Automakers focus on second life for EV batteries

Most automakers haven’t fully ramped up production of electric vehicles, but they are already looking at second-life uses for the batteries going into those vehicles.

Audi is working with startup Nunam to install battery modules from decommissioned test vehicles into electric rickshaws, which are expected to hit Indian streets in early 2023 as part of a pilot project. They will be made available to a non-profit organization and used to transport goods to market for sale, according to an Audi press release.

After initial use in a car, these battery modules can still store a lot of energy, Nunam co-founder Prodip Chatterjee said in the statement. With their light weight and low power and range requirements, rickshaws are an ideal use case, he said.

And in general, as the the wall street journal recently pointed out, the reuse of electric vehicle batteries could help develop renewable energy and solve waste problems.

Electric rickshaw powered by Audi battery modules

Electric rickshaws are already common in India, but they are often powered by lead-acid batteries with a shorter lifespan than the lithium-ion battery modules in Audi electric vehicles, and are often improperly disposed of, according to Audi and Nunam.

To combat emissions from charging electric rickshaws from India’s largely coal-fired grid, Nunam is also developing solar-powered charging stations. And it also plans to use second-life batteries for energy storage.

This is just the latest of many projects aimed at finding second-life uses for EV batteries. Another recent example comes from the Volvo Group (a separate entity from Volvo Cars), which bought a 10% stake in British energy storage company Connected Energy as an outlet for used batteries from its electric trucks.

Connected Energy Battery Energy Storage Unit

Connected Energy Battery Energy Storage Unit

Automakers have been showcasing second-life battery applications for years. Nissan and General Motors unveiled demonstration projects in 2015 using Leaf and Chevrolet Volt batteries respectively. Around the same time, Toyota unveiled an energy storage array in Yellowstone National Park made up of Camry Hybrid battery packs.

California-based B2U Storage Solutions is already making money with second-life Nissan Leaf batteries in energy storage. Rivian also pointed out that its battery configuration and layout was determined in part with second-life uses in mind.

These projects are based on the assumption that there will be plenty of batteries left after the cars they are installed in reach the end of their useful life. That said, with raw materials still so limited, there is some debate over whether reuse or recycling is the best option.

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