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Tesla released its 2020 Impact Report this week, in which the electric vehicle (EV) automaker claims it has the capacity to recover approximately 92 percent of battery cell materials thanks to ongoing improvements to its recycling process. 

The company has been working with third-party recycling firms for years to improve its capacity for end-of-life battery recycling. In doing so it hopes to curb the environmental cost of mining materials such as cobalt that are needed for the batteries — one of the main points EV detractors bring up when arguing against the technology.

We need to talk about lithium-ion batteries

Since its inception, Tesla has been keenly aware of the environmental impact of battery production. A recent IVL report, for example, stated that lithium-ion battery production emits between 61-106 kilos of carbon dioxide equivalents per kilowatt-hour battery capacity produced. That’s why improving its recycling processes has been a high-priority goal for the firm alongside other goals such as improving driver safety with its full self-driving software. In fact, Tesla co-founder and CTO JB Straubel quit the company in 2019 to found an EV battery recycling firm called Redwood Materials. 

As Tesla points out in its report, the “Tesla battery pack is designed to outlast the vehicle itself. Because of this, few consumer Tesla batteries — even those from our nearly nine-year-old Model S cars — have been decommissioned to date.” Therefore, Tesla says that its battery factories have begun incorporating an “in-house, closed-loop recycling system that will ensure 100% of Tesla batteries received are recycled and up to 92% of their raw metals reused.”

EV battery recycling is set to take off

In the report, Tesla confirms that it installed the first phase of its cell recycling facility at Gigafactory Nevada in the fourth quarter of 2020. The firm explains that the facility brings the world of EVs a step closer to battery recycling at scale.

The EV automaker also suggested that the technology will soon be implemented in its Gigafactory in Germany. “As the manufacturer of our in-house cell program, we are best positioned to recycle our products efficiently to maximize key battery material recovery,” Tesla explains. “With the implementation of in-house cell manufacturing at Gigafactory Berlin-Brandenburg and Gigafactory Texas, we expect substantial increases in manufacturing scrap globally.”

Overall, Tesla states that its goal is to develop a safe, low-cost recycling process with high recovery rates and a low environmental impact. In its report, it also said “we expect to recognize significant savings over the long term as the costs associated with large-scale battery material recovery and recycling will be far lower than purchasing additional raw materials for cell manufacturing.” 

Tesla also released figures on the specific amount of materials it recycled from battery packs in 2020. It stated that it recycled 1,300 tons of nickel, 400 tons of copper, and 80 tons of cobalt. Unlike with Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s recent u-turn on cryptocurrency payments, turning back on battery technologies is not an option at this point, meaning that the only solution is to improve the global capacity for battery recycling.

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