Firms Are Giving Serious Thought to Reusing Old Batteries

When electric vehicle (“EV”) batteries are benched for new ones, they usually aren’t dead. A standard electric vehicle lithium-ion battery is typically replaced when it loses around 20% of its capacity, meaning there’s still plenty of juice left in it to run stationary applications. Consequently, several firms have been playing with the idea of reusing these batteries, especially as we become increasingly aware of the dangers of greenhouse emissions.

“There’s definitely an uptick in the number of companies that are now trying this and getting serious about it, and I think it’s becoming increasingly clear what the main obstacles are that remain. It’s a very interesting time,” says MIT Researcher Ian Matthews who recently published a study on the economics of second-life battery systems coupled with grid-scale solar installations. Reusing EV batteries to run stationary storage applications will undoubtedly cut costs and greenhouse emissions but as Matthews says, there are obstacles.

Re-purposing the lithium-ion batteries for reuse requires tons of testing and upgrades to ensure the battery will work effectively in its new role. Additionally, a thriving second-life battery market would require a steady supply of used EV batteries, demand for refurbished batteries, and enough capital. However, despite the challenges, a growing number of major automakers and tech startups have waded into the nascent industry and the results are quite encouraging.

Dane Parker, chief sustainability officer at General Motors (“GM”) stated earlier this year that creating a circular supply system for EV batteries is one of the firm’s central efforts to reduce its environmental footprint. GM designed its new Ultium battery pack with second-life applications already in mind and the firm is already working with partners to develop a business case around battery reuse, he says.

Back in 2015, Nissan became the first EV maker to pilot second-life EV batteries in a grid-scale storage installation. In the same year, BMW tested used batteries in demand response events during an 18-month pilot project in partnership with Pacific Gas & Electric. Daimler AG also announced plans to build a 13-megawatt-hour second-life battery storage unit at a recycling plant in Lünen, Germany in 2015.

ReJoule, a California startup that received $2 million in funding from the California Energy Commission Electric Program Investment Charge (“EPIC”) funding pool, has created technology that optimizes the battery system while still being used by the vehicle, allowing it to last longer. “The idea is that once our battery management system is embedded in the vehicle and we have this real-time state of health measurement, it would be much easier to transition from that to a second life application,” says founder and CEO Steven Chung.

“We won’t need additional testing, we wouldn’t need to take the battery out of the vehicle, transport that battery to a specific test center, do the testing and then transport it to whatever second life application. It can be much more streamlined.”

Experts say it is such potential breakthroughs that keep related businesses like Net Element, Inc. (NASDAQ: NETE) constantly innovating so that they can match the rate at which other industries are evolving.

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