• Ascend Elements wants to lead in the crucial EV-battery-recycling space.
  • The firm just brought in $800 million from a Series C raise and two Department of Energy grants.
  • Mike O’Kronley, the CEO, said Ascend’s tech goes a step beyond most battery-recycling methods.

The burgeoning battery-recycling startup Ascend Elements is sitting on a fresh $800 million — and its CEO plans to spend it on beating out rivals like Redwood Materials.

Founded in 2015 in Westborough, Massachusetts, Ascend Elements says its tech can get car companies and their battery-makers the materials they need at a lower cost and in a more sustainable way than those made with metals just pulled from the earth.

Investors from Fifth Wall and car-industry giants just poured $300 million into the booming recycling firm racing to solve automakers’ biggest electric-vehicle-battery supply problem. The company’s Series C, which includes $200 million in equity investments and $100 million in debt financing, accompanies the two grants Ascend just received from the Department of Energy totaling $480 million. 

That includes a $50 million strategic investment from a division of the South Korean energy giant SK that Ascend received in September.

Ascend’s CEO, Mike O’Kronley, told Insider in an exclusive interview what makes the company white-hot for investors right now.

Ascend’s approach

Many recycling methods simply scour used batteries for precious metals like lithium and nickel, so the materials need additional processing before they can find a new home in a new power pack. Ascend’s “hydro-to-cathode” tech recycles the materials and processes them, so they’re ready to go straight back into battery supply chains.         

“We are ideally suited to work with battery manufacturers to help them close the loop and produce sustainable battery material, taking their manufacturing scrap, processing it, and returning the material that they can use right back to them,” O’Kronley said. 

A booming business

Recycling is critical as the auto industry stares down a brutal battery-supply shortage, especially given materials-sourcing requirements set forth in this summer’s climate bill for those hoping to qualify for EV tax credits.   

Automakers and other stakeholders are starting to get proactive and establish plans for returning the materials in spent batteries back into their manufacturing. 

Estimates have suggested that very little lithium has been recovered from batteries to date, but that 9% to 11% of lithium demand in 2035 could be met with properly recycled materials. That would help eliminate issues with mining brand-new metals, like time, expense, and environmental damage, and it makes startups like Ascend attractive.

How Ascend stacks up — and what’s next

Ascend’s raise is respectable compared with other recent deals in the space. Redwood Materials, arguably the most-known player in the industry, saw a whopping $700 million Series C last year. The recycler Li-Cycle brought in $200 million earlier this year from a contract with Glencore.

But O’Kronley emphasized three advantages that he says makes Ascend promising to investors.

First, it takes recycled materials a step further and cuts the extra expense needed to process them. 

Second, its location nearby the new “battery belt” is key — Ascend recently began running a new battery-shredding line at its first commercial-scale plant in Covington, Georgia, where it will recycle 30,000 metric tons of batteries and manufacturing scrap annually, once it’s fully up and running. It’s also pouring up to $1 billion into a new factory in Kentucky.

Third, partnered business tied to Ford and Volkswagen EVs will make Ascend less limited by the amount of battery feedstock it takes in.

“It’s a very different value proposition that we offer to the market,” O’Kronley said.

Correction: October 26, 2022 — An earlier version of this story misstated the breakdown of Ascend Element’s funding. The $50 million strategic investment from SK is part of the $200 million in equity funding, not in addition to it.

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