Volkswagen has been an early leader in battery recycling. In January, it began a test program at its factory in Salzgitter, Germany, to learn how to take lithium-ion batteries apart and reuse their component parts to make new batteries. But there is a threshold question that needs to be answered before old batteries get dumped into the maw of the recycling machinery — is this battery really kaput or could it be used for energy storage or to power a low-speed electric vehicle?
The engineers at Salzgitter have come up with a way of answering that question using a software program they call BattMan ReLife to interrogate an existing battery and decide what uses it might be suitable for other than being recycled.
According to a company press release, BattMan ReLife checks the state of health of used batteries in just a few minutes. Depending on the results of that process, the battery may be reused in a vehicle, receive a second life as a mobile or stationary energy source, or sent to be recycled. Previously, determining the highest and best use for a used vehicle battery took several hours.
The first version of the BattMan ReLidfe software was developed by the Audi Brussels quality management department before a final version was developed by the recycling experts at the Salzgitter facility.
After plugging in the low-voltage connectors, the device first checks whether the battery is able to communicate and transfer data. The system then detects and displays any error messages as well as insulation resistance, capacity, temperatures, and cell voltages. Axel Vanden Branden, quality engineer at Audi Brussels, explains: “We are able to measure all a cell’s most important parameters. Then a traffic light system indicates the status cell by cell – green means a cell is in good order, yellow means it requires closer inspection, and red means the cell is out of order.”
Once the diagnostic procedure is complete, there are three options available. The first is remanufacturing. If a battery is found to be in good or very good condition, it can be designated as a replacement part for electric vehicles.
With the second option, a battery that receives a medium to good state of health report can be repurposed for service in a charging station or mobile charging robot or used to power a driverless transportation system or forklift, or used for residential energy storage or an emergency standby power system.
The third option is recycling, in which the a battery is disassembled to recover the aluminum, copper, and plastics used to assemble it as well as what is known as “black powder.” That’s the stuff that contains the lithium, nickel, manganese, cobalt, and graphite that can be used to manufacture new batteries.
Frank Blome, head of battery cells and battery systems at Volkswagen, says, “We know that recycled battery materials are just as effective as new ones. These recycled materials will be used to supply our cell production activities in the future.”
More PHEVs On The Way
Don’t wrinkle your nose at that headline. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles may not be our preferred choice here at CleanTechnica global headquarters, but they can still play an important part in the EV revolution. For many drivers, a well thought out PHEV can drive on battery power alone for 90% or more of the miles they go daily.
According to Electrive, Volkswagen is planning a new lineup of plug-in hybrid models that will be introduced in 2023 and after. Remember when Chevrolet replaced the original 1.4 liter engine in the Chevy Volt with a 1.5 liter engine? Volkswagen is doing the same thing. It is also increasing the battery capacity of its PHEVs enough to give them about 100 kilometers of range — more than enough for most daily driving needs.
Finally, Volkswagen’s PHEVs of the future have a fast charging option that uses a CCS connection. German media reports indicate the AC onboard charger may be upgraded as well from the 3.6 kW single-phase unit to an 11 kW three phase component, although Volkswagen has not confirmed that information.
The changes are being driven by new EV incentives for electric vehicles in Germany. As of October 1, 2022, PHEVs will need to have a minimum of 60 kilometers of battery only range to qualify. After January 1, 2024, the minimum range requirement will increase to 80 kilometers. The changes in the incentive program reflect the fact many PHEVs on sale in Europe actually emit more carbon dioxide than conventional cars. Germany is plugging that hole and forcing companies to come up with plug-in cars that are as good as a 2016 Chevy Volt.