Ford Motor Co. announced on Wednesday plans to team up with a co-founder of Tesla Inc. on battery recycling in an effort to improve Ford’s domestic battery supply chain for electric vehicles.
This new partnership with Redwood Materials, run by CEO J.B. Straubel, the first chief technology officer at Tesla, focuses on “localizing the complex supply chain network, creating recycling options for end-of-life vehicles, ramping lithium-ion recycling and increasing U.S. battery production,” Ford said in a news release.
Ford says it wants to rely less on imported materials and the cost of mining raw materials while at the same time improving its battery materials supply and addressing consumer concern about potential impact of battery disposal on the environment.
“Increasing our nation’s production of batteries and their materials through domestic recycling can serve as a key enabler to improve the environmental footprint of U.S. manufacturing of lithium-ion batteries, decrease cost and, in turn, drive up domestic adoption of electric vehicles,” Straubel said in a statement.
He founded Redwood Materials, based in Carson City, Nevada, in 2017 to focus on recycling lithium-ion batteries and e-waste from phones, laptops, tablets, power tools and any other devices, according to its company website.
Straubel, who worked at Tesla from 2004 to 2019, has built a reputation for creating a circular supply chain for batteries and helping partners in the electric-vehicle and clean-energy industries by providing technologies to remanufacture lithium-ion batteries.
As part of this new collaboration, Ford also announced it has invested $50 million in Redwood.
In July, Redwood raised $700 million from investors including Goldman Sachs Asset Management, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Fidelity, Emerson Collective Collective and Franklin Templeton, according to TechCrunch. Entities associated with Bill Gates and Amazon are also involved.
Ford CEO Jim Farley has said the company is committed to sustainability, which ultimately lowers the cost of batteries and makes vehicles more affordable and more accessible.
By integrating battery recycling into the domestic battery strategy, Ford said, technology will allow the company to 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.”
The latest products from Ford include the all-electric Mustang Mach-E, E-Transit and F-150 Lightning. Batteries continue to be top of mind among consumers.
“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 in a statement.
Ford reiterated its commitment to invest more than $30 billion in electrification through 2025 and to continue on a path that includes joint ventures like this latest partnership.
Ford announced in May plans to manufacture battery cells and arrays, which store energy for later use, through multiple BlueOvalSK battery plants in North America starting around 2025. BlueOvalSK is the U.S. joint venture between Ford and SK Innovation.
Fighting to take the lead
“By building out a domestic, sustainable supply chain with recycled materials, Ford can drive down battery costs and help protect the environment,” a Ford news release said in May. “We will not cede our future to anyone else.”
Redwood has said it can produce strategic battery materials, supplying anode copper foil and cathode active materials to U.S. partners. The local supply of these two materials is a key part of Ford’s commitment to reduce the environmental impact of battery manufacturing and continue to ramp up electric vehicle production in the U.S., according to Ford.
“We are designing our battery supply chain to create a fully closed-loop lifecycle to drive down the cost of electric vehicles via a reliable U.S. materials supply chain,” said Lisa Drake, Ford’s North America chief operating officer. “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.”
A shortage of semiconductor chips has crippled the auto industry globally, and Wall Street investors have spotlighted the need for supply chain changes.
Focus on America
Straubel said in a statement, “Redwood and Ford share an understanding 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 Redwood Materials website notes that Straubel spent 15 years at Tesla, “where he built one of the best engineering teams in the world and, among many topics, led cell design, supply chain and led the first Gigafactory concept through the production ramp of the Model 3.”
He was the fifth employee at Tesla in 2004.
Straubel “invented or co-created many of the company’s signature technologies,” CNBC reported in 2019. “His name is on a majority of patents that Tesla filed, especially relating to electric vehicle batteries — safety, architecture, monitoring and power management.”
Gene Berdichevsky, employee No. 7 at Tesla, told CNBC, “J.B. is absolutely brilliant … I think there would be no Tesla as it is today without J.B.”
Tesla v Ford
Tesla, a global leader in clean energy and all-electric vehicle design and production, is among the key competitors for Ford.
Straubel had a direct role in both research and development and operational expansion from prototype cars through to mass production, according to his biography on the Redwood Materials websites. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in energy systems engineering and a Master’s in engineering, both from Stanford University.
The Wall Street Journal reported in 2020 that Tesla’s battery partner, Panasonic, worked with Redwood to reclaim scrap it generates in making battery cells.