EV Carmakers’ Role in the Energy Market

New EV battery costs are driving the second-life market in the energy storage industry which is saving large amounts on old car batteries.

Much of those savings made by using batteries with around 70% of usable life left in them is also released by sophisticated battery management systems, according to Alex Johns, business development manager at Altelium. Speaking to TU-Automotive, Johns real-time battery monitoring is vital in extracting the full potential from second-life automotive batteries.

He explained: “The incentive for customers is that while second-life batteries won’t last as long, they are less than half the price of a new battery. We have customers of wind turbines and things like that and they have run the numbers on first-life batteries and found that, while they last longer, the numbers still don’t stack up. Whereas, with second-life, the numbers do stack up because of the cheaper costs.”

Battery management

Close monitoring of battery packs is essential particularly in large energy storage applications. Johns said: “We can add about a year onto a first life battery when gets to a second-life application, just by giving a bit of feedback at the right time. You might have a whole storage system with up to 1,000 battery packs in it and we will be monitoring all those packs and say pack number 730 is running too hot and then make sure the cooling system is getting to it properly. Or, do you want to steer some of the easier work to it for a while because you can vary the work cycles on certain batteries inside a big installation. You can even move work around an individual battery to take into account which part of the battery is degrading faster or slower.”

Third-life, or recycling, is also beginning to become a greater focus for the battery manufacturers, said Johns. “I think fairly soon we will get to the situation where the volume will start building and the demand for battery recycling will become just like the lead acid situation. Lead acid can be recycled by 95% and lithium-ion will get there as well.

“That’s because the products aren’t used up, they just need to be reprocessed and then they can start again. So, where there’s a mining issue for the next 20 years as the market goes through rapid expansion, after that there won’t be because a lot of the materials will come back from being used once before.

Automakers as battery manufacturers

Johns thinks that as more carmakers start producing their own battery packs, the tried and trusted business models used in traditional automotive products could just as easily be applied to BEVs. He explained: “I think it will be the same as with the ICE where you have the chassis and the engine, with EVs it will be the battery and the car. In the case of Tesla, and I’ve run Tesla taxis to 300,000 miles each, the bodies were getting a bit tired but the batteries were fine. The issue was that the service network was not there to support it. So you’d have a vehicle off the road for five weeks and four and a half of that was waiting to get a slot in the garage.”

However, Johns claims different battery management systems employed by various automakers have a huge impact on battery life. Using examples of partners in the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, he claimed: “You will have situations where the battery doesn’t last as long as the car, such as with Nissan Leafs which are pretty weak on the battery front. They tend to degrade quite quickly which is really to do with the cooling system that doesn’t cool well enough. When they have the cooling system sorted out, such as in the Renault Kangoo, the batteries go on for ages because the cooling is better.”

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

 


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