Unless we do something proactive, we could find ourselves sitting on top of a mountain of used electric vehicle batteries over the next decade.
Studies have predicted that by 2040 there will be more than 7 million tonnes of electric batteries to be recycled. As more and more of us switch to electric power, the need for recycling facilities grows – and Nissan has come up with a wonderfully circular way to reuse the batteries in its Leaf EV.
The reason we are running to find alternative uses for EV batteries is that their entire life cycle can extend far beyond the vehicle.
It is because car manufacturers consider a EVBattery end of life when it can no longer hold more than 80% of the charge it could hold when new – but that means you still have a very functional battery.
In many cases, end-of-life EV batteries can be recycled, reconditioned, and reused in other applications when they are no longer powerful enough for use in cars.
In fact, Japanese automaker Nissan is doing just that, and it all looks wonderfully simple.
As part of its production line, Nissan uses Automatic Guided Vehicles (AGVs) to deliver vehicle components to human workers in the plant.
These AGVs are already battery powered, but they use old fashioned lead acid batteries that only last a few years. Not to mention how bad lead is for the environment.
However, Nissan engineers have developed a process to take three battery modules from an old Leaf and recondition them to fit into an AGV.
The Nissan Leaf’s battery has 48 modules, which is enough to power up to 16 AGVs. According to Nissan, more than 4,000 AGVs are in service at its manufacturing plants around the world.
Using old lithium-ion batteries also makes practical sense.
They charge faster than the lead-acid alternatives used by Nissan, which means they can be up and running more often. The batteries can remain in the AGV while charging.
Lithium-ion batteries are also expected to last eight years in AGVs. Lead acid batteries only last two!
Oh, and there is no wrong trail to deal with when they need to be knocked out. It looks like a good basket of wins.
Nissan Leaf owners also have everything to gain indirectly.
Masashi Matsumoto, who promotes AGV development at Nissan’s Production Technology Research and Development Center, said: “When used EV batteries become more valuable, trade-in prices increase.”
“With more ways to use the batteries, the overall LEAF residual value has increased,” added Matsumoto.
The circle is complete
In 2010, Nissan launched the Leaf, its cute electric city car. It was one of the first truly mainstream electric vehicles and has proven to be popular around the world.
Although this has a downside. Early models had passively cooled battery packs, which meant their batteries were subjected to greater temperature swings during charging and discharging.
Ultimately, this shortened the useful life of the batteries and many early Leaf owners experienced battery degradation.
While this sucks for pilots, it sucks even more for the planet if we can’t do anything with the batteries at all.
Fortunately, like Nissan, there are plenty of companies coming up with ideas for recycling and reusing EV waste, before it goes to landfill.
VW recently showed off its recycling process which it claims can recover up to 95% of a battery’s waste.
Old Nissan Leaf batteries were also used to power a small passenger ferry in the UK.
Do EVs Excite Your Electrons? Do e-bikes turn your wheels? Do self-driving cars all charge you?
Then you need the weekly SHIFT newsletter in your life. Click here to register.
Published March 15, 2021 – 14:25 UTC