Toyota eyes battery ‘circular ecosystem’

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Toyota Motor North America is the latest automaker to collaborate with battery recycling company Redwood Materials as it works to provide a more sustainable battery supply chain for its electric vehicle push.

The move comes as Toyota is becoming one of the first automotive manufacturers to accumulate end-of-life batteries. The company’s Prius, dating to 1997, was the first mass-market gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle, and its batteries are among the first to reach recycling age en masse.

Redwood Materials, founded by former Tesla Chief Technology Officer JB Straubel, aims to break down end-of-life batteries and use their materials in new ones. Ford, Volvo and Tesla have already struck deals with the company.

“Toyota helped pave the way for clean transportation with the introduction of the Toyota Prius more than 20 years ago. Their commitment not only to sell millions of electrified vehicles this decade but to ensure their circularity into the future is a critical step for electrification,” Straubel said in a press release last week.

Creating a “circular ecosystem” for Toyota’s batteries is the long-term goal of the collaboration. This would involve Redwood Materials breaking down Toyota’s batteries and sending their materials back to the company’s North American plants to be manufactured into new batteries.

This could alleviate some of the supply chain disruptions the industry has been facing, in addition to cutting out environmentally harmful harvesting practices for “virgin” materials such as lithium, cobalt and other metals.

Alexis Georgeson, vice president of communications and government relations for Redwood Materials, said the recycling of vehicle batteries is crucial for the sustainability of the EV industry on the continent.

“Localizing and onshoring this is really critical to be able to drive up electrification in this country, and we’re seeing more and more automakers that are recognizing that,” Georgeson said. “Both on recycling as well as on sourcing the battery materials more locally that go into their cell manufacturing.”

However, recycled materials will not be going into Toyota’s EV batteries in the near future.

Matthew Stich, general manager overseeing Toyota’s Battery Lifecycle Solutions team, said this collaboration will involve collecting, testing and recycling Toyota’s hybrid electric vehicle batteries.

He did suggest the possibility of material remanufacturing, data management and battery health screening in the future.

“Our collaboration with Redwood Materials starts with collecting end-of-life batteries, studying them and then how to recycle them,” Stich wrote in an email to Automotive News. “We hope to expand the relationship further, so understanding the state of these batteries and if there are other uses for them, such as power storage, will be useful.”

The industry can expect to see more deals with companies such as Redwood Materials in the future.

Sam Abuelsamid, principal analyst at Guidehouse Insights, said battery recycling could produce upward of half of the materials used to build batteries in North America within the decade.

“If Redwood was producing 500 gigawatt-hours worth of materials by 2030, that’s getting close to half of the demand,” he said. “So that correspondingly reduces the amount that you have to mine and process in terms of virgin materials.”

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