Electrical cars: Re-use of Li-ion batteries could become a huge global market

Autobatterie (Foto: © GTÜ/ http://www.pixelio.de)

Amsterdam, The Netherlands — The reuse of batteries from end-of-life hybrid and electrical cars offers important advantages for the environment. This fact was revealed by studies by ARN; but does this promising solution perhaps also have disadvantages? And what are the possible consequences for manufacturers? To be able to answer those questions, the island fort of Pampus put a trial installation based on a second-life battery into use, at the start of April. The trial is part of the 2BCycled project, a joint initiative by ARN, DNV GL, the University of Applied Sciences Arnhem & Nijmegen, the University of Technology Eindhoven and grid operator Alliander.

No destruction of energy capacity

Toyota Prius was the first hybrid car to be put on the market, in the late 1990s. The earliest examples are now approaching the age at which they reach the end of their useful life. Thanks to the presence of valuable metals such as nickel and cobalt, the recycling of the Ni-MH (Nickel-metal hydride) batteries represents no insurmountable problems. Today, however, various manufacturers have introduced hybrid and even fully electrical cars. Since 2010, the automotive industry has mainly been using more modern Li-ion batteries, and from the point of view of recycling, this battery type is much more problematic.

“These batteries have a negative residual value. This is partly due to the still relatively small numbers but they also contain insufficient valuable substances to make recycling economically viable. Nonetheless, it remains a shame to simply destroy these batteries, thereby also destroying their energy capacity,” suggested ARN manager Hector Timmers. “Our study has revealed that the reuse of Li-ion batteries has a positive outcome for the overall CO2 footprint. After around 10 years, a Li-ion battery is no longer suitable for use in a car, but it can still be used for energy storage for example in a residential environment. In combination with solar and wind energy, that storage capacity could be extremely useful.“

An ideal combination

2Becycled therefore launched a trial project with Li-ion batteries on the island of Pampus. The aim is „to examine the various technical possibilities, and to consider the legal aspects of the reuse of Li-Ion batteries. These batteries will become available in far larger numbers in the future, and we wish to be ahead of that development.”

The fort island of Pampus has become a tourist attraction with modern facilities that take up a considerable volume of energy. “Until now, to meet those needs, we relied exclusively on diesel generators, a relatively costly solution that imposes additional burdens on the environment. That was why we went in search of a different solution. However, a connection to the electricity grid was not an option,” explained Tom van Nouhuys, director of Pampus. “We currently operate five solar panels and a small wind turbine, the energy from which is stored in the battery pack. For us, this is an ideal combination that enables us to make more efficient use of the generators. The pilot has only just been started, but we are already seeing an energy saving of around 20 percent. As we install more solar panels in the future, savings will also rise. It is a win-win situation: Not only do we save on costs, but we also reduce the environmental burden.”

Social demand for re-use

For grid operator Alliander, acquiring knowledge and experience of 2nd-life batteries is the main reason for becoming involved as a partner in the Pampus project. Alliander has been active in the field of electrical mobility for some time, and over the past few years has been focusing on such issues as the decentralised storage of energy, and energy-neutral housing. “Based on that role, we are closely monitoring the development of the market for second-life batteries. The growing number of electrical and hybrid cars on the road means that this could become a huge global market in the future. The reuse of these batteries meets a clear demand from society, but at present it still costs money. A trial project like the one currently underway on Pampus is valuable in gaining an understanding of possible applications,” explained Jos Blom, Strategy and Innovation Consultant at Alliander.

“We have made major IT investments for this pilot project, with a view to optimising the interplay between the generators and the solar and wind energy. The presence of the battery pack means that the generators are not only run less often, but also more efficiently. We have also observed the extra complementary nature of the solar and wind energy. Thanks to this new application, the generators no longer have to run at night, for example to provide power for refrigerators and night-time lighting. It is worth mentioning that the first step in this project was in fact to reduce the energy consumption on the island as far as possible, for example through the use of energy-efficient LED lighting. In the future, Pampus is set to purchase solar panels that can be more easily integrated and have a payback time of less than 5 years.”

Source: ARN