Electric vehicle [EV] batteries are expensive for a number of reasons, in addition to all the science and engineering that goes into them, they are also made up of materials and chemicals that are expensive, scarce, and difficult to recycle. Rechargeable battery technology has come a long way, but still, after thousands of cycles, they begin to deteriorate. In the case of EVs, such as the Chevy Volt, charging time and range begin to suffer.
Really, though, by the time this begins to happen, there is still about 70% of the battery’s original capacity that can be used, so why destroy that 70% by recycling it? “GM’s battery development extends throughout the entire life of the battery, including secondary use,” said Pablo Valencia, GM senior manager of battery lifecycle management. “In many cases, when an EV battery has reached the end of its life in an automotive application, only 30 percent or less of its life has been used. This leaves a tremendous amount of life that can be applied to other applications,” such as in a backup power supply.
Instead of consigning the partially-used Chevy Volt battery pack to the recyclers, General Motors came up with a way to reuse them. In a collaboration with ABB, a global power technology company, five used Chevy Volt battery packs come together in one unit, a backup power supply. The new modular unit was shown in operation at the Electrification Experience in San Francisco, California, powering all of the lighting and audio-visual equipment in an ‘off-the-grid’ structure.
Installed in an existing grid, the 50kWh unit could be used to provide a couple hours electricity for three to five average homes during a power outage. It could also find use to smooth out the power flow from intermittent sources, such as solar- or wind-installations. Similar to another new technology, STEM, it could even help reduce utility costs in commercial buildings.