Date: December 12, 2020
Source: News Room
Tesla made history earlier this year when it became the most valuable car company in the world. The astronomical valuation of the company is due, in part, to investors betting on electric cars taking over the global automotive market over the coming decades. While many are cheering on this shift away from carbon emitting internal combustion, the explosion in demand for electric cars has created its own assortment of environmental and industrial problems. Chief among those is finding ways to produce enough batteries to meet demand and then how to recycle them when they inevitably die.
Charlie Wood, in his article "Amazon, Panasonic, and Recycling Start-ups Prepare for Battery Wave Tsunami" published on CNBC, details the strategies that different startups are adopting to meet these challenges. Because cobalt, lithium and the other metals used in batteries are costly in terms of both capital and environmental toll, one of the main aims of these firms is to find a way to efficiently recycle lithium from existing batteries. According to the article, globally, people toss about 500,000 tons of batteries a year. Most of this waste ends up in incinerators. Redwood Materials, a Nevada startup founded by Tesla's former CTO JB Straubel, has developed a process that allows them to recapture about 95% of the battery's nickel and cobalt and about 80% of its lithium. Another startup, Li-Cycle, founded by Tim Johnston, is taking a different approach that involves mostly preserving the initial structure of the battery. This strategy allows them to preserve up to 95% of the original lithium.
According to the article, while each company has a different strategy, both are nearing the point where they can begin to scale up. Investors, including Capricorn Investment Group and Breakthrough Energy Ventures, which includes Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates, have recognized this and are already supplying the funds these firms need to grow rapidly. As demand for batteries grows with the rapid electrification of our world through the adoption of renewable energy, electric vehicles and handheld tech, it will be key for this development to be coupled with efficient battery recycling. Otherwise, our demand for cobalt, nickel, lithium, and many other precious metals may outstrip what our planet can provide.