Electric vehicle batteries require precious minerals. That old cellphone may be the solution

February 13, 2023

ABC News, February 12, 2023, Morgan Korn

That old laptop, cellphone and TV remote may have a newfound purpose: powering the next generation of electric vehicles.

Luxury brand Audi recently partnered with Redwood Materials, a battery recycling startup, to collect rechargeable batteries found in everyday consumer devices — phones, hearing aides, electric toothbrushes and video game controllers. At least 10 Audi dealerships in the U.S. have so far opted into the burgeoning program, with more expected to join in the coming months.

Devices dropped off at dealerships are shipped to Redwood’s Nevada facilities for the sorting, recycling and remanufacturing of cobalt and lithium — two minerals required for EV battery production.

Audi is the first automaker to partner with Redwood to “support the collection of household lithium-ion batteries alongside larger EV battery recycling efforts,” according to a spokesperson.

Five percent of vehicles sold in the U.S. last year were EVs, a percentage that will rapidly increase as less expensive models arrive on the market and Americans become more familiar with charging. Growing interest in EVs has accelerated the push for valuable minerals like cobalt, nickel and lithium that are extracted from overseas mines at heavy environmental and humanitarian costs.

Recycling of consumer batteries can reduce the forced extraction of precious minerals and create a domestic supply that meets the government’s and automakers’ EV goals, according to Alexis Georgeson, Redwood’s vice president of government relations and communications.

“The U.S. is one of the largest consumers of lithium-ion devices,” she told ABC News. “Consumers are itching to get rid of these devices. There’s a tremendous opportunity for recycling.”

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