Editor's note: This story has been updated to add more context about the materials from cell phones which could make a battery for an EV.
CARSON CITY, Nev. — JB Straubel has spent the better part of two decades advancing a new era of electrified transportation, which could thwart the environmental consequences of climate change.
His work took on renewed importance this summer. The threat was evident right outside his office window.
"It was pretty brutal out here," he said. "There were months of the year where it was just complete, apocalyptic smoke."
Wildfires engulfed the Lake Tahoe region, scorching thousands of acres of pristine forests, some not more than a dozen or so miles from Carson City, where Straubel's new battery recycling startup, Redwood Materials, is based.
The flames were finally extinguished in October, but charred stumps and thank-you signs for firefighters remain powerful reminders of how an onslaught of wildfires in particular, and extreme weather overall, could reshape the drought-stricken West.
For Straubel, a co-founder and longtime chief technology officer at Tesla Inc. and now CEO of Redwood Materials, the wildfires underscore the pressing need for countermeasures.
"We're going to head into the next decade or two with unbelievably amazing pressure to change everything faster than we expect," he said. "That's part of why I'm so bullish that we grow, invest and do this all as fast as humanly possible right now, faster than all the external obvious signals may seem. I just see this is going to be more urgent."
Amid that backdrop, Redwood Materials is thinking far afield. Right at the time electric vehicle sales are rising, Redwood Materials is developing ways to manage the end of life for EV batteries.