Tesla Co-Founder JB Straubel On Racing To Scale Up Battery Recycling


We’ve reported on JB Straubel, Tesla’s former Chief Expertise Officer, and his battery recycling firm Redwood Supplies, a number of occasions on this house. Nevertheless, the EV trade is changing into more and more conscious of the significance of constructing home provide chains for battery supplies, and recycling is a vital a part of that image, so Mr. Straubel and different recycling pioneers are within the highlight. In a current interview for MIT Expertise Assessment, JB affords some new insights into the large problem of constructing a round economic system, and why we are able to’t wait.

JB Straubel is considered one of a number of former Tesla execs who left the corporate to begin their very own ventures (see Lucid’s Peter Rawlinson, Blue Improvements’ John Vo, Proterra’s Ryan Popple, and the chief suite at Xcelerate). JB served 16 years at Tesla, and at all times appeared to me to be a drive for calm and stability amid the tabloidesque turnover and turmoil. Within the MIT article, he deftly sidesteps interviewer Casey Crownhart’s query about why he left Tesla (all of them do), however he does clarify why he felt it was so pressing to get into the recycling area.

“It was changing into extra apparent that battery scaling would current the necessity to get so many extra uncooked supplies, parts, and batteries themselves. That was this looming bottleneck and problem for the entire trade, even method again then [in 2017]. And I feel it’s much more clear immediately.

“The concept was fairly unconventional on the time. Even your query form 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 entails being a little bit bit contrarian. And I feel to actually make significant innovation, it’s usually not very standard.”

The fossil gas economic system (and the worldwide economic system generally) is predicated on the thought of utilizing stuff and throwing it away. As Straubel sees it, that mindset merely isn’t going to work within the clear vitality economic system. “I feel this whole new sustainable economic system as we’re envisioning it, with all the things electrified, merely can’t work except you could have a closed loop for the uncooked supplies,” he tells Crownhart. “There aren’t sufficient new uncooked supplies to maintain constructing and throwing them away; it could basically be unimaginable.”

The noisy anti-EV crowd continuously claims (with no proof) that batteries “can’t be recycled.” Mr. Struabel (and the a whole lot of corporations world wide which are investing within the growing recycling trade) would absolutely beg to vary. As he factors out, the uncooked supplies in EV batteries “don’t get degraded, [and] they don’t get compromised — 99% of these metals, or maybe extra, might be reused many times and once more. Actually a whole lot, maybe hundreds of occasions.”

Nevertheless, recycling an EV battery pack doesn’t sound so simple as recycling a beer bottle. “It’s extra sophisticated than I feel many individuals admire. There’s only a entire ton of chemistry, chemical engineering, and manufacturing engineering that has to occur to make and refine all the parts that go right into a battery. It’s not only a sorting or rubbish administration drawback.

“There’s loads of room for innovation, and these items haven’t been effectively optimized, and even performed in any respect in some instances. In order that’s actually the enjoyable stuff as an engineer, the place you get to invent and innovate issues that haven’t been performed.”

When Ms. Crownhart paid a go to to Redwood’s Nevada headquarters, she was struck by the sense of urgency. She requested Mr. Straubel if he believes the EV trade is shifting quick sufficient. “I typically don’t assume we’re going quick sufficient,” he replied. “I don’t assume anybody is. You understand, I do have this sense of paranoia and urgency and nearly — not precisely — panic. That’s not useful. However I suppose it actually derives from a deep feeling that I don’t consider we’re appropriately internalizing how dangerous local weather change goes to be.”

Picture courtesy of Redwood Supplies

The interview covers much more floor — the combo of recycled and virgin supplies, the challenges of recent battery chemistries — and I like to recommend studying it in its entirety. We (people, that’s) have a restricted time to make sure that what we name civilization will proceed for some time longer. We’re lucky to have such an excellent and (comparatively) younger engineer as JB Straubel engaged on what will probably be an extended and complicated transition to a sustainable economic system.

“Now could be our solely time to actually put together and react,” says Straubel. “The size of all that is so huge 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.”

Courtesy of EVANNEX. By Charles Morris


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