As automakers continue to struggle in the electric car race, some have begun to wonder, where will batteries go once they have reached the end of their automotive life? Simply disposing of batteries in some kind of landfill will not help the environment and it certainly will not appeal to automakers or customers. To address this concern, several large automakers in the electric car race have partnered with electric and energy savvy companies to plan ways to recycle and reuse outdated electric car batteries and their energy.
General Motors has announced that it will collaborate with the Swiss company ABB, a leader in power and automation technologies and the world’s largest provider of electrical grid systems, to develop a plan to reuse the batteries in the Chevrolet Volt. The companies will develop several pilot projects and examine the Volt’s 16 kWh lithium-ion batteries to see how second-life car batteries can be used to provide utility grid storage systems. During the pilot projects, the companies will study renewable energy storage, grid load management, backup power supplies for communities, and time-of-use management.
According to GM’s chief executive officer of electrical systems, Micky Bly, “Volt’s battery will have a significant capacity to store electrical energy, even after its useful life as an automobile.” This means that after the eight-year or 100,000-mile warranty offered on the Volt, the battery will still have power that can be used for other purposes if the car battery is recycled. Therefore, GM’s ultimate goal through its partnership with ABB is to find a cost-effective solution that optimizes the full life cycle of the battery and improves the efficiency of the country’s electricity grid.
Another automaker that has started looking into electric battery recycling possibilities is Nissan. Nissan has established a joint venture with Sumitomo Corporation to conduct research on used lithium-ion batteries. The joint venture, called 4R Energy, aims to ‘Reuse, Resell, Remanufacture and Recycle’ the electric batteries that power the Nissan Leaf.
The company is expected to conduct demonstration tests and undertake a commercialization study as it works to develop a business for the second-life use of lithium-ion batteries.
Lastly, California electric car maker Tesla Motors has started a research project with SolarCity, a national leader in solar design and installation, and the University of California, Berkley, to investigate the possibilities of outdated electric car batteries. The trio is developing a system that will combine Tesla’s electric car battery system with SolarCity’s monitoring platform to produce an advanced grid-interactive photovoltaic (PV) and stationary storage product that can be installed in buildings. The idea is that the battery storage created will collect excess photovoltaic energy that the utility can use instead of using power plants with higher emissions.
So as the electric car race progresses, it looks like General Motors, Nissan and Tesla Motors will also compete in the battery electric car race. With ideas as important as renewable energy storage, smart grids, and providing backup power for buildings, who knows where the second life of electric car batteries will end.