Most hybrid and fully electric vehicles utilize advanced, rechargeable batteries that are complicated and expensive to manufacture. Because EVs are such a new part of the automotive market in the U.S., most of those that have been sold so far are still in use on the road. But what are we going to do with all these huge batteries when they start wearing down? Think about how hard it is to recycle the rechargeable batteries in your camera or remote control when they finally die — then multiply that by a thousand. Thankfully, some automotive companies are already starting to think about this problem and have come up with an environmentally friendly solution.
Volt battery recycling
This Chevy Volt battery could one day help to power homes. Photo by John F. Martin for General Motors.
General Motors (maker of the Chevy Volt) and electric company ABB Group have been working together since September 2010 to research the potential reuse of vehicle batteries for stationary power use. In Raleigh, NC, this past summer, the groups shared their progress in moving the concept from laboratory to pilot testing. “Our tests so far have shown the viability of the GM-ABB solution in the laboratory, and they have provided valuable experience to overcome the technical challenges,” Pablo Rosenfeld, ABB’s Program Manager for Distributed Energy Storage Medium Voltage Power Products, said in late July. “We are making plans now for the next major step — testing a larger prototype on an actual electric distribution system.” So far, neither company has provided further test results or an estimate of when these battery storage clusters could make it to the commercial market. One reason is that there simply aren’t enough spent EV batteries on the market to use for testing. The Chevy Volt has only been on the market for a year, and EV batteries last between eight and 10 years. However, the companies are confident that when they have expired, EV batteries could be reclaimed and set up in clusters to provide energy storage space for the electrical grid. These battery clusters could either hold wind or solar energy during periods of low electric demand for use later or provide backup power in case of a grid disruption. According to Pablo Valencia, GM’s Senior Manager for Battery Life Cycle Management, 33 used Volt batteries could power 50 houses, with enough storage capacity to keep them all running for about four hours. In fact, experts feel that recycling could become a lucrative side business for both battery and EV manufacturers, which is why General Electric is exploring the development of a battery leasing program for EV owners. GE could reclaim spent batteries and resell them to utility companies.