Tesla Cofounder JB Straubel Aims To Solve A Key Problem Of E-Bike Batteries
JB Straubel, who was one of the co-founders of Tesla as well as its former chief technology offer, is the founder of Redwood Materials, which focuses on recycling electric car batteries. However, now, The Verge reports that Straubel’s company is teaming up with Specialized to recycle the e-bike industry’s batteries, a lingering problem of hazardous waste the industry has been struggling with.
Specialized is the third-largest bike maker in the US based on market share, and it’s partnering with Redwood Materials to create a process for recycling its e-bike batteries. E-bike batteries are often attached to or integrated within the downtube of the bike (see above) and activate the moor when the cyclists are either pedaling or using the throttle.
Chris Yu, chief product officer at Specialized, told The Verge that the bikes are built to last a lifetime, but the batteries typically run out of power after four to six years. “Generally, the bikes will long outlast the packs for the typical user,” he said. “And so it’s always been in the back of our minds: what do we do about them?”
This is where Redwood Materials comes in. JB Straubel’s company promises that all of its recycling is done here in the U.S. although much of the e-waste here is shipped to developing companies for smelting before being reused and recovered.
The Verge explained the details of how this partnership will work:
“Specialized will recover depleted e-bike batteries through its network of retail partners and then ship those batteries to Redwood’s facility in Northern Nevada. The first step will be to figure out how much of the battery is reusable, such as various connectors, wires, plastics, and other components. After that, Redwood will begin a chemical recycling process, in which it strips out and refines the relevant elements, like nickel, cobalt, and copper. A certain percentage of that refined material can then be reintegrated into the battery-making process.”
Strauble told The Verge, “Usually, there’s not very much else in there that’s very recyclable,” and pointed out that, “But we strive to really minimize any separate waste streams.”
By the end of 2021, Specialized said that each of its e-bike batteries will “have a pathway” to Redwood’s recycling facility. This means that the company will educate its customers through their local Specialized retailer or through diagnostic notifications via the company’s smartphone app, notifications such as the expected end-of-life date of their e-bike’s battery and available recycling opportunities. Specialized has been piloting this process and, currently, 100% of the battery packs it collects are going to Redwood.
Tsunami Of Dead Batteries From E-Bikes
The article noted that e-bike sales are booming and there will be an expected tsunami of dead batteries that need to be recycled in the coming decades. More electric bikes were sold in Germany last year (2 million) than all of the EVs sold in Europe, and over 547,000 were sold in the Netherlands alone. Deloitte believes that 120 million e-bikes will be sold globally within the next two years, which will make them the most popular battery-powered vehicle on earth.
The article touched upon the friendship between Straubel and Mike Sinyard, who is the CEO of Specialized, and noted that these data points are what convinced Straubel to team up with the company on this project. Straubel was surprised by the amount of e-waste from e-bikes that is processed for recycling. “It’s kind of a bellwether, I think, for passenger EVs,” he said, “and that’s been a really fascinating thing.”
The Dark Side Of E-Waste Recycling
Unfortunately, many companies send raw materials overseas to developing nations that do not have the infrastructure for safe processing. The Verge also published a feature on just how horrible this is and shared the story of Jim Pucket, the head of the Basel Action Network (BAN), which discovered that Total Reclaim, which was run by people he knew and respected, sent more than 8 million pounds of flat-screen monitors with mercury to Hong Kong. According to an EPA toxicologist report, workers there were at risk of being poisoned. You can read more of that investigation here. Naturally, this is causing an ecological disaster as well as putting the lives of those in developing nations at risk.
Straubel pointed out to The Verge that Redwood is different since it does all of its recycling here in the US. Not just the separation and aggregation processes, but all of it, and Straubel aims for maximum transparency. He’s invited all of his clients to come to the facility and inspect the entire process.
One thing that will help Redwood and companies such as Specialized would be if recycling lithium-ion batteries was incentivized. The article noted that a bill was just introduced in the US House of Representatives that would do just this, and that another bill would offer a tax credit for anyone who purchases an e-bike.
You can read the full article here.