Intercon wrote an interesting article today highlighting a solution for the high cost of electric vehicles: by transitioning drained lithium ion batteries from used EVs to function as stores of energy for alternative power sources such as wind and solar. As Intercon notes, the high cost of manufacturing lithium for EVs can be subsidized by the aftermarket sale to energy producers:
Estimates in vehicles prices have seen these costs naturally passed onto customers to make EVs just as expensive—if not more expensive—than comparable gas vehicles or hybrids. But an afterlife for batteries that paid dividends could put a dent in those high costs for producers and consumers alike. Apparently, when batteries degrade from levels necessary for driving they still hold large amounts of charging capacity (perhaps as high as 75%)—a commodity that could be captured by another industry. Realizing an after-market value of batteries could shift some of that excess cost away from customers into other willing buyers at wind or solar farms. According to GM, the situation is a triple-win because although deconstructing the batteries to safely harvest their components is possible, it is expected to be intensive in both labor and capital.
Intercon believes that the greatest benefit alternative energy producers stand to gain is to provide a store of energy for a more reliable source of energy.
At the same time, renewable power has its own drawback, namely its intermittent nature. Wind turbines and solar farms can provide power that is clean but often unreliable. The result is needing large amounts of dirtier power kept in the grid spinning reserve (plants that are running but not producing electrons for the grid) meaning that the net benefit of the greener installations is marginal. When paired with power storage, however, renewable energy advances quickly against into the marketplace. Power storage systems made up of recycled EV batteries could help the output of renewable systems remain more consistent allowing for more grid systems to be powered down. The UK Times reports that 25 recycled car batteries could store up to 1 MW of power and yet may be an incremental additional cost added to a wind turbine.
While novel in it’s pursuit, I see some issues with the idea for this as a magic bullet for alternative energy. If lithium ion batteries can retain their value past being used in an EV, wouldn’t the value be more useful in consumer electronics? Spreading the bulk of the car battery across more sell-able units would bring economies of scale, decrease cost per unit and increase margins. Given the high value of lithium, any discount on used lithium would nonetheless still make it expensive, making it a boon for already struggling clean energy providers to compete with cheap, dirty power. It would only make economic sense to push an after-market of used lithium towards consumer electronics rather than utilize them in alternative power schemes.
This is a consequence of the power industry’s structure, not exactly a failed idea. This would be a great way to utilize post-consumer material for efficient means (if it is possible) in order to help cushion the cost of utilizing lithium ion batteries as a store for power. Of course alternative energy providers would want whatever is available now, but can’t due to cost. A lot will depend on the shape of the power industry in the future, which is currently unknown at the moment, but positive given the newly awaited American Power Act. This shouldn’t detract from the fact that lithium in EVs is still recoverable for after-market uses, (either for renewable power or consumer electronics) which should help cushion consumers from high lithium prices, making the shift to EVs more attractive. Not everyone will be able to get a Tesla, (Pictured above) but Nissan’s new Leaf is a start.