Toyota wants 'closed loop' EV batteries in its future cars

Automaker wants to develop recycling, remanufacturing processes

Toyota has ambitious plans for the future of its electric vehicles, and it's turning to a Tesla founder to make them happen.

The North American arm of the Japanese automaker has partnered with Redwood Materials to help it develop a battery supply chain that collects, recycles, refurbishes, and remanufactures EV batteries and their materials. Redwood was founded by Tesla co-founder and former CTO JB Straubel.

Redwood's work will start with testing and recycling Toyota batteries, spokesperson Alexis Georgeson said in a statement. "We will then expand into other areas including battery health screening and data management, remanufacturing, and battery material supply throughout North America."

Toyota says it ultimately wants to create a closed loop battery manufacturing process for all its EV powertrains. Redwood also has partnerships with Ford, Volvo, and other battery and EV manufacturers on similar and unrelated battery sustainability projects.

Toyota's involvement comes as the first generation of its Prius hybrid vehicles, introduced in 1997, begin to leave service. Most EV batteries ready for recycling currency come from Priuses. Redwood said it also has plans to expand operations in North Carolina, where it said it will serve Toyota's new EV battery factory.

EV battery recycling needs to grow

Electrification solves one pollution problem only to introduce another that's also harmful: battery waste. Electric car makers are increasingly public about this reality, with Tesla, Panasonic (makers of Tesla batteries), GM, and Ford all invested in battery recycling programs of some sort.

Redwood said it collects six gigawatt-hours of batteries annually – the average US home uses just under 11,000 kilowatt-hours of energy in the same time frame – and it's only one organization. Several other startups have appeared with the mission of handling a growing number of end-of-life EV batteries and have tried different methods to reuse as much material as possible. 

In addition, EV manufacturers have turned their automotive battery technology to home energy storage. Toyota in particular recently launched a battery system that can use EV batteries to store solar energy, and Tesla has offered the Powerwall for more than half a decade.

Proposals have also been put forth to use EV batteries to store home electricity, a move that researchers involved said could cut the cost of solar installations by half. 

The EV market is predicted to continue growing in the next several years, with one prediction saying EVs will experience a CAGR of 25 percent between 2021 and 2028. Redwood said it plans to scale its process to build enough recycled anode and cathode components to produce more than a million EVs a year.

The US may not be the place to focus battery recycling initiatives, though. Six and a half million EVs were sold in 2021, but US buyers only purchased 535,000 of them. ®

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