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Expert Voices: At One Ventures' Tom Chi and Laurie Menoud

Aug 26, 2022
Photo illustration of Tom Chi and Laurie Menoud with EV chargers and abstract shapes.

Photo illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios. Photos: courtesy of At One Ventures

This week we are speaking with At One Ventures general partners Tom Chi and Laurie Menoud.

Why they matter: Chi is one of the founders of Google X and Menoud is a biotechnologist. For At One Ventures, they back early-stage deep technology companies with an eye on climate.

The below Q&A was answered jointly by Chi and Menoud and has been lightly edited.

What in your view was the big story this week?

  • Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz announced EV agreements with Canada for sustainable critical mineral supply, including nickel, cobalt and lithium.
  • This cooperation would satisfy the requirement for consumer incentives in the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act: 40% of the critical minerals used in EV batteries must be locally produced or recycled in North America, increasing to 80% by 2026.

What would you add to the narrative?

  • Even before the IRA, the industry was already transitioning to EVs. Top automakers like GM and Volvo had announced moving into EV models only, increasing by 10x the demand in lithium-ion batteries by 2025.
  • With millions of EVs hitting the road, each containing ~100kg of mined metals in their battery pack, we are shifting from a fuel economy to a material economy.
  • Lithium prices have spiked and the global scramble to get more critical minerals, including nickel and cobalt, out of the earth have compounded the social and environmental challenges of mining, from Chile to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Indonesia.

By contrast, what’s being underreported or under-covered?

  • EV battery recycling. This is a critical option clearly stated in the IRA that no one is talking about. We need to focus on advanced materials companies that can recycle end-of-life lithium-ion batteries and reintegrate the recycled metals directly into new lithium-ion batteries.
  • Recycling can drastically lessen pressure on the mining industry, which is a driver of major social and environmental issues. But recycling must have superior unit and environmental economics compared to new extraction for broad adoption to occur.
  • Currently, some recycling companies use high-energy and carbon-intensive processes (e.g., pyrometallurgical) or processes that do not allow for direct reintegration of recycled metals into batteries. This, ironically, adds to the problem by using more energy and emitting more CO2.
  • What is needed are closed-loop processes, allowing recycled metals to be less expensive than virgin metals with lower carbon emissions and energy consumption.

In three words, what one change would you make to accelerate investment in climate tech?

  • Disruptive unit economics
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