Electric car affordability for the masses just may hinge on recycling of e-waste, particularly mining old cell phones for nickel, cobalt, and lithium to make enough batteries to power the mountain of electric cars coming soon. Virgin mining and extraction from nature is more and more costly, both economically and environmentally speaking.
Market forces often drive the biggest change and lead to disruptive innovation. In this case, flipping the paradigm from the commodity market dictating the price of these metals needed for the electric cars of the future to a radical shift in material savings that short circuits the mining and commodities markets all together. That’s disruption at its best: mining is no longer financially viable!
Demand is driving this change: Most, if not all, major auto manufacturers are working on an electric car. According to the Wall Street Journal article, “The Secret to Affordable Electric Cars?”, global demand for lithium-ion batteries is expected over the next five years to jump to nearly “800 gigawatt hours from 177 gwh last year.” The cost of batteries has long been the barrier to affordability for electric cars. Until now —thanks to JB Straubel, Telsa’s #2 man. Straubel saw incredible amounts of waste at Tesla (which is true of the car industry in general) and decided to leave Tesla to found a consumer and vehicle electronic battery recycling company: Redwood Materials.
Straubel estimates that the current supply of this type of e-waste is valued at billions of dollars, not to mention the value of protecting nature, which is still considered an “external” cost. In our world of supply and demand, Straubel is on target over the next 10 years to bring the price of these raw materials (lithium, cobalt, etc.) down to half compared to mines.
And, the other good news is that the recycling process designed by Straubel doesn’t lead to additional waste, nothing is sent to the landfill. Panasonic is partnering with Straubel, eager to see if the recycled materials can be refined enough to be used in their batteries.
Straubel’s vision: “To create a recycling process so efficient that batteries coming out of electric cars being retired in the coming years could be quickly stripped down, recycled for their core materials, and used to rebuild new power cells, creating a closed loop where hardly any materials are lost.” Welcome to the circular economy.
This is the kind of game and industry changing innovation the planet needs right now. This is a good example of investing in what I call “moon shot” innovations that will change the world rapidly— and just in time.
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