The existence of electric vehicles is already seen as an environmental victory in some quarters as the world begins to move away from coal and toward renewable energy sources. Now Tesla plans to increase the environmental friendliness of its vehicles by recycling some critical components at Gigafactory Shanghai.
Tesla will start by refurbishing and reusing battery cells and electric motors and also has plans to recycle car structures and electric motor controllers. Despite CEO Elon Musk’s confidence that electric vehicles will make “dirty” gas-burning vehicles obsolete, the production of these components have been criticized for the use of toxic chemicals to mine the raw materials needed to manufacture them.
Tesla has attempted to answer these concerns by sourcing its raw materials from mining companies that use more environmentally mining practices, such as nickel mining companies in Canada that make use of “low-carbon” techniques.
“Tesla will give you a giant contract for a long period of time, if you mine nickel efficiently and in an environmentally-sensitive way,” Musk reportedly told mining company representatives.
Musk also seems interested in controlling as much of the supply chain as possible, including buying stakes in car battery manufacturing companies and exploring the possibility of having Tesla mine its own raw materials. Tesla also has the capacity to produce its own batteries and recently developed a more efficient battery making process that uses less water and fewer moving parts.
Recent expansions of Tesla’s manufacturing capacity in Shanghai include new facilities to produce electric vehicle components and chargers. The company also recently leased more land near Gigafactory Shanghai for further expansions.
China is currently ramping up its efforts to add regulations that would require increased recycling of key electronic vehicle components like batteries. Tesla has not officially commented on the proposed new regulations, though its new efforts to recycle components at Gigafactory Shanghai may simply be an attempt to stay ahead of the game.
Although Tesla sold 35,000 electric vehicles in China just last month, relations between Tesla and China have seen some ongoing tensions since China’s decision to forbid government employees and military officers to bring their Tesla vehicles onto government property. China’s official reason is that Tesla vehicles’ cameras could be used to gather sensitive information about activities at military installations and government-run facilities, though Tesla denies that the cameras are activated in China.
Tesla is also suing a Chinese news outlet for libel after it ran an article alleging that Gigafactory Shanghai makes use of “sweatshop” working conditions – something that could be seen as the pot calling the kettle black even though Tesla has certainly had its share of disputes with disgruntled former employees. The company has also appealed a ruling that Elon Musk’s tweet criticizing efforts to unionize was an attempt to intimidate employees who may be considering joining the United Auto Workers. China is notorious for its forced labor practices, which most recently includes the recent growing awareness of its imprisonment and abuse of its Uighur Muslim population.
Despite the tensions, Tesla and China seem to have no plans to end a business relationship that is profitable for both parties. Tesla is simply attempting to stay ahead of the curve by adding the capacity to recycle some critical components at Gigafactory Shanghai.