Time shifting is one of the keys to the solar power revolution. It allows renewable energy created during one part of the day to be stored in batteries for use during a different part of the day. Traditionally, those batteries have consisted of new battery cells — either NMC or LFP. But one company in California thinks used EV battery packs are a simpler and more cost effective way to store electricity for later use.
The two basic parameters foe EV batteries are energy and power. Energy is the ability to do work. Power is the ability to do work quickly. It takes power to accelerate an electric car from rest. Over time, EV batteries degrade to the point where they can no longer provide the power and range needed by an EV but often have plenty of capacity left for energy storage.
Conventional wisdom suggests that the next step for depleted EV batteries is to recycle them, but B2U, a California start up believes it makes more sense to use them for grid scale storage before sending them off to be recycled. Giving them a second life saves money compared to manufacturing new battery cells and packs for energy storage and takes nothing away from their value to recyclers when that second life is done.
B2U Leads Second Life Program For EV Batteries
B2U is using depleted EV batteries from Nissan LEAF and Honda Clarity cars to store electricity when it it abundant — and cheap — and selling it back to the grid when it is more expensive. It says using depleted EV batteries cuts their costs roughly in half.
Almost all the critical materials inside depleted EV batteries — including lithium, nickel, and cobalt — are recoverable and reusable. A growing domestic recycling industry, supported by billions of dollars in loans from the Energy Department and incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act, is being built to prepare for what will one day be tens of millions of retired EV battery packs. Before they are disassembled, however, studies show that only around three quarters of decommissioned packs are suitable for a second life as stationary storage.
“We were seeing the first generation of EVs end their time on the road, and 70 percent or more of those batteries have very strong residual value,” B2U CEO Freeman Hall told Grist recently. “That should be utilized before all those batteries are recycled, and we’re just deferring recycling by three, four, or five years.”
Extending Life For EV Batteries
Extending the useful life of EV batteries mitigates the impact of manufacturing them, said Maria Chavez, energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “The whole point of trying to deploy electric vehicles is to reduce emissions and reduce the negative impacts of things like manufacturing and processes on our environment and our communities,” Chavez told Grist. “By extending the life of a battery, we reduce the need for further exploitation of our natural resources, we reduce the demand for raw materials, and we generally encourage a more sustainable process.”
Just as batteries have become crucial to reducing emissions from transportation, they are also needed to fully realize the benefits of clean energy, according to Grist. Without stationary storage, wind and solar power can only feed the grid when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining. “Being able to store it and use it when it’s most needed is a really important way to meet our energy needs,” Chavez said.
The use of utility-scale battery storage is expected to skyrocket, from 1.5 gigawatts of capacity in 2020 to 30 gigawatts by 2025. EV packs could provide a stockpile for that build out. Hall said there are already at least 3 gigawatt-hours of decommissioned EV packs sitting around in the United States that could be deployed, and that the volume of them being removed from cars is doubling every two years. “We’re going from a trickle when we started four years ago to a flood of batteries that are coming,” he said.
Plug And Play
B2U says its technology allows batteries to be repurposed in a nearly “plug and play fashion.” They do not need to be disassembled, and units from multiple manufacturers — B2U has tested batteries from Honda, Nissan, Tesla, GM, and Ford — can be used in one system.
The packs are stored in large cabinets and managed with proprietary software, which monitors their safety and discharges and charges each battery based on its capacity. The batteries charge during the day from both the solar panels and the grid. Then B2U sells that power to utilities at night, when demand and prices are much higher.
Hall said using second life batteries earns the same financial return as new grid scale batteries at half the initial cost, and that for now, repurposing the packs is more lucrative for automakers than sending them straight to recyclers. Until the recycling industry grows, it’s still quite expensive to recycle them. By selling or leasing retired packs to a grid storage company, said Hall, manufacturers can squeeze more value out of them.
That could even help drive down the cost of electric vehicles, he added. “The actual cost of leasing a battery on wheels should go down if the full value of the battery is enhanced and reused,” he said. “Everybody wins when we reuse in a smart fashion.” B2U expects to add storage to a third solar facility near Palmdale next year. The facilities are meant to prove the idea works, after which B2U plans to sell its hardware and software to other storage project developers.
At the moment, though, planned deployment of the technology is limited. B2U predicts only about 6 percent of decommissioned EV batteries in the U.S. will be used for grid-scale storage by 2027. “People are skeptical, and they should be, because it’s hard to do reuse of batteries,” said Hall. “But we’ve got a robust data set that does prove reliability, performance, and profitability. We’re at a point where we really can scale this.”
Anti-EV forces have been screaming at the top of their lungs for years that the world will soon be awash in used EV batteries. They will litter the landscape and leach toxic chemicals into ever river and stream. As it turns our, however, second life companies like B2U may be snapping up all the used batteries they can find, sparking a bidding war with recycling companies like Redwood Materials. Wouldn’t that be the perfect comeuppance for all those nattering nabobs of negativism?
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