Redwood initiated an electric vehicle battery recycling program in California in February 2022 with the backing of their Governor [Newsom] and multiple automotive collaborators. Their objective was to establish efficient, secure, and effective channels to recycle end-of-life hybrid and electric vehicle battery packs and disseminate their discoveries. During the last twelve months, Redwood teamed up with dismantlers and car maker partners to retrieve and recycle lithium-ion and nickel metal hydride (NiMH).
According to Redwood Materials, with its commitment to electric transportation, California is a longstanding leader in the field and has emerged as the world’s most established and prominent electric vehicle market. In 2022, approximately 19% of all new car sales in the state were electric vehicles, a testament to California’s leadership in the transition to cleaner transportation. As the initial fleet of these vehicles reaches the end of its lifespan, the state’s handling of the disposal of used battery packs will provide a blueprint for other jurisdictions and the battery recycling sector.
Redwood aims to showcase the significance of end-of-life (EOL) battery packs by sharing a comprehensive report of their findings over a year. By highlighting areas where the industry may require assistance and providing policymakers with valuable insights, the information intends to assist in making informed decisions on the responsible handling of electric vehicle batteries at the end of their life cycle.
In collaboration with California-based auto dealers, dismantlers, and aggregators, Redwood retrieved 1,268 end-of-life battery packs weighing around half a million pounds. Less than 5% of these packs were “Damaged, Defective or Recalled” (DDR). Redwood’s Nevada facilities safely transported and recycled all batteries, using the retrieved metals to create high-quality battery materials, anode, and cathode for US battery cell manufacturers.
A mix of older nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) and newer lithium-ion batteries was collected from more than a dozen automakers to evaluate their recycling potential. While mixed chemistries are expected to continue as older hybrid vehicle models retire in more significant numbers from California roads, lithium-ion batteries represented the majority of the chemistry types collected. Redwood Materials anticipates that lithium-ion batteries will continue to dominate the market.
According to Redwood Materials, logistics is the highest battery pack collection and recycling cost. The key to reducing these costs for end-of-life battery packs is to achieve economies of scale through increased collection volume. The company is confident that, as the logistics cost decreases, end-of-life pack volumes will increase, making batteries assets that will help make electric vehicles (EVs) more sustainable and affordable in the long run.
Redwood Materials also worked closely with auto dismantlers, which are core to creating the safest and most efficient recycling pathways. The Automotive Recyclers Association (ARA) and California Auto Dismantlers and Recyclers Alliance (CADRA) have been incredible partners, helping establish the most efficient transportation routes and aggregate batteries at their central locations. Redwood Materials shared its knowledge of handling, packaging, and transporting EV packs. Redwood Materials supports public policies that govern the safe collection, transport, and handling of EV packs, encouraging the industry and policymakers to focus on lowering transportation costs without compromising safety.
Redwood Materials’ partnerships with automakers in this pilot demonstrate a strong willingness from vehicle OEMs to manage their EV batteries responsibly. An Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) approach could be effective, allowing automakers to partner directly with recyclers or recycle the batteries themselves, ensuring the market manages end-of-life batteries in the safest and most efficient manner. However, mandating a singular Producer Responsibility Organization (PRO) for EV battery recycling, similar to certain e-waste frameworks, is not the appropriate solution for end-of-life EV battery packs. Instead, Extended Producer Responsibility programs can ensure best practices and responsible end-of-life management without choosing winners and losers.
According to Redwood, automotive OEMs must collaborate directly with recycling partners who can sustainably manage the materials throughout the supply chain, collecting and recycling end-of-life lithium-ion batteries and then refining the materials sustainably into “battery-grade” metals that can go directly back into battery component production. It is essential that recyclers have the capability to produce “battery-grade” refined metals. Without this capability, there will be a chain of recyclers producing only intermediates, adding to costs and increasing the likelihood that critical materials could end up overseas instead of being reused in batteries to support the United States’ electrification goals.
Redwood Materials’ ability to effectively recover a high percentage of metals (~95%) and produce downstream battery components from that recycled content demonstrates the need for qualified recyclers to manage these batteries and ensures material for future EV production. The value of end-of-life batteries lies in ensuring responsible recycling, and any proposals or actions that add extra costs to the EV battery value chain will put California and the United States at a competitive disadvantage during this critical transition period toward clean energy and electrification.