Recycling startup Redwood Materials is partnering with Proterra to supply EV battery materials sustainably

A growing number of companies have emerged over the last few years determined to reduce waste in the electric vehicle battery market. Chief among these is recycling firm Redwood Materials, which has quickly expanded since its launch in 2017 by Tesla co-founder JB Straubel to become the largest lithium-ion battery recycler in North America. Now the firm is teaming up with electric commercial vehicle manufacturer Proterra in a deal that may help boost the domestic battery supply chain.

This is the first publicly announced partnership between Redwood and an automaker.

Under the agreement, all Proterra batteries will be sent to Redwood’s facilities for recycling in Carson City, Nevada. The two companies entered the agreement in January, but have been in discussion since last summer, when Proterra reached out to learn more about Redwood’s recycling process. That led to a trip out to Redwood’s facilities in Nevada to see if the recycler could process Proterra battery packs.

“That went really well,” Proterra CTO Dustin Grace told TechCrunch. Grace worked for Straubel for around nine years at Tesla. “We were super excited to see their operation. From there, we started work on our master supply agreement.”

Proterra has sent around 26,000 pounds of battery material to Nevada for recycling since entering the partnership, though this does not represent the pace of future deliveries. Overall, Redwood receives 60 tons per day, or 20,000 tons of batteries per year.

The batteries that power Proterra’s fleets are designed to last the lifespan of the vehicle, but the company offers a battery leasing program that guarantees replacement after six years — which means plenty of useful life will remain in the battery, as much as 80-90% charging capacity. To exploit the remainder of this capacity, Proterra has plans to reuse the batteries in second-life applications — such as in stationary storage systems hooked up to Proterra charging hardware — before they head to Nevada.

“First the grading of the battery will occur at Proterra by our remanufacturing engineering team. If the battery is deemed ready for second-life, it will go into one of those applications; if it’s not, it gets recycled,” Grace said.

Only once all this useful life is exhausted will the batteries be sent to Redwood, where the waste will be reprocessed into valuable raw material. And with the transit EV market poised to reach 50% of all annual sales by 2025, there will be plenty of batteries that will need reprocessing.

The news comes just weeks after Redwood announced it was teaming up with e-bike manufacturer Specialized to recycle its batteries. Redwood already has arrangements to process scrap from Panasonic’s battery cell production at the Nevada Tesla Gigafactory, and with Amazon to recycle EV batteries and other waste. Through these business-to-business partnerships Redwood aims to develop a circular battery supply chain, supplying the raw materials back to the manufacturer. The company also accepts electronics and batteries from everyday consumers, which can be mailed to Redwood via a mailing address posted on its website.  

The partnership is a sign that both companies are thinking large-scale and long-term. A spokesperson for Redwood said in a statement to TechCrunch that the recycler is focused on “developing the solution for a fully closed-loop recycling for EV batteries.” That means finding truly sustainable, long-term sources of materials like cobalt, lithium and copper to eventually move beyond terrestrial mining. And Straubel has been vocal in the past about his ambition to grow Redwood into one of the world’s largest battery materials companies.

As more battery-grade raw materials become available in the United States, Proterra sees an opportunity to eventually expand into domestic battery-cell manufacturing.

“It’s still early days but we’re trying to set ourselves up for the future state of this market at scale. That’s really the primary benefit of this partnership existing today,” Grace said. “The way we see it, domestic cell production for Proterra is a very, very important part of our roadmap here in the coming years. The idea of generating more battery-grade raw materials on North American soil directly supports the expansion of that battery manufacturing concept within the U.S. So I think this starting now absolutely aids our plans for domestic cell manufacturing in the near future.”

Will the pandemic spur a smart rebirth for cities?

Cities traditionally have been bustling hubs where people live, work and play. When the pandemic hit, some people fled major metropolitan markets for smaller towns — raising questions about the future validity of cities. It’s true that we’re still months away from broader reopenings and herd immunity via current vaccination efforts.

However, those who predicted that COVID-19 would destroy major urban communities might want to stop shorting the resilience of these municipalities and start going long on what the post-pandemic future looks like.

Those who predicted that COVID-19 would destroy major urban communities might want to stop shorting the resilience of these municipalities and start going long on what the post-pandemic future looks like.

U.N. forecasts show that by 2030, two-thirds of the world’s population will reside in cities, communities that are the epicenters of culture, innovation, wealth, education and tourism, to mention just a few benefits. They are not only worth saving — they’re also ripe for rebirth, precisely why many municipal leaders in the U.S. anticipate the Biden administration will allocate substantial monetary resources to rebuilding legacy infrastructure (and doing so in a way that prioritizes equitable access). 

With this emphasis on inclusivity and social innovation, the tech community has the ability to address a range of lifestyle and well-being issues: infrastructure, transportation and mobility, law enforcement, environmental monitoring and energy allocation.

In this time of reset for cities, what smart city technologies will transform how we live our lives? What kinds of technology will make the biggest impact on cities in the next 12 months? Which smart cities are ahead of the curve? 

