Redwood Materials has recycled e-bike batteries and Tesla batteries. Now, it’s ready to level up a few sizes.
The electric vehicle battery recycling and manufacturing venture founded by the former chief technologist of Tesla announced today that it will help decommission and recycle a 4MWh stationary storage substation in Kauai, Hawaii, as part of a massive solar array. The decommissioning recently wrapped and the batteries are now being transported to the company’s facility in north Nevada for recycling.
It will be one of Redwood’s first battery energy storage systems and an important step in the company’s broader effort to prove that lithium-ion batteries and energy storage products of all sizes can have a new life beyond their current ones.
For JB Straubel, former Tesla CTO and founder of Redwood, it’s a project that has come full circle. Straubel was involved in another installation project with the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative in 2015 while at Tesla. That project was a 52 megawatt-hour battery installation plus a 13MW SolarCity solar farm. Tesla and the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC), the power company that ordered the project, initially said the project would reduce fossil fuel usage by 1.6 million gallons per year.
“When it comes to renewable energy deployment, Hawaiʻi has always been a leader, energizing some of the earliest and largest solar plus storage projects on earth,” Straubel said in a statement. “Our partnership with KIUC to decommission and recycle the first-generation storage project at the Anahola substation, demonstrates their true commitment to sustainability.”
To be sure, the batteries that are being decommissioned and recycled are not the Tesla batteries; those batteries are at a separate KIUC installation. “That one is still powering away and will be for many more years!” the company said.
The storage system that Redwood will be recycling is KIUC’s Anahola substation, a 4MWh battery storage system with a 6MW power rating that consists of lithium nickel cobalt aluminum oxide chemistries. The system consists of eight battery containers for a total of 2,320 modules that weigh 44,544kg (98,202 pounds or 49 tons).
Redwood sees big business in stationary storage decommissioning and recycling, noting that 4.8GW were installed last year in the US alone. The company recently partnered with Southern Company and EPRI to recycle one of the earliest grid-scale lithium-ion battery storage system in Cedartown, Georgia.
“As we think about long-term battery circularity, stationary storage decommissioning and recycling are an integral part of our business,” the company said.
Redwood Materials was founded in 2017 by Straubel. In addition to breaking down scrap from Tesla’s battery-making process with Panasonic, Redwood also recycles EV batteries from Ford, Toyota, Nissan, Specialized, Amazon, Lyft, Rad Power Bikes, and others. The company also produces anodes and cathodes, critical battery components, at a facility in South Carolina.
Many of the batteries from those first-wave electric vehicles, like the Nissan Leaf, are just now reaching the end of their lifespan and are in need of recycling. After receiving batteries from its various partners, Redwood begins a chemical recycling process in which it strips out and refines the relevant elements like nickel, cobalt, and copper. A certain percentage of that refined material can then be reintegrated into the battery-making process — 95 percent of key battery metals on average, according to Redwood.