Recycling of electric car batteries

As automakers continue to battle the electric car race, some are wondering where batteries will go when they reach the end of their automotive useful life. Simply dumping batteries in landfills doesn’t help the environment and certainly won’t appeal to automakers or consumers. To address this issue, several major automakers in the electric car race have partnered with companies knowledgeable about electricity and energy to devise ways to recycle and reuse obsolete electric car batteries and their energy.

General Motors has announced it is working with Swiss company ABB, a leader in power and automation technologies and the world’s largest supplier of power grid systems, to develop a plan to reuse batteries from the Chevrolet Volt. The companies will develop several pilot projects and study the Volt’s 16 kWh lithium-ion batteries to see how the second-life automotive batteries can be used to provide power grid storage systems. During the pilots, the companies will explore renewable energy storage, grid load management, community backup power 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 car life.” That means that after the eight-year or 100,000-mile warranty offered for the Volt, the battery still has energy that can be used for other purposes if the car battery is recycled. Therefore, GM’s ultimate goal, through its ABB partnership, is to find a cost-effective solution that optimizes the entire battery lifecycle and improves the efficiency of the country’s power grid.

Another automaker that has started exploring ways to recycle electric batteries is Nissan. Nissan has entered into a joint venture with Sumitomo Corporation to research used lithium-ion batteries. The joint venture, dubbed 4R Energy, aims to “reuse, resell, refabricate and recycle” the electric batteries that power the Nissan Leaf.

The Company is expected to conduct demonstration testing and a commercialization study while working towards developing a business utilizing second life cycle lithium-ion batteries.

Finally, California electric car maker Tesla Motors has begun a research project with SolarCity, a national leader in solar design and installation, and the University of California, Berkley, to explore the potential of aging electric car batteries. The trio is developing a system that combines 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 PV energy that the utility can use instead of using power plants with larger emissions.

So, as the electric car race rages on, it looks like General Motors, Nissan, and Tesla Motors will all be entering the electric car battery race as well. With ideas as big as renewable energy storage, smart grids and providing backup power for buildings, who knows where the second life of electric car batteries will end up.