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Panasonic battery cells made at the Gigafactory it operates with Tesla will use more recycled materials by the end of 2022 as part of an expanded partnership with startup Redwood Materials.
Panasonic said Tuesday at the 2022 CES tech trade show that Redwood Materials will start supplying it with copper foil produced from recycled materials, a critical component of the anode side of a battery cell. Redwood will begin producing the copper foil in the first half of the year; the copper foil will then head to Panasonic where it will be used in cell production by the end of the year.
The announcement marks Panasonic's push to use more recycled materials, which in turn helps it reduce the amount of newly mined raw materials it must rely on; it also shows how Redwood continues to grow its business.
Electric vehicles on the road today are equipped with lithium-ion batteries. A battery contains two electrodes. There's an anode (negative) on one side and a cathode (positive) on the other. An electrolyte sits in the middle and acts as the courier that moves ions between the electrodes when charging and discharging. The anode is typically made of copper foil coated with graphite.
As automakers ramp up the production of electric vehicles — and eventually replace those with cars and trucks equipped with internal combustion engines — demand for batteries and the materials within them is expected to skyrocket. Nearly every major automaker that committed to electrifying their vehicle portfolio has also locked in partnerships with battery cell manufacturers and other suppliers in an effort to shore up its supply chain.
Redwood Materials, which was founded by former Tesla CTO JB Straubel in 2017, is aiming to create a circular supply chain. The company recycles scrap from battery cell production as well as consumer electronics like cell phone batteries, laptop computers, power tools, power banks, scooters and electric bicycles. It then processes these discarded goods, extracting materials like cobalt, nickel and lithium that are typically mined, and then supplies those back to Panasonic and other customers (it has also publicly disclosed that it is working with Amazon and AESC Envision in Tennessee).
The aim is to create a closed-loop system that will ultimately help reduce the cost of batteries and offset the need for mining.
Redwood's announcement earlier this year that it had purchased 100 acres of land near Gigafactory was a hint at this expanded partnership with Panasonic.
"Our work together to establish a domestic circular supply chain for batteries is an important step in realizing the full opportunity that EVs have to shape a much more sustainable world," Panasonic Energy of North America President Allan Swan said during the presentation.
Redwood announced in September plans to produce critical battery materials right in the United States. The company plans to build a $2 billion factory that will produce cathodes and anode foils up to a projected volume of 100 gigawatt-hour per year’s worth of materials; that's enough for one million electric vehicles, by 2025.