Exploring a second life for electric vehicle batteries

Written by: Karina Rovey, Middle-West Tennessee Clean Fuels intern

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As electric vehicles (EVs) become more common within the United States, EV owners and stakeholders must prepare for the many inevitable consequences of the transition.

One of these considerations is the copious amount of defunct lithium-ion batteries that will need to be dealt with once they reach the end of their life in an electric vehicle.

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For these batteries, there are two relatively sustainable options: recycle or reuse. Reused batteries are referred to as “second-life” batteries, and more people are beginning to take advantage of their benefits. In fact, a 2022 McKinsey report found that the supply of second-life EV batteries could surpass 100 gigawatt-hours per year by 2030, which is enough to meet half of the global utility-scale energy storage demand for that year. 

Many experts, including the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), suggest that a three-phase life cycle for batteries – first-life, second-life and then recycling – may lend itself to better economics and impact on the environment. And while there are still challenges that exist surrounding battery reuse, mostly related to turnover efficiency, automakers, tech startups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) alike are developing innovative ways to harness the leftover power from these batteries.

On the automaker side, Nissan, Middle Tennessee Electric, the Oak Ridge Innovation Institute, Tennessee State University and Seven States Power Corporation have partnered to construct two Battery Energy Storage Systems at Nissan’s headquarters in Franklin, Tennessee using second-life Nissan Leaf batteries. Nissan continues to be a frontrunner in battery second-life uses, since the Nissan Leaf has already been on the market for quite some time.

Similarly, California-based startup B2U Storage Solutions owns a battery storage project in Lancaster, CA that utilizes broken Nissan Leaf battery packs to store energy from solar generation and then discharge the electricity back into the wholesale market. Last year, the company raised $10M to expand its efforts. 

NGOs are also contributing to the advancement of this technology. Southern Research and the National Institute of Clean and Low-Carbon Energy are collaborating to build an EV battery second-life testbed in downtown Birmingham, Alabama. This test bed will be an opportunity to validate existing technology and expand the feasibility of second-life for grid-scale energy storage. 

It’s clear that in every sector, professionals see the promise that EV batteries hold to power other critical systems once their life in a vehicle is over. Harnessing this power will help increase the affordability of EVs, protect the environment and accelerate the transition to clean transportation.

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