Is Repurposing EV Batteries for Grid Energy Storage a Sustainable Plan?

February 14, 2022
EV battery|electric vehicle home||

2021 witnessed an impressive rise in electric cars owned globally. Ownership of EVs increased by 64% compared to 2018. About 5.6 million EVs were operating globally at the end of 2021. This growth can be credited to the massive adoption of a sustainable planet goal, among many other things. Unlike petrol/diesel engine vehicles, EVs use lithium-ion batteries to store energy for motion. These batteries held a market value of $27.30 billion in 2021 according to a report by Global newswire. Their capacities range from 17.6 kWh in the SmartEQ to 107.8 kWh in the Mercedes EQS.

electric vehicle home

Lithium-ion batteries can have up to 12 years of useful life but still retain the ability for a second life, which has lesser performance capabilities, but could provide commercial and industrial power backup for consumers and the grid. These batteries no longer meet EV performance standards at their second life and should not be reused for electric cars. So we're left with a few options on how to utilize second-life EV batteries further.

What are the Options for Used EV Batteries?

Policies prohibit the mass disposal of EV batteries as this trend leads to significant environmental disasters. The major alternatives left are the reuse and recycling of Electric Vehicle batteries.

Electric Vehicle Battery Reuse

An analysis conducted in 2017 by Melin mentioned 75% of spent EV batteries will be reused in second-life by 2025, giving the possibility of EV batteries supplying more than 100 gigawatt-hours per year by 2030.EV batteries can retain up to two-thirds of their initial energy storage capacities in their second life. However, the process of reusing is more complex than just removing a battery pack from an EV and placing it in your garage for power. The batteries would need to undergo tests to ascertain their remaining capacity, and the cells could also be sorted out based on their left capacity and much more. This process is labour-intensive but can yield a variety of advantages.

Reusing EV batteries in homes and businesses indirectly impacts the level of CO2 emission With these facts, it's no surprise why carmakers seek to revolutionize the reuse of EV batteries. Companies like General Motors (GM) and Nissan made way for turning second-life EV batteries into grid storage businesses in 2015. These manufacturers aren't the only companies dealing with EV battery reuse, with BMW having a few projects up their sleeves as well.

Electric Vehicle Battery Recycling

Glgs insights stated- 460,000 metric tons of lithium-ion batteries were to be recycled in 2020. To put that in perspective, we reclaimed batteries from less than a 5.6million EVs and got that weight. Yet, EVs only accounted for about 6% of global car sales in 2021.The 2020 recycling unit is obviously small when compared to the amount that would potentially be gotten from 20% of EVs to be sold worldwide by 2025. Accordingly, this yields a massive increase in EV batteries at their second life in the next two decades or less.The numbers keep surging, and an estimated value of 1.2million metric tons of EV batteries could be available for recycling in 2030. These figures show why mass disposal is harmful and further demonstrate possible business viability in recycling lithium-ion batteries.Companies like Redwood materials are on track to recycle more than 1GWh-worth of battery scrap materials. And Li- cycle claimed a total of 1.7 million tonnes of lithium-ion batteries were due to reach their lifespan in 2020. Therefore, taking further actions in recycling these batteries.The next section explains how reusing and recycling these EV batteries can be beneficial for our grids.

Potential Applications of Reused and Recycled EV Batteries.

The use of reclaimed EV batteries to store energy is gaining traction as a green alternative to traditional battery technologies.A report by EPA discovered lithium-ion batteries to be the source of at least 65 fires at community waste sites. Accordingly, the need for recycling these batteries becomes apparent and can have a wide range of options and benefits for the power grids and consumers in the process. Asides from these, used EV batteries creates opportunities for more energy players. B2U is a typical example of a company storing solar power in used EV batteries and making money from it.

1. For Energy Suppliers & Grid Operators

Battery Energy storage is a great way to tackle the grid stability issues with renewable energy. DSOs and Energy Suppliers can use the battery as a backup power source for the grid. When there's excess supply, energy is stored in the battery and later supplied to the consumers during high demands.  The introduction of the grid backup power can reduce power outages for consumers in times of a critical grid drawback until the stability is restored. With the projected capacity of used EV batteries that will be available, the backup storage volume could be endless.

2. For Homes & Individuals with Distributed Energy Resources

Energy consumers and prosumers can maximize used and recycled EV batteries to store energy from the grid and their roof-top solars. Economically, it's a viable option for those who are unable to afford new energy storage systems for their home to adopt used/recycled EV batteries since we've established that some of these batteries can maintain up to 60% of their capacity after their first cycle.  

3. For Energy Communities

Another option is to use the battery as a storage system for energy communities. These communities are growing exponentially in Europe and can maximize used EV batteries to store the power generated from their local source.

Lithium ion battery

Recycling options exist around various battery types, from lead-acid to lithium-ion. Although lead-acid batteries are 99% recyclable, lithium-ion batteries are by a wide margin the most commonly used in battery energy storage projects.However, Lithium-ion batteries cannot last too long, which poses a problem in their functional capabilities.

Conclusion: Is Recycling EV Batteries for Grid Storage Sustainable?

The recycling of EV batteries for grid energy storage is a sustainable plan, but it has its own set of concerns.The disassembly and extraction of the valuable constituents of a lithium-ion battery are difficult. And much more is required to transport these dead batteries to recycling sites, which makes up about 40% of the recycling cost. This is attributed to the size of an EV battery pack. These packs range from 100 kg to 544 kg for passenger EVs and 1300 kg to 18000 kg for commercial EVs.Transporting these batteries becomes cumbersome. And it's not easy to find a market for recycled EV batteries that can provide an economic incentive for battery recyclers since cobalt is the only profitable constituent.Accordingly, the journey and labour for recycling Lithium-ion batteries become so expensive that it exceeds the cost of building new ones.So, while recycling is sustainable for grid energy storage, we face regulatory, economic, technical constraints and logistic concerns.Nonetheless, the sales of EVs keep soaring, and accordingly, the amount of lithium-ion batteries. As a result, more EV batteries will lead to a fall in their prices.

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