What do you do with the used batteries when a vehicle like the Chevrolet Volt or Nissan Leaf are ready to be scrapped? The traditional answers might have been to dump them in a landfill or break them apart for their raw materials, but Nissan and Chevy have come up with some useful alternatives.
In reality, the lithium-ion batteries used by the auto industry usually have quite a bit of life left, even if they no longer store enough energy to propel a vehicle. So, both Nissan and Chevrolet want to put old batteries back to work as stationary backup power sources.
“Even after the battery has reached the end of its useful life in a Chevrolet Volt, up to 80% of its storage capacity remains,” noted Pablo Valencia, senior manager of battery lifecycle management for General Motors. “This secondary use application extends its life, while delivering waste reduction and economic benefits on an industrial scale.”
GM today announced it has packaged five old Volt batteries together to serve as a backup power source for the company’s new IT center at its Milford, Michigan proving grounds. The backup system is connected to a network of renewable power generators, including a 74-kilowatt solar array and two 2 kilowatt wind generators.
Together, they can produce enough power for the IT center and its exterior lighting – during the day and when wind is blowing, anyway. The backup battery system can help keep the lights on at night or when the air is calm. And when it is fully charged, excess energy is sent back to the grid.
According to GM, the Milford system is a prototype “living lab to understand how the battery redistributes energy at this scale.”
“This system is ideal for commercial use because a business can derive full functionality from an existing battery while reducing upfront costs through this reuse,” Valencia said.
GM has been working with several partners, including Duke Energy and ABB, to study commercial applications that could see old Volt batteries repurposed commercially, though it is not yet ready to announce specific plans, apparently.
(GM to announce new uses for old batteries. For more, Click Here.)
Nissan is, however. Working with Sumitomo Corp. and Green Charge Networks in the 4E joint venture, the goal is to reuse old Leaf batteries in a backup power supply system. As with GM, the first application will be at a corporate facility, a Nissan building in California. But the partners hope to offer a similar system commercially starting later this year.
The goal is to have both business and consumer customers link the system up to wind and solar generators to serve as both a load-leveling device and for energy backup.
“A lithium-ion battery from a Nissan Leaf still holds a great deal of value as energy storage, even after it is removed from the vehicle, so Nissan expects to be able to reuse a majority of Leaf battery packs in non-automotive applications,” said Brad Smith, director of Nissan’s 4R Energy business in the U.S.
(Click Here for details about GM’s return to the medium-duty truck market.)
Nissan did not release final specifications, including the amount of power each pack would hold or the pricing.
GM and Nissan join Mercedes-Benz and Tesla in putting their battery technology to work in stationary applications. In the case of Tesla Motors, however, the California-based company’s new Tesla Energy division is using brand-new batteries in the PowerWall backup system it recently announced.
Set to go on sale later this year, Tesla initially said it would charge $3,500 for a 10-kilowatt backup system. It has since announced it will roughly double the amount of storage without raising the price. That should make the technology more competitive with backup generator systems.
(To see how Panasonic will help Tesla launch its new gigafactory, Click Here.)
Unlike the GM and Nissan system, each PowerWall will use new batteries which, starting next year, will be supplied by Tesla’s new Gigafactory plant currently being erected in Reno, Nevada with help from technology partner Panasonic.