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WGLT, an NPR station in central Illinois, is following every move at the Rivian manufacturing plant in Normal, Illinois. The electric vehicle startup has gone from stealth mode to big-time player in the auto world, attracting attention (and big money) from companies like Ford and Amazon.

Rivian Unveils Plan To Grow Food In Normal, Re-Use Batteries In Puerto Rico

RJ and Alex
Rivian founder and CEO RJ Scaringe with professional rock climber Alex Honnold at an event Saturday in Denver.

UPDATED 12:10 p.m. | The electric automaker Rivian has announced two new sustainability efforts, including plans to grow food outside its Normal manufacturing plant that will be served to its employees.

Rivian founder and CEO RJ Scaringe said they’ll use some of the company’s 508 acres in Normal (now mostly grass) to grow food in partnership with unnamed “local universities.” College students will learn from “top chefs who will be running” the plant’s food services, serving food grown on site, Scaringe said.

“We’ll be providing incredible food to our plant team, regardless of what part of the plant you work in. So there’s true equity. Every employee is part of this mission to bring this (plant) back,” Scaringe said. “That energy we’re building and establishing at the plant, we want it to be a benchmark for how industrial systems run. The collaboration, the communication between different groups and our other facilities.”

Rivian now has around 1,000 employees around the country, Scaringe said, mostly in Michigan and California. It has around 70 employees in Normal, but that’s expected to grow to 1,000 workers by 2024.

No other details about the food plan were available. "We are still in the early planning stages for that venture," a Rivian spokesperson said Monday.

Illinois State University spokesperson Eric Jome said he was "not aware of any formal plans at this point."

"But that’s the sort of project that would be a good fit for a hands-on learning opportunity for students. Illinois State University has been watching Rivian’s progress with real interest and there would certainly be interest in exploring those types of opportunities," Jome said in an email.

Scaringe made his comments Saturday at an event in Denver that was live-streamed on YouTube.


Also Saturday, Scaringe announced a new partnership that will re-use old Rivian batteries for solar energy storage in Puerto Rico.

Rivian plans to build “hundreds” of test and development vehicles in the next few years that can’t be sold, Scaringe said. Starting in 2020, batteries from those vehicles will be removed and use for a solar microgrid initiative in Adjuntas, Puerto Rico, a city of 20,000 that was hard-hit by Hurricane Maria in 2017.

In power loss scenarios, the downtown solar microgrid will allow Adjuntas residents access to electricity for core businesses, Rivian said in a statement. By offsetting day-to-day electric bills, the system also brings down high commercial energy costs, which in Puerto Rico are twice the national average, the company said.

At the end of a Rivian vehicle’s life, around 75 to 80% of the battery’s usable capacity for storage will remain, Scaringe said. The Puerto Rico project "marks Rivian’s first steps in its broad plan to utilize second-life batteries for a wide variety of applications," the company said.

“This is a core part of how we designed our battery systems, so that it not only works just in the vehicle, but seamlessly transitions into a storage application,” Scaringe said. “The fact that it’s seamless is really important, because it lowers the barrier for the battery to find a second life.”

The Puerto Rico project is a partnership between Rivian and the Honnold Foundation, founded by professional rock climber and “Free Solo” star Alex Honnold, and the nonprofit Casa Pueblo.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
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