The potential of EV batteries in a closed supply chain

 In Electric Cars

Electric vehicle (EV) Li-ion batteries, like any other battery, is an energy storage facility. Highly debated topics once an EV retires, is how to, one, safely recycle? And two, prolong the life-cycle of an EV battery? Once an EV loses 20-30% of battery capacity, it may no longer be deemed suitable for vehicle operation. But, instead of putting the battery to waste industry are increasingly finding innovative ways to create second lives, reuse materials and reduce costs.

How long do EV Li-ion batteries last?

Research on EV battery life-time is in its infancy and yet to provide a definitive answer on how long they can successfully operate. Furthermore, many factors such as temperature and depth of discharge can affect the lifetime of a battery. In a recent article, I discussed an on-going study by Maarten Steinbuch, Merijn Coumans, and the Dutch-Belgium Tesla Forum on Tesla battery degradation entitled ‘MaxRange Tesla Battery Survey.’ Here is a brief update.

Tesla Model S/X mileage vs remaining battery capacity

Source: Maarten Steinbuch, Merijn Coumans, and Dutch-Belgium Tesla Forum ‘MaxRange Tesla Battery Survey’

With 419 active participants, the Tesla with the highest mileage on record has traveled 285,000km and still has 90% battery capacity remaining. Granted, not all EVs have the same battery technology and data will require validation before jumping to conclusions. However, this could be potentially significant. In contrast, the typical internal combustion engine lasts for almost 12 years, the equivalent of around 250,000km before it is deemed no longer tenable. Crucially, individuals tend to replace their vehicles after six years, and assuming that they don’t take their batteries with them, plenty of battery capacity will remain. The question is what to do with it?

Recycling is far from straightforward

Today, the recycling of Li-ion batteries is less than five percent. Not only do batteries carry the risk of toxic discharge if damaged, but the majority of valuable anode and cathode materials are left idle in storage or at the landfill. Battery production is set to rise significantly, and as millions of large EV batteries retire over the next decade, it could hold severe environmental consequences if not addressed.

The volume of Li-ion battery sales to 2025

Source: Bloomberg

The Commission for Environmental Cooperation believes that in North America alone, battery waste will reach 850,000 units by 2025, and 1.5 million by 2030. Li-ion batteries contain toxic materials in condensed amounts, and extraction of core materials such as lithium and cobalt lead to significant water pollution.

The good news is when creating sustainable EV infrastructure is concerned, Tesla isn’t far behind. Working with Kinsbursky Brothers, they recycle about 60 percent of Tesla battery packs in the US. Similarly, in Europe, a collaboration with Umicore enables Tesla to recycle their batteries into entirely reusable materials, dramatically reducing their carbon footprint.

Tesla’s blueprint is beginning to trickle through the industry. For example, Nissan and Sumitomo Corporation will soon start refurbishing and selling lithium-ion batteries from first generation Nissan Leaf’s. Furthermore, there is an increasing consensus that creating a more circular value chain creates surplus value. Sourcing new materials can be a costly business, and therefore building reusable capabilities makes economic sense.

Developing a second-life for batteries

Using Li-ion EV batteries as stationary storage following the retirement of EVs is a promising technology to help support the supply and demand of electricity. Energy storage advances the penetration of renewables while utilizing existing infrastructure. Equally as charging infrastructure expands, can act as a bridge to support widespread EV adoption.

Second-life battery availability, and the estimate of net GWh being used for stationary storage (2016-2025)

Source: BNEF

Early signs are positive, companies around the world are beginning to recognize the potential of this approach. Here are a few notable examples.

  • Nissan has introduced its xStorage Home battery storage system in collaboration with UK energy provider OVO that uses second-life Nissan Leaf batteries to provide renewable energy to individual consumers. The system offers the ability to store affordable energy when demand is low, therefore reducing costs, and even sell electricity back to the energy provider creating significant flexibility.
  • Vattenfall, BMW, and Bosch are working together to form a large electricity storage facility in Hamburg. The project reuses Li-ion batteries from BMW’s EV test fleet, 2,600 used battery modules from over 100 EVs that have reached the end of their life cycle in the vehicle.
  • Li-Cycle is pioneering a new recycling technology using a chemical process to retrieve from 80-100% of resources from batteries with zero waste. It can process all Li-ion batteries and chemistries to recover enduring intermediate products: lithium, cobalt, copper, and more, creating a cost-effective closed loop Li-ion battery supply chain.

It will be essential for government and industry to take the management of retired EV Li-ion batteries seriously. Moreover, address the concerns of battery manufacturers on warranty liability and reusability as the industry scales.

Fleet implications

Whether you manage a fleet of two vehicles or two hundred, there is an opportunity to benefit. The decision to transition or upgrade an EV fleet should take into account the full life-cycle of the EV Li-ion battery, the first and potential future applications. The developments in recycling and stationary storage provide an EV battery a second life, not only is this good for the environment but makes economic sense.

Now vehicle researchers have access to valuable information on battery state-of-health and charge metrics, perfect for EV battery and efficiency studies. Furthermore, collecting data on large EV fleets can be expensive and tedious. FleetCarma’s Vehicle Research Platform makes it possible to collect, monitor, and analyze valuable vehicle data with ease.

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