To unpack these questions and more, we conducted the SmartCityX Survey of industry experts — including smart city investors, corporate and municipal thought leaders, members of academia and startups on the front lines of urban innovation — to help provide valuable insights into where we’re heading. Below you’ll find some key takeaways:

Infrastructure is the most crucial issue for cities

Critical infrastructure topped the list of most prominent issues facing today’s cities, followed closely by traffic and transportation. Cisco may have left the party too soon, but others, including countless startups, are lining up and capitalizing on future growth opportunities in the space. A couple of recent data points that support this trend — particularly as it relates to infrastructure rebuilding, IoT and open toolkits to connect fragmented technologies — include the following:  

Smart Infrastructure is paramount to Smart City success. It’s crucial that this infrastructure be “architected” as opposed to just connected. This is the only way to truly achieve seamless interoperability while ensuring scalability, reliability, security and privacy. Technology companies that offer robust architectural components and/or platforms stand to deliver tremendous stakeholder value and outsized returns to investors.Sue Stash, general partner, Pandemic Impact Fund

What’s driving change in cities?

When asked what will accelerate innovation and change in cities, an overwhelming majority cited COVID-19 as the primary factor, followed by remote work, which has accelerated the adoption of online collaboration tools and forced legacy companies to complete multiyear digital transformation projects in a matter of months. The biggest opportunity is to build cities back better and smarter, focusing on new infrastructures that do more with less, and for most of us, that begins and ends at home.

A Supreme Court ruling affirming Canada’s carbon tax opens the door for a startup explosion

Last week the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that the national government’s plan to tax carbon emissions was legal in a decision that could have significant implications for the nation’s climate-focused startup companies.

The ruling put an end to roughly two years of legal challenges and could set the stage for a boom in funding and commercial support for Canadian startup companies developing technologies to curb greenhouse gas emissions, according to investors and entrepreneurs representing some of the world’s largest utilities and petrochemical companies.

“The high price on carbon has the potential to make Canada a powerhouse for scaling up breakthrough decarbonization technologies and for deploying solutions like carbon capture, industrial electrification, and hydrogen electrolysis,” said one investor who works with a fund that backs startups on behalf of large energy businesses.

This 2018 Greenhouse Gas Pricing Act is the cornerstone of the Canadian climate policy pushed through by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. It establishes minimum pricing standards that all provinces have to meet but gives the provinces the ability to set higher prices. So far, seven of the nation’s 13 provinces are currently paying the “backstop” rate set by the national government.

That price is C$30 per tonne of carbon dioxide released, but is set to rise to C$170 per tonne by 2030. That figure is just a bit higher than the current prices that Californians are charged under the state’s carbon pricing plan and roughly four times the price on carbon set by the Northeastern Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

Under the plan, much of the money raised through the tax levied by the Canadian government would be used to support projects and technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions or create more sustainable approaches to industry.

“Climate change is real. It is caused by greenhouse gas emissions resulting from human activities, and it poses a grave threat to humanity’s future,” Chief Justice Richard Wagner wrote, on behalf of the majority, in the Supreme Court ruling.

Three provinces — Alberta, Ontario and Saskatchewan challenged the legality of the greenhouse gas policy, and Alberta’s challenge was allowed to proceed to the high court — holding up the national implementation of the pricing scheme.

With the roadblocks removed, entrepreneurs and investors around the world expect the carbon scheme to quickly boost the prospects of Canadian startups.

“This represents underlying government support and a huge pot of money. If you wanted macro support for an underlying shift in sectoral developments that could substantiate and support tech companies working on climate change mitigation what better then when the government has told you that we care about this and money is free?” said BeZero Carbon founder, Tommy Ricketts. “There couldn’t be a better condition for startups in Canada.”

Companies that stand to directly benefit from a carbon tax in Canada include businesses like Kanin Energy, which develops decarbonization projects, including waste heat to power; CERT, which is currently competing in the carbon Xprize and is working on a way to convert carbon dioxide to ethylene; and SeeO2, a company also working on carbon dioxide conversion technologies.

Geothermal technologies like Quaise and Eavor could also see a boost, as will companies that focus on the electrification of the transportation industry in Canada.

Farther afield are the companies like Planetary Hydrogen, which combines hydrogen production and carbon capture in a way that also contributes to ocean de-acidification.

“Think about the gas at the pump. That is going to get charged extra,” said one investor who works for the venture arm of one of the largest oil and gas companies in the world, who was not authorized to speak to the press. “For cleaner energy the price will definitely be reduced. And think about where this tax is going. Most of the tax is going to go to government funding into cleantech or climate-tech companies. So you have a double boost for startups in the carbon footprint reduction area.”


Early Stage is the premier “how-to” event for startup entrepreneurs and investors. You’ll hear firsthand how some of the most successful founders and VCs build their businesses, raise money and manage their portfolios. We’ll cover every aspect of company building: Fundraising, recruiting, sales, product-market fit, PR, marketing and brand building. Each session also has audience participation built-in — there’s ample time included for audience questions and discussion. Use code “TCARTICLE” at checkout to get 20% off tickets right here.

