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Redwood Materials, the lithium-ion battery recycling startup founded by former Tesla CTO JB Straubel, is partnering with Toyota to collect, refurbish and recycle batteries and battery materials that can be sent to the Japanese automaker's upcoming North Carolina battery plant.
The partnership, which will only collect batteries from Toyota's hybrid and electrified vehicles, comes as the first wave of Toyota Prius hybrids, which were released over 20 years ago, retire from the roads.
It's also the latest in a string of partnerships between Redwood and OEMs, including Proterra, Ford, Volvo and Panasonic, which is supplying batteries to Tesla's Nevada gigafactory. With the coming electric vehicle takeover, demand for battery materials, particularly ones that are produced regionally, is skyrocketing. By partnering with Toyota and other automakers, Redwood hopes to create a circular supply chain for EV batteries in the United States that will eventually reduce the cost of batteries and offset the need for mining precious metals.
Initially, Redwood will focus on screening the health of Toyota car batteries and assessing the possibility of refurbishment so they can go into, and extend the life of, existing cars when possible, according to Alexis Georgeson, vice president of communications and government relations at Redwood.
In cases where that's not an option, Redwood will recycle the batteries, pulling out materials like copper, lithium, cobalt and nickel. The company will then remanufacture those materials into anode copper foils and cathodes — the two main components of a battery that make up about 65% of the cost, according to Georgeson — which can be returned to Toyota for cell manufacturing.
Redwood announced plans to produce critical battery materials, rather than just recycle them, in September, so the work the company is doing with Toyota will be a good example of that business expansion.
"We're going well beyond what a traditional recycler would do, which is just breaking it down to intermediate metals, and we're going further downstream to remanufacturing those metals into anode and cathode components so that we can localize the entire process," Georgeson told TechCrunch. "If you're just recycling, you're just stopping at these intermediate metals that still have to go to where cathodes and anodes are manufactured, which is today predominantly in Asia."
Redwood's work with Toyota will take place at its 175-acre Northern Nevada Battery Materials Campus, where the startup also recycles scrap from battery cell production and consumer electronics like cell phones, laptops, power tools, scooters and e-bikes. The company is also eyeing east coast expansion to better serve Toyota at its NC factory, as well as other regional partners, Georgeson said.
The company says it today receives more than 6 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of end-of-life batteries annually for recycling. Redwood also announced plans to ramp up production of anode and cathode components at its Nevada factory to 100 GWh annually by 2025, which is enough to produce more than one million EVs a year, and then scaling it to 500 GWh by 2030.
Panasonic has already reserved the anode copper foil that Redwood aims to start producing this year for Tesla's gigafactory, said Georgeson.