Electric Vehicle Batteries Just Keep Going and Going

Connector Summer 2018

The first batches of batteries from electric and hybrid vehicles are hitting retirement age, yet they aren’t bound for landfills. Instead, they’ll spend their golden years chilling beer at 7-Elevens in Japan, powering car-charging stations in California, and storing energy for homes and grids in Europe.

Lithium-ion car and bus batteries can collect and discharge electricity for another seven to ten years after being taken off the roads and stripped from chassis. Finding ways to reuse the technology is becoming more urgent as the global stockpile of EV batteries is forecast to exceed the equivalent of about 3.4 million packs by 2025, compared with about 55,000 this year, according to calculations based on Bloomberg NEF (BNEF) data.

China, where about half the world’s EVs are sold, implemented rules in August to make carmakers responsible for expired batteries and to keep them out of landfills. The European Union has regulations, and the industry expects other countries to follow.

General Motors Co., BMW AG, Toyota Motor Corp., BYD Co., and a clutch of renewable-energy storage suppliers are among those trying to create an aftermarket and extra profits for a device that only recently coalesced into its own market. Second lives generate second revenue streams for the same product, and those could help lower prices for EVs.

The decade-by-decade forecast by BNEF is staggering. By 2030, there will be a 25-fold surge in battery demand for EVs. Automobiles have overtaken consumer electronics as the biggest users of lithium-ion batteries, according to Paris-based Avicenne Energy.

By 2040, more than half of new-car sales and a third of the global fleet – equal to 559 million vehicles – will be electric. At the same time, by 2050, companies will have invested about $550 billion in home, industrial and grid-scale battery storage, according to BNEF.

Yet as many companies dive in, the biggest US electric-car maker, Tesla Inc., stays on the sidelines. The Palo Alto, California-based company said its batteries probably won’t be suitable for a new task after 10 to 15 years of use, and it’s focusing on recovering the raw materials.

Declining performance for an EV battery is evidenced by fewer miles of driving per charge and more frequent plug-ins by owners. The components typically will be swapped out after about a decade in family cars and four years in harder-working buses and taxis.

While those replaced batteries can’t run a passenger vehicle, they’re ideal for less-demanding tasks such as storing electricity from solar panels and wind turbines, and hoarding power from a regular grid connection when prices are low.

In the basements of a three-tower apartment complex in western Sweden, Box of Energy installed silver cabinets about the size of a large refrigerator, each using 20 battery modules recovered from Volvo hybrid cars. They store energy from rooftop solar panels to run the elevators and lights in common areas.

Batteries from Nissan’s Leaf will soon help illuminate streets in the Japanese coastal town of Namie, which is recovering from the 2011 disaster at the nearby Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

Toyota, maker of the Prius hybrid, will install retired batteries outside 7-Eleven stores in Japan next year. The hybrid batteries will store power from solar panels, and then use the juice when needed to help run the drink coolers, fried chicken warmers, and sausage grills inside the stores.

A typical EV battery retains about 50 per cent to 70 per cent of its power capacity upon removal, said Tom Zhao, managing director of global sales for BYD’s battery group. The Warren Buffett-backed company uses secondhand packs to power wireless transmission towers and to help run one of China’s biggest energy-storage systems in Shenzhen.

Source: Bloomberg