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Ford Teams Up with Former Tesla Exec on Recyclable Batteries

Sept. 22, 2021
Redwood Materials, founded by a Tesla co-founder, wants to make batteries a circular economy.

As part of its effort to invest in domestic supply chains for electric vehicles, Ford Motor Company announced September 22 it would invest $50 million in Redwood Materials, a battery-recycling startup founded by a co-founder of Tesla Motors.

Redwood, founded in 2017 by J.B. Straubel, Tesla co-founder and former CTO, wants to harvest valuable materials like lithium, copper, cobalt, and nickel from old, used-up batteries and use them to make new ones, forming a circular supply chain for an increasingly sought-after product.

According to company statements, Redwood’s technology is capable of recovering more than 95% of the elements used in battery production, but the company has yet to form an actual manufacturing operation. Earlier this month, Redwood announced plans to build a factory somewhere in the United States and begin production before 2024. The money from Ford is slated to help expand Redwood’s manufacturing operations.

Ford CEO Jim Farley said working with Redwood would help Ford make electric vehicles more affordable. “Our partnership with Redwood materials will be critical to our plan to build electric vehicles at scale in America, at the lowest possible cost and with a zero-waste approach,” Farley said.

Lisa Drake, Ford’s chief operating officer for North America, noted that a circular supply chain for electric batteries would make Ford less vulnerable to competition for batteries.

“This approach will help ensure valuable materials in end-of-life products re-enter the supply chain and do not wind up in landfills, reducing our reliance on the existing commodities supply chain that will be quickly overwhelmed by industry demand,” she said.

Ford and Redwood “share an understanding,” Straubel said, that “to truly make electric vehicles sustainable and affordable, we need to localize the existing complex and expensive supply chain network, create pathways for end-of-life vehicles, ramp lithium-ion recycling and increase battery production, all here in America.”

The $50 million Ford is investing in Redwood’s manufacturing expansion is a piece of more than $30 billion in electrification the company plans on spending through 2025. The companies are also planning to work together in the long term on collecting and recycling Ford’s old electric vehicle batteries.

Redwood said it will announce a location for its U.S. factory by early 2022 and start with manufacturing cathode active materials and anode foil, materials used in battery terminals, by 2025. Redwood says it will start producing cathode and anode materials at a rate of 100 gigawatt-hours per year and work its way up to 500 gigawatt-hours per year by 2030, by which time Ford has said it expects 40% of its sales to be electric vehicles.

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