Berlin’s Blacklane raises $26M to expand its high-end chauffeur-driven sustainable car service

As the Ubers of the world continue to scale, a smaller on-demand transportation startup has raised some funding in Germany, underscoring the opportunities that remain for startups in the space targeting specific service niches. Blacklane — the Berlin startup that provides on-demand black-car chauffeur services in Berlin, London, Dubai, Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Singapore and 16 other cities — has closed a round of €22 million ($26 million at current rates). After taking a majority stake in Havn, the Jaguar-hatched electric car service in London, in February, Blacklane said that it will be using this latest round of funding to continue expanding sustainable travel initiatives, and to continue expanding its existing business with more flexible options for riding.

The funding, which is being made at an upround valuation, is a sign of how the company is showing signs of growth after a year in which monthly revenues dropped 99% in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting drop in travel, and specifically people willing to be in small spaces that are shared with others.

“The global travel and mobility industries have suffered, with several players struggling between drastic cuts, hibernation or ceasing operations. Blacklane has taken the opportunity to cater to travelers’ emerging needs,” said Dr. Jens Wohltorf, CEO and co-founder of Blacklane, in a statement. “Thanks to this financing, we will continue to fast-track our innovation, with zero layoffs.”

The company said that the investment is coming from existing investors German automotive giant Daimler, the UAE’s ALFAHIM Group and btov Partners. And while it is coming at an upround, Blacklane is not disclosing any figures, nor has it ever disclosed valuation. Previous backers of the company also include the strategic investment arm of Recruit Holdings, the Japanese HR giant, and it has raised around $100 million to date, including a round of about $45 million in 2018.

The funding is coming after what has been an extremely rough year for travel and transportation startups due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with Blacklane itself seeing monthly revenues drop 99% after the pandemic hit last year, the company tells me.

Some others in the space that diversified into other areas like food delivery or other kinds of transport (eg, bikes or scooters) were able to offset declines in their more core ride-hailing services, which in the meantime were repositioned as a safer alternative to public transportation. Blacklane, however, had never positioned itself as a ride for “everyman” — its core use case were higher-end rides and airport trips (which had also died a death) — so when movement shut down, so Blacklane’s business nosedived.

It was particularly bad timing for Blacklane, considering that in the lead up to the pandemic, it looked to be on course to turn a profit on its focused model. (While financials for 2020 will take a while to be posted, the most recent results for the company showed a net loss of about $18 million in 2018.)

The reason that Blacklane has managed to raise at an upround tells another side of the story, however.

As companies in transport and travel gingerly started to show the smaller signs of recovery last summer, so too did Blacklane. It coupled that with the first steps of diversification itself.

Earlier this month, it added “chauffeur hailing” in 22 cities, an on-demand service that reduced the lead time for an order to under 30 minutes (its previous service was based on more advanced bookings). It also changed its pricing structure to get more competitive on shorter distances, since so many of the airport rides that were the basis of its revenues have yet to return.

In addition to that, Blacklane took a majority stake in Havn, an electric-based car service hatched by Jaguar, for an undisclosed sum, to spearhead a move into more sustainable travel options alongside the fleet of Teslas already operated by Blacklane.

“Worldwide travel restrictions give us a one-time chance to reset our expectations for safe and sustainable trips,” said Wohltorf in a statement. “Blacklane will recover responsibly and continue to grow while caring for both people and the planet.”

Amazon begins testing its Rivian electric delivery vans in San Francisco

Amazon is expanding customer deliveries via electric cargo vehicle to San Francisco, making the Bay Area the second of 16 total cities the company expects to bring its Rivian-sourced EVs to in 2021. 

San Francisco’s unique terrain and climate were a couple of the reasons Amazon said it chose the city for its second round of testing. Its EVs, which were designed and built in partnership with Rivian, can last up to 150 miles on a single charge. 

Amazon began testing its electric delivery van in Los Angeles in early February as part of its Climate Pledge, which involves the purchase of 100,000 custom electric delivery vehicles. The company first unveiled the vans last October, and has said it aims to have 10,000 of the vehicles operational by next year. 

Bay Area deliveries will initially come out of Amazon’s station in Richmond, California, just one of the many delivery stations the e-commerce giant is redesigning to service its new fleet of EVs. A recent $200 million investment into a new delivery station in the heart of San Francisco signals Amazon’s push to significantly increase deliveries in the city. 

“From what we’ve seen, this is one of the fastest modern commercial electrification programs, and we’re incredibly proud of that,” said Ross Rachey, director of Amazon’s global fleet and products in a statement.

Amazon isn’t the only company to recognize the logic behind electrifying delivery fleets for short trips within cities: DHL says zero-emission vehicles already make up 20% of its fleet, UPS has placed an order for 10,000 EVs and FedEx has pledged to replace 100% of its fleet with electric vehicles by 2040. 


Early Stage is the premier “how-to” event for startup entrepreneurs and investors. You’ll hear firsthand how some of the most successful founders and VCs build their businesses, raise money and manage their portfolios. We’ll cover every aspect of company building: Fundraising, recruiting, sales, product-market fit, PR, marketing and brand building. Each session also has audience participation built-in — there’s ample time included for audience questions and discussion. Use code “TCARTICLE” at checkout to get 20% off tickets right here.