What's happening in the world of batteries?
Updated: May 26
Today we look at what's happening in the world of batteries and specifically we will look at Solid-State batteries and a battery recycling startup Redwood Materials; founded by Tesla’s co-founder and ex-CTO JB Straubel.
What to expect today:
Sharing some positive news; ‘the planet optimist’ was recently awarded a fellowship by optiMize at University of Michigan and we are excited to embark on this journey with them!
Most EV makers chose a nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) combination for their lithium-ion batteries because it delivers the most power density, and hence longer range, for the buck. But it also relies on two problematic minerals—nickel, for which supplies are limited, and cobalt, which is both scarce and plagued by unsafe mining and exploitation of child labor. NMC batteries can also burst into flames under certain conditions. (Read here if you want to know more about battery composition in EVs)
Enter Solid State Batteries
Solid-state batteries—with a solid electrolyte made from common minerals like glass or ceramics—have the promise to become a key EV battery technology. (So far, they can be found only in pacemakers and smartwatches.) The solid electrolyte (replacing the liquid electrolyte in NMC batteries) is more chemically stable, lighter, recharges faster and has many more lifetime recharging cycles than lithium-ion batteries.
Toyota’s solid-state battery car
Toyota recently announced in an interview during CES 2022 that it will launch a hybrid vehicle with a solid-state battery by 2025. Toyota has partnered up with Panasonic and established a joint venture company called Planet Energy & Solutions in April 2020 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Toyota owns 51% of the JV company, and the remaining ownership is with Panasonic. The JV company’s business scope includes the development, manufacture, and sales of solid-state batteries and other next-gen automotive batteries. Check out this short video of Toyota running its solid-state-battery car on the road.
Tough road ahead
As much as solid-state batteries hold promise for the future, there are several challenges before we see mainstream adoption:
Challenges remain around conductivity, particularly at lower temperatures, as well as issues of high resistance between the solid materials that make up the cathode, anode, and solid electrolyte. Many solid state battery designs require the solid electrolyte to be under great pressure to maintain good conductivity, which introduces mechanical issues around stress and fragility.
Additionally, there simply isn’t any infrastructure to produce solid-state batteries en masse. Automotive manufacturers have been rushing to build new battery plants to support current EV manufacturing processes. It’s likely plants would have to be significantly retooled to produce solid-state batteries, which have very different internal designs.
Recycling batteries: Redwood materials
Redwood Materials is a battery recycling startup that recycles batteries from electronic devices and EVs and makes sustainable materials for circular supply chains. The company was founded by Tesla’s co-founder and ex-CTO JB Straubel and has raised ~$800mn so far. Check out this video by CNBC for a look inside their recycling facilities.
Redwood Materials announced a partnership with Ford Motor Company in Sep ‘21 that they are working together to build out battery recycling and a domestic battery supply chain for electric vehicles. Ford also invested $50 million into Redwood Materials to help the company expand its footprint in the U.S.
What does the partnership entail?
Ford and Redwood are collaborating to integrate battery recycling into Ford’s domestic battery strategy. Redwood’s recycling technology can recover, on average, more than 95% of the elements like nickel, cobalt, lithium and copper. These materials can be reused in a closed-loop with Redwood moving to produce anode copper foil and cathode active materials for future battery production. By using locally produced, recycled battery materials, Ford can drive down costs, increase battery materials supply and reduce its reliance on imports and mining of raw materials.
Batteries are extremely important in the shift to renewable energy. From EVs to Solar power plants, all rely on efficient battery storage solutions and these innovations in battery technology are only going to help with the transition to clean energy.
Current battery production is marred with controversies from extensive use of water for Lithium mining to violations of child labor laws. We welcome companies like Redwood Materials which are looking to establish a circular supply chain and recycle these metals essential to battery production. The climate optimist did a profile on another company called ‘Lilac solution’ which is aiming to make lithium extraction more sustainable - check out its profile here.
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Redwood materials - Check out CNBC’s coverage of Redwood materials recycling facility (18 min video)