Elon Musk Has a Plan for Battery Recycling and It’s Actually Not Bad

Elon Musk Has a Plan for Battery Recycling and It’s Actually Not Bad

Today, Tesla held its 2023 ‘Investor Day’ live stream, where it was expected to reveal its next-generation vehicle… but instead just teased that it was working on it throughout the presentation. However, Tesla did give us a rough outline of its battery recycling plan, and indicated how it hopes to rely on battery recycling for the future of sustainability and its fleet.

Battery recycling is a big part of the move toward a more climate-positive auto industry. Nissan, for example, has plans to recycle Leaf batteries by installing them as scaleable storage batteries for its facilities, which was a great announcement, considering that lithium mining isn’t terrific for the planet.

The hope is that battery recycling will lower the auto industry’s dependence on mineral demand.

And Tesla reflected on this for a moment today. When unveiling the company’s ‘Master Plan’, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said sustainability was “the main message of today”.

“This resource extraction, we go through this effort – we build these batteries and then we recycle these batteries, so ultimately, we’re doing this to build this sustainable energy economy but the maintenance amount of ore that we require is really an order of magnitude or more – or less, because of recycling,” senior vice president of powertrain and energy engineering at Tesla Drew Baglino explained.

“So in the end, a sustainable energy economy is within our reach and we should accelerate it.”

Musk added that the electrified economy will require “less mining than the current economy does”.

One of Tesla’s hopes is that, with a greater reliance on recycling, battery energy storage and a greater focus on sustainable energy, the culmination of these things will reduce habitat loss. That being said, this point was very much glossed over, and it’s difficult to imagine mining taking place in parts of the world that wouldn’t suffer habitat loss (for example, it was posited that mining could be moved to barren deserts, but they’re habitats themselves, throwaway thought, obviously).

Here’s Tesla’s plan for battery recycling.

tesla battery recycling plan
Screenshot: Gizmodo Australia

And here’s a snapshot of Tesla’s master plan, and what it thinks needs to happen to create a sustainable energy economy.

tesla battery recycling plan (2)
Screenshot: Gizmodo Australia

And another snapshot of the plan.

tesla battery recycling plan (3)
Screenshot: Gizmodo Australia

Anyway, battery cycling is something that the company has been working on for a while now. Back in May 2022, Tesla significantly increased its battery recycling capacity, although it only sees a few battery backs being returned. Tesla also has a page on its website dedicated to battery recycling.

“Extending the life of a battery pack is a superior option to recycling for both environmental and business reasons. For those reasons, before decommissioning a consumer battery pack and sending it for recycling, Tesla does everything it can to extend the useful life of each battery pack,” the page reads.

“Any battery that is no longer meeting a customer’s needs can be serviced by Tesla at one of our Service Centers around the world. None of our scrapped lithium-ion batteries go to landfilling, and 100 per cent are recycled.”

But of course, this doesn’t mean Tesla’s drawing a line in the sand on mining new battery-dependent materials. Musk attempted to debunk people’s concerns about lithium in a way that I actually kind of liked:

“There seems to be quite a bit of confusion about lithium. Lithium is extremely common, it’s one of the most common elements on Earth. There’s no country that has a monopoly on lithium, or even close to it. There’s enough lithium in the U.S. to electrify all of Earth, if the U.S. was the only place producing lithium,” Musk said.

“The limiting factor is the refining of lithium into battery-grade lithium hydroxide or lithium carbonate.”

He also called Earth a “muddy rust ball” when talking about how much iron was available on the planet.

The company also showed off a bunch of other cool things on Investor Day. Although the next vehicle model was nowhere to be seen, the company did confirm that it would be built on a new platform with a new construction process being implemented, to improve factory efficiency.

Musk also gave a really weird presentation on the company’s robot, Optimus, that was 90 per cent waffle and 10 per cent just really uninteresting tech.

Tesla also announced that it had built its 4 millionth vehicle on the morning of the presentation, and the next Gigafactory would be established in Mexico.

Or, you know, maybe everything that was said at the event was bullshit. That’s what the disclaimer implied, at least.

The plan for recycling wasn’t the biggest thing discussed at today’s event, but I thought it was worth bringing up, in case anyone reading was unsure about lithium recycling.

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