One of the big “gotchas” anti-EV people on social media like to pull out is the future of your battery. In their heads, an expensive EV battery pack isn’t going to last very long and is utterly unrecyclable. So, the thinking goes, an electric car isn’t very green, is it? Checkmate, libs!
But they shouldn’t claim victory so fast. There are some gaping holes in the argument (even if we know that won’t stop them from making it over and over and over).
The good news is that a recent Toyota press release shows us that the claim is even less true in 2022 than it ever was. But, first, let’s talk about battery longevity.
EV Batteries Can Easily Outlast The Car
As we’ve pointed out before here at CleanTechnica, the biggest issue with their argument is that battery packs will probably last the life of a car. While there have certainly been battery replacements under warranty (just like any ICE car has warranty replacements happen to engines), this sometimes happens hundreds of thousands of miles into the life of the car. Teslas are known for their long-lasting battery power, with one Tesla taxi remaining useful for over 180,000 miles on its first battery, and then continuing to be used on a second battery for over 600,000 miles. Another Tesla’s battery (driven extensively for Uber) lasted for 250,000 miles before needing to be changed. The second battery then went for at least 175,000 more miles and was still going strong (degradation below 20%).
Many people think that Tesla is the only car company with good electric vehicles, and thus would be the only company to make battery packs that last so long, but this simply isn’t true. There are other vehicles out there that prove that long-lasting packs are possible, such as the Bolt EV.
Even though the Bolt does have some downfalls (55 kW charging), it has been proven to resist degradation really well — even when used frequently for things like Uber or when driven fast and charged often. Although we can’t rely on them completely, there are a lot of “I heard from a guy” stories from Bolt owners saying that their cars went over 200,000 miles without much degradation at all. There’s at least one that we can verify was real, and not an example of what I like to call the “31 Flavors Fallacy.” Here’s the video:
So, clearly, there are going to be many battery cells and battery packs in the future that will outlast the vehicles they were built for.
What Do We Do With These Batteries?
The next obvious question from the haters and the oil-funded shills is what will happen to all of the orphaned batteries. Once again, they’re utterly un-recyclable, right? So, we’re back to “checkmate, libs!”
Or, are we?
Sure, recycling will be challenging, but we aren’t even at that step in a battery cell’s life yet. There’s still some work these battery cells could be doing after the car wears out, gets wrecked, or gets another battery because the original one had lost too much range. To give my imaginary “checkmate, libs” guy the benefit of the doubt, let’s (wrongly) assume that all old batteries are now useless for transportation because they’ve lost half of their range.
Even then, stationary storage is a great use for them. Per unit of energy stored (kWh), they now weigh at least twice as much compared to when they were new, and compared to future EV batteries, the comparison could be even worse.
But, we’ve been making this stationary storage argument for years without much real-world testing, until now.
Toyota’s Recycled-Battery-To-Grid Test
A few days ago (October 27th) JERA Co., Inc. and Toyota initiated the world’s first large-capacity Sweep Energy Storage System. The system was created using batteries from previously owned electrified vehicles (HEV, PHEV, BEV, FCEV) and is now connected to the consumer electrical power grid.
As we move away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy, demand for storage batteries is expected to increase. This is because they can help stabilize the power supply when renewables are being used more extensively. At the same time, we need to be mindful of how we use battery materials like cobalt and lithium, as these resources are limited. One way to do this is by recycling used batteries from electrified vehicles so that they can be reused as storage batteries.
After JERA and Toyota’s initial discussion in 2018 about establishing battery reuse technologies, they eventually created this large-capacity grid-connected Sweep Energy Storage System. Toyota’s new storage system, called sweep, allows for the use of old car batteries that would normally be thrown away. This is done by controlling the energy discharge through a series of connected batteries in microseconds.
Toyota says the sweep function also allows for AC output straight from the batteries, and onboard inverters that eliminate the need for a power conditioner are able to be reused. That contributes to reducing costs associated with power loss during conversion from AC to DC by PCS. This also improves effective energy use as a whole. It seems unlikely that they’ve figured out actual AC batteries, but they’re recycling vehicle electronics to convert DC to AC, which is probably what lets them claim this.
JERA and Toyota’s project plans to store electricity in grid batteries at JERA’s Yokkaichi Thermal Power Station, which are connected to Chubu Electric Power Grid Co., Inc. from a facility. In the mid-2020s, when this system is operating at full scale, it will provide 100,000 kWh of energy and reduce both the cost of running the storage system and CO2 emissions.
Furthermore, JERA is refining a process that recycles lithium-ion batteries for electrified vehicles with little environmental impact. Toyota plans to support JERA by sharing its expertise and the battery recycling knowledge that it has gathered up until now. By collecting used batteries and repurposing resources, both companies are striving to expedite the realization of a resource-recycling society.
What About Recycling?
While I could link to the many stories CleanTechnica has run about battery recycling initiatives, or point to the one Toyota’s press release mentioned, it’s important to note that by the time an EV wears out and the cells become too useless for stationary storage, we’ve already gone decades. Today’s experimental and relatively small recycling efforts will have had a lot of time to improve and scale by then. The vast majority of the components in an EV battery should certainly be recycled.
Featured image provided by Toyota.
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