EV Cars

How your old Prius battery helps build new electric vehicles

Redwood Materials, the battery recycling initiative created by Tesla alumnus JB Straubel, believes it’s critical to increase domestic content in American electric vehicles – and help automakers meet their sustainability goals.

Last month, Redwood explained one way to implement this process locally: it launched an online portal for used electric vehicle batteries. Here, US automobile dismantlers – also known as scrapyards – can provide information about their inventory and receive an immediate offer for their battery pack.

Automotive recycling isn’t as centralized as you might think, but through a tangle of connections and partnerships for various components, most materials in old vehicles find new uses. There are more than 9,000 automotive recycling locations in the United States, employing 140,000 people. According to Redwood, cars are the most recycled product in the U.S., with about 12 million vehicles recycled each year.

According to the Automotive Recyclers Association, approximately 86% of vehicle material contents are recycled, reused, or used for “energy recovery.” Through the combined efforts of recyclers, approximately 8 million gallons of gasoline and diesel, 24 million gallons of motor oil and 96% of lead-acid batteries are collected for reuse or recycling.

At the same time, the number of electric vehicles reaching recyclers is increasing, and this is an important step in building the battery materials ecosystem in the US.

Toyota and Redwood Materials battery recycling

Toyota and Redwood Materials battery recycling

An afterlife for the battery of your Nissan Leaf or Toyota Prius

In 2024 alone, Redwood expects 250,000 electrified vehicles to reach the end of their useful life. There are many hybrids among them. Toyota, for example, confirmed plans to source recycled material earlier this month Toyota EV batteries made of redwood, with the hope of reclaiming materials from previous retired Prius hybrids.

Several other automakers have contracts with Redwood. VW and Audi electric vehicle batteries are discarded by the company and shipped to Nevada for recycling. A Ford partnership strives for a “closed loop.” circular EV supply chain with redwood. According to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, the company will play an “outsized role in bringing the battery supply chain home” and will receive a commitment to do so $2 billion DOE loan for expansion.

Nissan prototype 60kWh battery pack – Nissan Technical Center, October 2015

Nissan prototype 60kWh battery pack – Nissan Technical Center, October 2015

Redwood launched a California pilot program in early 2022 and, after the first 12 months of the program, reported 1,268 battery packs collected from 19 different electric and hybrid models, 82% of which contained lithium-ion cells. It claims it was able to recover more than 95% of the lithium, cobalt, nickel, copper and other materials from the packs.

Redwood is already working with automotive dismantlers as part of this program.

Toyota and Redwood Materials battery recycling

Toyota and Redwood Materials battery recycling

No parallels to the catalyst epidemic

Given the large number of recyclers and the widespread problems with them Theft of a catalytic converterAre there such concerns about electric vehicles? Redwood told Green Car Reports that it approves every transaction, verifies vehicle title and serial numbers, and has a team ready to assist dismantlers with questions or concerns when processing electric vehicle battery packs.

Even an electric vehicle battery pack is by no means a catalyst and removing it requires time and skill. Once Redwood accepts the sale, it takes care of transporting the package, which can often weigh 1,000 pounds or more, through its portal.

“Everyone we have worked with in the dismantling community wants to do the right thing, and they were excited to work directly with Redwood to ensure responsible recycling,” Redwood reported of its California program, noting that the dismantling Community helped him find the most efficient way to handle, pack and ship heavy electric vehicles.

Now it’s time to scale up.

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