What Happened to Tesla Co-Founder JB Straubel?
JB Straubel, one of Tesla’s founders, is certainly less well known than Elon Musk. Still, during his 15 years at Tesla, Straubel was instrumental in developing the powertrain for Tesla’s electric vehicles. He’s suffered personal tragedy since leaving Tesla in 2019 but has continued his engineering innovations as he looks toward a clean energy future for the world. Let’s look at Straubel’s history with Tesla and his new company, Redwood Materials.
Who founded Tesla?
While Elon Musk is celebrity-level famous, Tesla officially had five founders, says Forbes. Martin Eberhard, along with Marc Tarpenning, formed what was then called Tesla Motors in 2003. Eberhard was Tesla’s first CEO. Musk was Tesla’s earliest investor, having made a fortune as a co-founder of PayPal. He has continued increasing his ownership stake in the company over the years.
JB Straubel met Musk in 2003, and Musk introduced him to Eberhard and Tarpenning. In 2004, first Straubel and then Musk joined the Tesla board. Eberhard left Tesla in 2007, and then Tarpenning left in 2008. Musk became Tesla’s CEO in 2008, and about this time, he started referring to himself as Tesla’s founder. Musk and Straubel were the only two remaining co-founders still with the company when the Tesla Roadster was launched in 2008.
In 2009, Eberhard sued Musk for both pushing him out of the company and for slander. The lawsuit was settled, and part of the settlement allowed Musk plus chief technology officer (CTO) Straubel and former Tesla engineer Ian Wright (who had left Tesla in 2004) to be named as co-founders along with Eberhard and Tarpenning, explains Forbes.
What JB Straubel accomplished at Tesla
In 2019, Elon Musk said of JB Straubel, “if we hadn’t had lunch in 2003, Tesla wouldn’t exist basically,” reports CNBC. While the chief technology officer at Tesla, Straubel invented or co-created many of the company’s main technologies, including its batteries. In Tesla’s first 10 years, Straubel’s name appeared on most of the company’s patents.
Straubel also advocated for supercharger vehicles rather than battery-swapping. Tesla now has its own charging network, unlike most other electric cars/automakers. He spent time in Sparks, Nevada, helping to plan and build the Tesla Gigafactory, which supplies battery components for Tesla’s vehicles. Additionally, Straubel worked to develop stationary energy products within Tesla Energy. His efforts, combined with Tesla’s purchase of SolarCity, have resulted in Tesla’s Powerwall and Powerpack, which store solar and wind energy.
What JB Straubel has done since leaving Tesla
In 2019, JB Straubel switched from his executive position to an advisory role with Tesla, providing him with additional time for Redwood Materials, a battery recycling company in Carson City, Nevada, that he founded in 2017. Straubel told Time that he departed Tesla because he was interested in creating new technologies and had been working on mass-producing the Tesla Model 3, which was built on established technology. He may have also wished to separate from Musk, although he told Time that the two still have a good relationship.
Redwood Materials aims to reduce the use of fossil fuels by creating a circular supply chain to support mass electrification. The company places emphasis on environmentalism and combating climate change. Recycling battery materials will help ensure enough batteries to support a mass shift to electric vehicles. Many battery factories are in Asia, meaning materials and batteries must be transported halfway around the world.
Redwood Materials is creating a new facility near Reno, Nevada. The company expects to produce 100 GWh of anode copper foil and cathode active material each year by 2025. These materials account for more than half of the cost of a battery, and that amount is enough for more than 1 million electric vehicles annually. It will also be the first time these important battery materials have been manufactured in the United States.
In addition to his work at Redwood Materials, Straubel testified in front of Congress in April 2022, providing expert information on what resources are needed to transition from fossil fuels to electric energy. In his spare time, he has set up old solar panels near his home, connected to computers running cryptocurrency projects.
Straubel and his wife, Boryana, created the Straubel Foundation in 2015 to promote environmental sustainability. The two met while working at Tesla, married in 2013, and had twin boys. Straubel’s wife was hit by an SUV and killed while bicycling near her home in Nevada in June 2021, reports the Mercury News. After her death, Straubel told his staff that he would increase his efforts because his wife would have wanted that. Redwood Materials soon raised $775 million in funding and has closed deals with Ford, Panasonic, and Tesla.