Waste products after-market: EV’s Lithium Ion Batteries

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.


5 responses to “Waste products after-market: EV’s Lithium Ion Batteries

  1. Greetings Steven. Thanks for the shout out. Your point is interesting, but I am curious as to how consumer electronics could really support a lithium ion battery from a car. This is a battery that has a storage capacity of 24 kwh which is a large load for any single consumer electronic device. If it was powering multiple devices, then we’re essentially talking about power storage at the residential level instead of the industrial level and I don’t know why the economics would work better.

    I agree that the cost of a reclaimed battery may be rather close to a new battery, but let’s say we’re still purchasing at a retail $1,000/kwh for 75% of the capacity. $18,000 is a lot for a single family home and the only way a consumer would actually make money on it is by storing power when it is cheaper (if smartgrid residents could get a variable rate.) If you are talking about physically taking the battery apart to make smaller batteries, it seems like that is another cost added into the supply chain.

    Conversely, I do not know how much storage one would need to grid-balance a 1 MW wind turbine, but I imagine it is a fraction of their $1 million price tag. Plus, the environmental results are material –turning off coal plants. What is large storage capacity adding to the consumer electronics market?

    Good topic, hope to see you around.

  2. Hello,

    I was talking about actually taking apart the batteries themselves. Sure, there is an inherent cost in that but the process can’t be as expensive as creating a battery from pure lithium as long as economies of scale is achieved. This is predicated on the assumption that you could actually take these batteries apart. I am sure they can, considering kwh is based upon size, not exactly structure but this I am not knowledgeable about; I only use this blog to point out the possibilities so I can be wrong from time to time.

    Let’s continue with assumptions: If a battery from the new leaf can provide 25kwh, that leaves a marginal cost of $30 per kwh. (($1000* 75%) / 25 kwh) That is mightily expensive. There are current scientific discoveries that improve upon lithium’s power efficiency, but considering that this figure is no where near the cents per kwh that power companies face (clean or dirty) it seems like a technological improvement wouldn’t matter, no matter how efficient. (But the price could!)

    I shouldn’t be getting involved in metrics. My understanding of lithium batteries is limited as well as my physics (converting energy) But if the unit power is correct for the leaf’s battery, then the point still stands. Cost is going to be the major factor here, and if these batteries are still reusable after an EV is done with it, someone is going to find value in it. I am aware of scientists trying to fix the power storage problem of wind and solar by developing some type of battery, lithium or not. So while that is an avenue for fixing the storage problem itself, I don’t think used lithium car batteries will suffice. (They may partially, again that economies of scale thing!)

    This is why I point towards consumer electronics. (cell phone batteries, specifically) You already get a value added product (plus inputs!) at a reduced cost that could be spread out upon 100s, 1000s, 10,000s of units!?

    Where ever the reused lithium batteries go, (I’ll let the market dictate that) the point is that it will help cushion the cost of the car and promote the usage of EVs. Just by recycling the batteries the environmental benefit is realized, not to mention promoting (by price!) the switch from gasoline powered to battery powered vehicles. I hope we both can agree on that!

    Thanks for your comments!

  3. I hear ya. And I do agree that the environmental benefits are good in either case, but I do not think that the marginal costs ends up being $30. It is $1000 per kwh, so a new 24kwh battery is $24,000. A used one could be $18,000 (maybe less with some depreciation). I’m sure they can dismantle them, but GM seemed to hint at this being expensive.

    I think the key was that for power storage, you would not have to change the batteries at all. They could basically just have a truck trailer rig that you could stack these things in and bam, you have a huge battery with a lot of capacity. Like you said, with some economies of scale a wind farm could purchase a bunch of these and get a good rate and spend a bit on some trailers.

    It will be interesting to see how it turns out.

  4. Pingback: EV Battery’s will achieve economy of scale? « Pushing Possibilities

  5. Way cool! Some very valid points! I appreciate you penning this article plus the rest of the site is extremely good.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s