Tesla co-founder’s battery recycling firm Redwood Materials doubles down on Reno area. The company plans to grow its workforce from a little over 100 today to more than 600 employees in just the next couple of years

Construction is underway on for Redwood Materials' new facility at the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center. The battery recycler was founded by former Tesla executive JB Straubel.

The acquisition of a huge swath of land at the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center represents a key turning point for Redwood Materials, which is also undertaking a major expansion of its facilities in Carson City more than 20 miles south of its new property. Prior to making noise with its recent moves, the company has been growing quietly in Northern Nevada since its founding in 2017.

With used battery packs from older electric vehicles expected to turn from a steady stream to a tsunami in the coming years — not to mention the continued role that batteries play in widely used consumer electronics — there’s a greater sense of urgency within the company to take bigger and bolder action. 
If Straubel’s name sounds familiar, that’s because he helped start the most well-known tenant at Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center to date — Tesla. The electric vehicle manufacturer picked the Northern Nevada industrial park nearly seven years ago as the site of its first Gigafactory, which it continues to operate alongside Panasonic.

As Tesla’s former chief technology officer, Straubel is quite familiar with Tesla’s large-scale battery plant. The executive played an instrumental role in setting up the Gigafactory prior to moving into an advisory role with the company in 2019.

With Redwood Materials’ new facility, Straubel is now involved in what is essentially a reverse mirror image of the Gigafactory. While the joint venture between Tesla and Panasonic creates battery packs from various components, Redwood Materials breaks down older batteries and battery scrap in order to reacquire those base components so they can be reused again. And again. And again.
The goal is to create a closed-loop recycling process, which reduces the electronic waste from lithium-ion batteries and other energy-based products while shortening what Straubel describes as a “tortured supply chain” for batteries.

“The critical materials that go into these batteries don’t degrade in their usage,” Straubel said. “They can be used hundreds and thousands of times and the economic benefit of that becomes really significant, not to mention the environmental benefit.”

To understand the magnitude of the battery issue, one only needs to reach into their pocket or purse and pull out their smartphone.
Now multiply that by billions. That’s the amount of e-waste that the world has to deal with once those electronics live out their life cycle and have to be disposed of. And that’s just smartphones. When it comes to personal electronics alone, you’re also talking tablets, laptops, electric shavers — the list goes on and on for products that use batteries. “It’s multiple phones, AirPods, maybe bicycles, power tools and even toothbrushes, which is kind of incredible,” Straubel said.
Above - Tesla CEO Elon Musk talks in July 2016, about the Gigafactory alongside Tesla co-founder JB Straubel and Panasonic's Yoshihiko Yamada.

In addition to breaking ground at the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center, the company is in the midst of expanding its 150,000-square-foot facility in Carson City up to 550,000 square feet within the next two years. The company declined to provide its actual investment numbers for the expansion, only saying that it will be hundreds of millions of dollars. 

Redwood Materials Carson City facility. Redwood is a battery recycler that works with companies such as Panasonic, Tesla and Amazon.

“Nevada is the only state in our nation that is both mining critical materials and manufacturing the lithium-ion batteries that are building the world’s electric vehicles and clean energy technologies,” Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak said. “And now Nevada is making this process even more sustainable by supporting cutting edge companies like Redwood Materials.”
Redwood cited several reasons for the decision to base the company in Northern Nevada. One is proximity to the oldest and largest EV market in the world: California.

“California is one of the early adopters of electric cars years ago and it’s also going to be one of the ones to need a solution (for used EV batteries) a little bit before other places,” Straubel said. “We’re already seeing EV batteries and recycling some of them.”

Shrinking the distance for recycling as well as supplying recycled minerals for batteries is especially important when it comes to reducing the supply chain’s carbon footprint. In some cases, the minerals can travel tens of thousands of miles, which can include trips from South American mines all the way to China and Japan before they finally reach the United States.

Another reason Straubel cited for basing his company in Northern Nevada is familiarity. Straubel became keenly aware of how things work in Nevada while he was helping set up the Gigafactory — the tax climate, the process surrounding the permitting and construction of a new facility, workforce development, as well as the key players in the state. Straubel liked what he saw.

“It’s a very business-friendly climate politically and economically and there’s generally more space to grow,” Straubel said. “You could also build a company a little bit faster and do so without some of the constraints … you have in California or other places.”