “We can’t just take all these really good minerals and throw them away. It would be criminal. I mean, we have to reuse them.
Straubel explained why he launched Redwood Materials. “We started this, you know, because I saw this looming problem with the end-of-life vehicles that we were creating and I was starting to have a deep appreciation at the time of the magnitude of this. that was going to happen and the fact that, you know, I haven’t seen anyone else prepare for the magnitude of this problem. The scale of the waste and scrap problem and the scale of batteries that need to be recycled is, I think, shocking to most people. There is, I think, a really exciting opportunity to link recycling and end-of-life problem solving with supply chain solution, bringing more material back into the raw material so as not to hamper the production of batteries.
Demand for lithium-ion batteries is expected to grow from $ 44.2 billion last year to $ 94.4 billion by 2025, the video narrator noted. (Some of us think it will grow much faster.) This is mainly due to the increased adoption and demand for electric vehicles.
Phil LeBeau, who interviewed Straubel, asked if there was enough material to build all the EV batteries that will be needed and Straubel replied, “Frankly, no. Not well this second. We don’t have enough materials in the supply chain to build everything today. Growth must therefore occur in the supply chain for all these vehicles. More of that investment needs to find its way to the top of the food chain to determine where these materials will come from – investing in new mines, refining and recycling. “
Mikolajczak also added his thoughts to this question. “We are looking at the materials that are in the cells. They are very durable metals. And we put a lot of effort into getting them out of the ground. It’s not like we have a surplus supply that we can just pull out to make cells. Our excess supply is found in cells which have almost reached the end of their life and are ready to be recycled. So we’d be really dumb if we didn’t take advantage of the ability of older cells to create the next generation. “
Panasonic produces 2 billion battery cells annually from the Tesla Gigafactory in Nevada. Allan Swan, president of Panasonic Energy North America, added his thoughts. He noted that Giga Nevada’s battery cells only provide Model 3 and Model Y (and not all of their global battery power), and “we need 20-25 of these batteries worldwide. . But especially here in the United States, we definitely need at least 4, 5, or 6 of these factories to support the entire auto industry. “
Few people think of the effort that goes into making batteries. Not only are metals such as cobalt, nickel and lithium mined all over the world, but raw materials travel over 20,000 nautical miles from mine to automaker – they need to be processed, put into cells and put into batteries. . packs. This supply chain is far from sustainable.
“Recycling has a huge role to play in the sustainability of electric vehicles themselves,” said Ram Chandrasekaran, senior transportation and mobility analyst at Wood Mackenzie. “One of the biggest sources of CO2 from an electric vehicle comes from mining and manufacturing battery packs. Lithium mining is not a very CO2-friendly business, so there will be a time when recycling batteries for the metals they need will be an important factor in helping electric vehicles achieve carbon neutrality.
The video highlighted details of how these materials get to Tesla. They are mined in countries like South America, then sent to China for refinement. Then sent to Tesla’s Giga Nevada for cell production at Panasonic. He also shared that another challenge looming in the near future for materials like lithium, nickel, cobalt and copper is a significant shortage.
LeBeau asked if current demand exceeds supply in five years and Straubel agreed that was okay, then explained how worried he was about it. “I’m afraid it will become a bottleneck to electrify whatever people hope to do. I think it will be a bit painful when all of these factories try to scale up at the same time, and recycling and the ability to effectively reuse these materials can alleviate some of the burden of needing new mines or finding new resources. .
Straubel also mentioned the cost of electric vehicles. “The cost of electric vehicles is going down, but it is still dominated by the cost of the battery. And in the battery, the highest cost is for materials. This is a pretty straightforward connection to say that the way to further reduce the cost of electric vehicles so that more and more people can afford them is to understand how we are attacking this material cost inside the lithium battery- ion. And as the demand for electric cars continues to grow, it will put more pressure on these commodity markets. But our goal is to find a way to decouple that and provide these materials at a lower cost. “