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As the electric vehicle revolution continues to gather momentum, more and more lithium ion batteries are beginning to flood the market. But nothing lasts forever, and figuring out how to reuse or recycle these batteries is crucial for ensuring that the new “green economy” actually winds up being green. A recent report from UC Davis estimates that recycling alone could reduce lithium demand by as much as 50%.
Why do vehicle batteries make excellent candidates for reuse in other applications? For starters, they’re typically engineered to have extremely high performance. They’re designed to charge and discharge quickly. They’re optimized to hold as much energy as possible per weight. And they have to have good thermal tolerances, meaning the batteries operate well in a wide range of weather.
But just like your phone or your laptop, today’s EV batteries will slowly lose capacity over time. Repetitive charging and discharging slowly degrades any battery’s structure and the higher the charging speed, the worse the problem gets.
Enter B2U Storage Solutions. The grid-scale energy storage company announced this week that it has finished a 25 mMegawatt-hour battery facility in Lancaster, CA, composed of used lithium ion packs taken originally used by the automotive industry.
With America’s charger infrastructure still woefully nascent, a 20% loss in battery capacity (and thus driving range) is a tough pill to swallow for EV owners, but that battery still works and it’s still huge. B2U’s new facility is designed to give these past-their-prime packs a second lease on life. Compared to the demands of driving, grid-scale energy storage batteries have it easy: Charging speeds are slower and cycling is usually less frequent.
The most complicated part of the business, for B2U, is getting all the different batteries to play nice together. The facility in Lancaster contains 1,300 second-life battery packs from EVs, sourced predominantly from Hondas and Nissans. The batteries have different architectures and each one has its own unique capacity. To get them all working together, B2U has created software that coordinates all this data and connects and disconnects different packs, depending on their capacity, as the system charges or discharges. B2U says they’ve also successfully tested this system on batteries from Tesla’s Model 3 and the Chevy Bolt.
In addition to providing a worthwhile second life for EV batteries, reuse programs like B2U’s could create a secondary market for EV batteries that may enhance the trade in value of cars at the end of their lives. Even though most electric powertrains appear to rival ICE powertrains in terms of longevity, many consumers still cite fear of battery degradation as a reason for delaying or avoiding an EV purchase. The knowledge that they may be able to recoup some of their investment in a secondary market may make the risk more palatable.
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