Ford partners with battery recycling and materials startup Redwood Materials amid EV push

·4 min read

Ford Motor has tapped Redwood Materials to create a closed loop system for its upcoming deluge of electric vehicles — a partnership that will cover recycling production scrap and EVs at the end of their life as well as supplying the automaker with raw battery materials.

The deal comes as Ford adds more electric vehicles to its portfolio, including the Mustang Mach E that launched last year and the upcoming F-150 Lightning pickup truck. Securing a supply of batteries — or the materials to make them — has prompted the automotive industry to partner with cell manufacturers and increasingly turn to companies like Redwood Materials.

Ford alone will require a hefty supply. The company's global plans for battery electric vehicle calls for at least 240 gigawatt hours of battery cell capacity by 2030, according to the automaker. That is roughly 10 plants' worth of capacity. Ford has previously said that 140 GWh will be required in North America, with the balance dedicated to other regions, including Europe and China.

"Closing the loop for us in our end-of-life products and allowing those to re-enter the supply chain will help us drive down costs," Lisa Drake, Ford's chief operating officer in North America, said during a press briefing. "Of course, it'll help us reduce the reliance on importing a lot of the materials that we use today when we build the batteries. And then it'll reduce the mining of raw materials, which is going to be incredibly important in the future as we start to scale on this space."

All of this, Drake says, will made EVs cheaper and more sustainable.

Redwood Materials recycles scrap from battery cell production and consumer electronics like cell phone batteries, laptop computers, power tools, power banks, scooters and electric bicycles. The company, which was founded and is led by former Tesla CTO JB Straubel, says it can recover, on average, more than 95% of the elements like nickel, cobalt, lithium and copper.

Redwood then processes these discarded goods, extracting materials like cobalt, nickel and lithium that are typically mined, and supplies those back to its customers, which today includes Panasonic at the Gigafactory in Nevada that it operates with Tesla and Envision AESC’s battery plant in Tennessee. Redwood has also partnered with Amazon to recycle EV and other lithium-ion batteries and e-waste from parts of their businesses. Redwood's first automotive partnership was secured earlier this year with electric commercial vehicle manufacturer Proterra.

"The risk is that we find ourselves in a situation perhaps a little bit similar to current global semiconductor shortage if we don't plan ahead, and if we aren't strategic about the production capacity and the right regions at the right time," Straubel said during the briefing.

Under the partnership announced Wednesday, Redwood Materials will initially work with Ford to set up recycling within the automaker's battery production network and then funnel the recovered raw materials back to the manufacturer to be used in batteries. While Ford didn't provide specific details, that likely means working with its battery cell supplier SK.

In May, Ford and SK signed an initial agreement to create a joint venture -- to be called BlueOvalSK -- to produce approximately 60 gigawatt hours annually in traction battery cells and array modules, starting mid-decade.

The ultimate aim of the Redwood Materials-Ford partnership is to touch the entire battery lifecycle from recycling production scrap and supplying Ford with materials to creating recycling options for the end-of-life vehicles. That last piece is complex because Ford will no longer own its EVs, many of which will have multiple owners before they're ready for the scrap heap.

The deal follows a string of announcements in recent months by Redwood Materials. The company recently raised more than $775 million — a round that TechCrunch learned includes $50 million from Ford. (The company initially announced the round was more than $700 million.)

It also revealed in September plans to expand its business beyond battery recycling and into the production of critical battery materials at a new million-square-foot factory in the United States. Redwood wants to produce cathodes and anode foils, the building blocks of a lithium-ion battery structure.

The factory, for which the company is currently scouting a location, would likely be dedicated to the production of cathodes. Redwood has said it intends for the factory to ramp up to 100 gigawatt hours of capacity to produce cathode material, enough for one million electric vehicles by 2025.

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