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Saturday, January 29, 2022

Tesla co-founder searches for fortunes in used battery dumps

The engineer who helped Elon Musk transform Tesla into a monumental name that can be seen from anywhere, “when all cars switch to electric batteries. A huge market will emerge, necessary to recycle the waste of all these cars.”

Four years ago, Tesla’s chief technology officer, Geoffrey Brian Strobel, was ramping up battery production at the sprawling Gigafactory plant near Reno, Nevada, when the inspiration came in the form of a question: Why isn’t there a company that recovers metals from factory scrap and so on? From used electronic devices and converting it back to lithium, cobalt, and graphite to make new batteries.

Strobel figured out how to do this at a sufficiently low cost and at scale, increasing the supply of rare and valuable minerals while mitigating environmental damage from mining and keeping toxic batteries out of landfills.

Demand for batteries is increasing as giants General Motors and Volkswagen aggressively pursue their electric plans alongside electric start-ups such as Lucid and Rivan. Prices for basic battery materials such as lithium (up 127% in the past 12 months) and cobalt (up 69%) are on the rise. But Straubel has good early news: After just one year in operation, Redwood Materials can actually salvage tons of usable minerals at a lower cost than conventional mining.

“Most people expect recycling to be very expensive now, but it may be cheaper in the future,” he says. “It’s completely different, the prices for recycling are now competitive.”

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