Recycling Electric Car Batteries

As car manufacturers continue to battle in the electric car race, a few have started wondering, where will the batteries go once they have reached the end of their automotive useful life? Simply disposing of the batteries in some type of landfill will not help the environment and will most certainly not appeal to either car manufacturers or customers. To address this concern, several big car manufacturers in the electric car race have teamed up with companies knowledgeable about electricity and energy to plan ways to recycle and reuse outdated electric car batteries and their energy.

General Motors has announced it will collaborate with the Swiss company ABB, a leader in power and automation technologies and the world’s largest supplier of power grid systems, to devise a plan for re-using batteries from the Chevrolet Volt. The companies will develop several pilot projects and examine the Volt’s 16-kWh lithium-ion batteries to see how the second-life car batteries can be used to provide electric grid storage systems. During the pilot projects the companies will study renewable energy storage, grid load management, back-up power supplies for communities, and time of use management.

According to GM Executive Director of Electrical Systems, Micky Bly, ‘Volt’s battery will have significant capacity to store electrical energy, even after its automotive life.’ This means that after the eight year or 100,000 mile warranty offered on the Volt, the battery will still have energy that can be used for other purposes if the car battery is recycled. Thus, GM’s ultimate goal through its ABB partnership is to find a cost-effective solution that will optimize the full lifecycle of the battery and will improve the efficiency of the country’s electrical grid.

Another car manufacturer that has begun studying electric battery recycling possibilities is Nissan. Nissan has entered into a joint venture with Sumitomo Corporation to conduct research on used lithium-ion batteries. The joint venture, called 4R Energy, has a purpose to ‘Reuse, Resell, Refabricate, 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 towards developing a business for second-life use of lithium-ion batteries.

Lastly, the California electric car maker Tesla Motors, has entered into a research project with SolarCity, a national leader in solar design and installation, and the University of California, Berkley to investigate outdated electric car battery possibilities. 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 which will be able to be installed in buildings. The idea is the battery storage created will collect excess PV power that the utility can use rather than using power plants with larger emissions.

So, as the electric car race rages on, it looks as if General Motors, Nissan, and Tesla Motors will all be competing in the electric car battery race as well. With such big ideas as storage for renewable energy, smart grids, and providing back-up power for buildings, who knows where the second-lives of electric car batteries will end up.