An average combustion car consumes 17,000 liters of petrol or 13,500 liters of diesel over the course of its life – while the production of an electric car battery only requires 160 kilograms of metal. The Transport & Environment organization recently drew this impressive comparison (which, however, disregards the driving current). In addition, the battery materials can be recycled, so that only 30 kilograms of raw materials are left over. And while Tesla CEO Elon Musk is mainly concerned with more and more production, his co-founder and long-standing technical director JB Straubel is taking care of the recycling aspect with a new company.
Tesla co-founder wants recycling gigafactory
And as with Tesla itself, Straubel’s startup Redwood Materials is making headway. Among other things, Panasonic already counts among its customers with the battery factory operated together with Tesla in the US state of Nevada. As for battery production, large-scale recycling of the raw materials it contains also requires gigafactorys, says the Tesla co-founder – just the other way around. And on the way there, according to CNBC, Redwood has now won another major customer: Envision AESC, which in the US state of Tennessee produces, among other things, batteries for the Nissan electric car Leaf.
At Panasonic and EASC, it has so far only been about making waste from production usable for a new start. But Redwood also wants to get the raw materials out of old batteries in the long run if they end up in the disposal after years of use. The growth in electric cars, which contain far more of it than any consumer electronics device before, is just getting started. The sheer scale of the recycling that becomes necessary is shocking for most people, said Tesla co-founder and Redwood boss Straubel.
The need for expensive raw materials is falling
In his words, for example, recycled cobalt cannot even be distinguished from freshly mined cobalt. A manager of Tesla’s partner Panasonic agreed that the battery industry had to deal more with recycling in order to secure the necessary raw materials. She called it “stupid” not to use old cells when building the next generation, also because a lot of energy would have to be used to break down raw materials.
According to the study by Transport & Environment, an average of 100 grams of lithium, 130 grams of cobalt and 480 grams of nickel are required per kilowatt hour of electric car battery, with the cobalt content in particular being continually reduced through technical progress. The need for replenishment of all three raw materials can be further reduced through recycling. From 2030, the recycling of batteries from electric cars could make a noticeable contribution to the production of new ones.