In a latest interview with MIT Technology Review, JB Straubel, the previous chief know-how officer at Tesla and founding father of battery recycling firm Redwood Materials, talked about why he determined to depart Tesla to strike out in a special route.
“Actually Tesla was a tremendous journey, however because it was succeeding, I feel it was changing into extra apparent that battery scaling would current the necessity to get so many extra uncooked supplies, elements, and batteries themselves. That was this looming bottleneck and problem for the entire trade, even method again then. And I feel it’s much more clear right now.
“The concept was fairly unconventional on the time. Even your query sort of hints at it—it’s like, why did you allow this glamorous, thrilling high-performance automotive firm to go work on rubbish? I feel entrepreneurship includes being somewhat bit contrarian. And I feel to essentially make significant innovation, it’s typically not very standard.”
As to why battery recycling was the brand new space he selected to focus on, Straubel stated, “More and more, the answer to [a] sustainability downside is to affect it and so as to add a battery to it, which is nice, and I spent nearly all of my profession championing that and serving to speed up that. And if we don’t electrify the whole lot, I feel our local weather targets are utterly sunk. However on the identical time, it’s an outstanding quantity of batteries. And I simply suppose we actually want to determine a sturdy resolution on the finish of life.
“I feel this complete new sustainable economic system as we’re envisioning it, with the whole lot electrified, merely can’t work until you will have a closed loop for the uncooked supplies. There aren’t sufficient new uncooked supplies to maintain constructing and throwing them away; it could essentially be inconceivable.”
JB Straubel On Battery Recycling Expertise
It’s all nicely and good to speak about battery recycling, however the course of itself is advanced. Redwood Materials is studying because it goes — blazing a path, you may say. “It’s extra sophisticated than I feel many individuals admire,” Straubel says. “There’s only a entire ton of chemistry, chemical engineering, and manufacturing engineering that has to occur to make and refine all the elements that go right into a battery. It’s not only a sorting or rubbish administration downside.
“There’s quite a lot of room for innovation and this stuff haven’t been nicely optimized, and even completed in any respect in some circumstances. In order that’s actually the enjoyable stuff as an engineer, the place you get to invent and innovate issues that haven’t been completed two, three, 4 instances already.”
“However one thing that isn’t intuitive is simply what a excessive degree of reusability the metals inside a battery have. All of these supplies we put right into a battery and into an EV don’t go wherever. They’re all nonetheless there. They don’t get degraded, they don’t get compromised. 99% of these metals (emphasis added), or maybe extra, may be reused time and again and once more. Actually a whole bunch, maybe 1000’s of instances.”
That is a facet of the EV revolution few totally admire. Certain, there are auto recycling yards that recapture a number of the elements of standard vehicles, however there’s nothing that approaches the 99+% recyclability price that Straubel predicts. There are individuals operating round free who shriek about how EV house owners are simply driving their vehicles right into a lake when the battery dies and that quickly our landfills might be overflowing with poisonous effluent leaking from mountains of discarded batteries. These individuals are all about making a political assertion, one that’s utterly divorced from actuality.
Getting The Combine Proper
One of many points dealing with Redwood Materials is there aren’t but a big sufficient provide of used EV batteries to satisfy the necessity for recycled supplies, and so the corporate is utilizing some freshly mined minerals to create its merchandise. “I actually see our place as a sustainable battery supplies firm. One among our key aims and targets is to take a look at the very long run and to verify we’re architecting essentially the most environment friendly programs for the long run, the place recycled materials content material is almost all of provide.
“However within the meantime,” Straubel says, “we’re taking a realistic view. We’ve got to mix in a certain quantity of virgin materials — no matter we are able to get in essentially the most environmentally pleasant method — to enhance the ramp-up whereas we have to transition away from fossil fuels. Our purpose is to assist decarbonize batteries and scale back the vitality affect and the embedded CO2. And I feel it’s higher for the world to take away a fossil gas automobile than to say, ‘Properly, we are able to’t construct an electrical automobile as a result of we don’t have sufficient recycled materials.’”
Requested if his firm is specializing in recycling solely batteries with sure chemistries, Staubel stated, “I’m actually genuinely fairly agnostic on this. I wish to make it possible for we’re centered on the larger image, which is determining how we allow a transition to sustainability total. And due to this fact, we actually are rooting for no matter battery know-how finally ends up having the most effective efficiency. And I feel it will likely be a mixture. We’re going to see a much bigger range of battery chemistries and applied sciences.
“So after we’re designing this round system, we want to consider all of the completely different applied sciences, and so they have execs and cons. Some are more difficult in several methods. Clearly, iron phosphate has a decrease complete commodity steel worth, however it’s definitely not zero. There’s a fantastic alternative to recycle lithium and copper from these. So I feel every one has its personal set of traits that we have now to handle.
“Over the subsequent yr, we’re simply in an extremely speedy development and deployment part. We’re innovating throughout a complete bunch of various areas concurrently. It’s actually thrilling and enjoyable, however it’s additionally simply fairly difficult to handle all the parallel threads as we’re doing it. It’s like an enormous multiplayer recreation of chess or one thing.
“In the long run, it’s more and more going to be about scale and effectivity of scaling. That is simply an enormous, big trade. The bodily measurement of those services is very large, the quantity of supplies is very large, and the capital necessities are actually huge as nicely. So I feel over many years into the long run, I’d say, the place our focus and challenges might be is ensuring we’re hyper-efficient about scaling as much as terawatt-hour scale actually.”
The Looming Local weather Disaster
Straubel is clearly centered on the challenges of an overheating local weather and feels the necessity to transfer ahead with electrifying the whole lot as quickly as attainable. “I typically don’t suppose we’re going quick sufficient. I don’t suppose anybody is. You already know, I do have this sense of paranoia and urgency and virtually — not precisely — panic. That’s not useful. However I suppose it actually derives from a deep feeling that I don’t imagine we’re appropriately internalizing how unhealthy local weather change goes to be (emphasis added). So I suppose I’ve this anxiousness and worry that it’s going to get a complete lot worse than I feel most individuals predict.
“And there’s such inertia to it, so now could be our solely time to essentially put together and react. And the dimensions of all that is so massive that even after we’re operating flat out as quick as we are able to, with all that urgency that you just felt and hopefully extra, it’ll nonetheless take us many years.”
And but, politicians in Wyoming and Virginia need to rating political factors by mocking the transition to electrical automobiles, little realizing that this isn’t about politics, it’s about survival of the human species. Within the remaining evaluation, it gained’t be battery recycling that saves the human race. It will likely be conquering the worry and ignorance that result in exacerbating the local weather disaster.
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