Ben Pullen, the managing director of Global EVRT, led a rousing day of informative e-mobility talks for the first ever e-mobility session at Intersolar Middle East last year. It culminated in questions from the audience. This question & answer session followed presentations on the accelerating transition to electric vehicles, the power of inflection points, sustainable cities, and more.
Ben notes that the UAE is a a new hotspot for electric vehicles. “We’re on the cusp of an electric boom.”
In text form, I’m highlighting and summarizing some of the most interesting questions and answers below.
Question: “My name is Caleb from India. Can you guys comment on the lifetime of the current existing batteries and what can potentially happen when they are not anymore in a usable state in terms of disposable?”
Zach responded that it varies with the manufacturer. Tesla expects that its batteries will last 15 years. BMW’s batteries from Samsung SDI are expected to be similar or provide an even better lifetime. “There’s a lot of talk about reusing batteries for stationary storage or reusing them for other cars. There’s a lot of debate on the market. Tesla says that it makes much more sense to just recycle the battery and then use those materials again to create new batteries.”
While Tesla does not see a commercially viable path for reusing batteries for stationary storage on a large scale and focuses more on recycling on a large scale, others EV manufacturers differ, he adds. Recycling is easy. 95% of the components in the battery can just be used to build another battery. Some auto companies, such as Nissan, have been more focused on potentially reusing them as stationary storage. EV batteries and stationary storage batteries are different — even though they share a lot in common. It is different to optimize for a car than to optimize for stationary storage.
Caleb continued his line of questioning, “The reason I am asking this question is you guys are saying electric carmakers are — is gonna help to reduce carbon emissions and stuff like that … but at the end if the batteries are not properly recycled or properly disposed of, it can cause more fatal environmental disasters?”
Zach responded that one of his main criticisms of many studies evaluating how green electric cars are is that they often assume a single use of the battery, and all of the components in the battery. Zachary expressed the absurdity of this thinking by again highlighting that 95% of the parts of the battery can be recycled and reused. There are ways to just use the battery for stationary storage as well. “So, any evaluation, which is practically every evaluation, looking at the environmental impacts of batteries and electric cars is making a false assumption that these batteries won’t be recycled or reused — most definitely will.”
After a follow-up question on the topic, Zach responded that the market’s very small at this point. There have been some companies bubbling up for recycling batteries, but it’s still too early since few electric cars have gotten old enough to retire from the road. In Tesla’s case, the company plans to bring all the batteries back into its gigafactories and recycle them itself. For certain other automakers, some companies will pop up that will be focused solely on recycling and selling the components again.
Ben Pullen jumps in, “There is a company in our office in London, a sustainable co-working space, Powervault. And they entered into a partnership with Renault to buy Renault’s second life batteries, so when the Zoe’s finished, they build home storage units. So, they’re offering home storage units at this point — they offer a home storage unit to their consumers. I think what’s really exciting, and you’ve probably seen some of the themes running through the last two days, is the role that storage has to play in grid management.”
The responsiveness of batteries is superb, providing the ability to dispatch energy back into the grid much faster than any other storage or production option.
Whether through recycling or reuse, Ben notes that, “I think the electric car and second-life batteries will play a big role in home storage and grid storage units. So, that ability for Renault to sell the battery to Powervault helps them to reduce the lifetime battery costs by 30%. And the price that Powervault buys from Renault also allows them to reduce their costs for the storage. So, home storage then becomes cheaper. There’s a really nice relationship between electric vehicles and storage.”
Zach agreed, “Yes, they really help to bring down the cost of storage, which then helps to bring down the costs of solar plus storage, which opens up more and more markets for solar.”
Karim El-Jisr, Executive Director of The Sustainable City, speaks as well. “If I may also add, yes, maybe 15 years is the expected lifetime. But I think most car manufacturers today will only give you a 7-year warranty on the battery. So, after seven years, we still really don’t know how these batteries are going to perform, but there is still a lot of juice in them — at least 80–85%, and that’s considered depleted. It’s not good enough for the car, but it’s good enough for some other use.
Zach becomes a questioner for another topic, turning to his left and asking Fatima Al Suwaidi, Project Engineer at Masdar Clean Energy in the UAE, “What are your commercial goals with the bus project. Is it to feed IP into large commercial players like BYD, Proterra, Volvo; or is it to develop something that you would then bring to market?”
She responds, “I mean, the motivation behind the electric bus is to look into the integration of the different components of the bus and to make it suitable for a climatic condition as the UAE. We are facing other challenges with transportation in general in a country like the UAE. So we wanted to combine or link between our R&D efforts, the industry, the main players; also, why we’re seeking to speak to the major international transportation players in this field — to be able to all sit together in one room to discuss.” They want to deploy in the UAE and need to tailor their projects or prototypes to the unique conditions there.
Zach interjects, “Is there a commercial goal or is it just research?”
She continues, “No, of course, the projected plan is we are taking every phase step by step. So now we are in the development phase looking into the development and commercial also. As we speak, even though we are still at an early stage of the prototype development, we are also, in parallel, speaking to different potential partners or clients that we hope to gain.” She confirms that they do want to find a bus manufacturing company.
Ben added, “If it is tested and launched here, lots of manufacturers are eyeing them closely, lots of them have been doing testing over the summer in the extreme heat. I don’t know any of the results. I’m not sure if they published them publicly but maybe they can provide some insights into how their car performance did in the heat.” Zach said it’s a good sign that Dubai just bought 50 electric cars from Tesla for taxi service.
Image by Dubai Media Office
Zach and Karim of The Sustainable City got into a discussion about electric carsharing in the community, and the community’s overall electric car targets.
“With The Sustainable City, you said you have 3% (EV share)?,” Zach asked.
“Yes, so — 500 villas, we have 65% occupancy, so 3% of 300 villas, that’s 9. … That’s just in 3 months. We expect a sharp uptake, especially after the announcements yesterday. Which only make a dent to the finances, but it makes you feel good. It’s nice to know that I can park for free, I can drive all the highways for free, I can renew my license for free.”
Zach: “And your projection of 15% would be higher than practically any city in the world, and almost any country.”
“We’re looking at 25% by 2020. This is our target as a community — 25% EV adoption.”
Zach asked about the carsharing as well. “Have you put it out there to the community yet to find out how much interest there is?”
He explained that what was announced the day before on this topic was immediately posted to a community forum. “We have a community portal, so all that information is always communicated. And we have also a research dimension. We work with Georgia Tech University and the University of California–Davis. We have a travel behavior research project with them, so we have multiple surveys going on and we get feedback from residents.”