Two lives are better than one
Used but not useless second-hand electric vehicle batteries can be repurposed for storage, according to Connected Energy Ltd.
Photo supplied by Connected Energy Ltd.

Two lives are better than one

Redeploying end-of-life EV batteries, an emerging e-scrap market, is a task U.K.-based Connected Energy Ltd. is addressing.

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February 4, 2021

Europe superseded China as the global driver of electric vehicle (EV) sales in 2020 for the first time in five years. Data from EV-volumes.com reveals sales of plug-in passenger cars in Europe in 2020 rose 137 percent year-on-year to almost 1.4 million in an automotive market that reported depressed sales overall for the year.

The figures suggest Europe’s love for EVs is only going to keep growing as costs of lithium-ion batteries continue to fall and more automakers commit to investments in EV models and production capacity.

The European Commission anticipates EU demand for rechargeable lithium-ion batteries will increase 14-fold by 2030 compared with 2018 demand. Much of this growth will be driven by the e-mobility market. Such exponential growth in demand for lithium-ion batteries will lead to an equivalent increase in demand for raw materials, particularly lithium, nickel and cobalt.

At the same time, markets in Europe, and globally, also are seeing demand increase for stationary energy storage systems, generally to help accommodate more variable wind and solar generation within power grids.

As with all batteries, those from EVs eventually are destined for recycling. However, by deploying these batteries in a secondary market application, the environmental footprint created by their manufacture, both in terms of metals extraction and energy required in production, can be significantly minimized.

In every stationary energy storage system that it produces for customers, United Kingdom-based Connected Energy Ltd. only sources batteries that have been used in electric cars.

Double battery life, double down on emissions

Connected Energy, in Newcastle upon Tyne in northeast England, says it can almost double the working lifetime of EV lithium-ion batteries. They tend to be used in EVs for around 10 years, as per their warranty.

Customers who buy one of Connected Energy’s E-STOR systems benefit from a highly competitive product, suitable for flexible, modular and shorter or longer duration energy storage deployments.

As well as second-life batteries and a management system, the E-STOR system comprises Connected Energy’s proprietary software controls. The battery storage systems are deployed at several customer sites in the U.K. and western Europe. Typically, the batteries are used to maximize consumption of solar photovoltaic (PV) electricity generated on-site or to support EV rapid charging infrastructure. The smallest E-STOR module is 300 kilowatts (kW), though a modular design enables large-scale configurations.

The company’s largest installation to date is a 1.2-megawatt (MW) system at the site of industrial user Umicore to support its use of on-site renewable generation to power Umicore’s battery recycling operation in Belgium and earn revenue from provision of grid services.

Other applications for E-STOR include microgrids and the replacement of diesel gensets for emissions-free temporary power.

Company Chief Executive and founder Matthew Lumsden says the idea of redeploying EV batteries for stationary storage systems came about when an automotive customer confided it was having difficulty installing EV chargers. “Energy storage was a potential solution, and this observation coincided with our ongoing research into battery degradation; the second life use concept grew from there.”

Compared with some other types of rechargeable batteries, lithium-ion batteries charge faster, last longer and have a higher power density for more battery life in a lighter, more compact format, making them ideal for applications such as EVs.

But, over time, batteries become unsuitable for use in EVs. Drivers tend not to drive their cars until the battery is fully depleted, nor do they recharge them fully. Typically, the battery is charged to around 80 percent and discharged to 20 percent, using around 60 percent of capacity.

According to Battery University, charge acceptance fades with use and time, so the onboard battery management system requires a higher charge and a lower discharge to meet the driving range, until the result is a noticeable reduction in driving range.

EV drivers do not want to spend a disproportionate amount of their time charging their vehicle, so at some point the battery becomes unviable in that application, even though the battery still has sufficient capacity for redeployment in a different application.

In a stationary energy storage system, multiple battery packs can be linked up to provide the capacity required. A key feature of the E-STOR technology is controlling many batteries that are all slightly different.

The process

The EV battery packs do not have to be adapted or modified in any way for use within the E-STOR system. The company’s automotive partners that supply the batteries when they reach the end of their lifetimes in an EV, only supply batteries that meet a set of specifications provided by Connected Energy. Specifications ensure that battery packs meet a minimum level of usable capacity. They also have to undergo physical checks for any damage, and the battery management system (BMS) has to be functional.

“Typically, packs are tested before we receive them. or they are supplied with comprehensive data sets from onboard use,” Lumsden says. “Suppliers tell us when batteries will become available, then we ensure we have projects set up to take them.”

He emphasizes that Connected Energy will only work with packs when it has the full support of the automotive original equipment manufacturer (OEM). “This ensures that the system is absolutely safe. It is critical that we achieve a level of safety that would mean an OEM is happy to be associated with our systems.”

Connected Energy’s initial EV partnership was with French carmaker Renault, which Lumsden describes as an “exceptionally supportive and collaborative relationship.” Today, Connected Energy has established further partnerships with a wide range of battery producers, EV automakers and other players globally.

“In terms of battery volumes, we are working to secure thousands of batteries annually to feed into our project,” Lumsden says. “The quantity of batteries required obviously depends on their capacities.”

Connected Energy also is partnering with a range of organizations to help establish supply chains and logistics models. “We are in discussions with organizations on every continent and are part of a project called Recovas in the U.K., which includes Bentley Motors, BMW, Jaguar Land Rover, EMR Metals Recycling, the University of Warwick, the Health and Safety Executive, the U.K. Battery Industrialisation Centre, Autocraft Solutions Group and uRecycle, to help develop the value chain structure in the U.K.”

Challenges and future growth

To optimize supply chain and logistics costs, the company is now developing E-STOR systems that include separate 20-foot battery containers (shipping containers), which can be fitted out in advance, with shelving and connections, loaded up with batteries at a supplier hub and held until required before being delivered to the project site to be commissioned and integrated. Once the batteries are degraded the whole container can be passed on to a recycler.

“The challenge that we have is that EV batteries are spread far and wide,” Lumsden says. “They are removed from EVs at one location, but then need to be delivered to the plant for assembling into a system. Then they have to be delivered to an installer for a particular project before being delivered or shipped to the project location. We’re looking at how we can enable more seamless integration, to take the fat out of the supply chain, and ultimately reduce the levelized cost of storage.”

The activity the company is undertaking involves multiple stakeholders across the industry and has typically not been done before. Getting the business to this point has been time-consuming and resource-intensive, Lumsden says.

“On the positive side we believe we are way ahead of the market in terms of our technical and commercial thinking,” he comments. “Going forward, the industry is just beginning to grow and is very fluid. There are new challenges every day, so success involves developing a business that has a solid foundation and is able to adapt to an evolving market.”

Over the past 12 months, Connected Energy has seen positive development where more battery and EV manufacturers have approached the company.

Safety will always be a paramount concern. “We will only work on a collaborative basis,” states Lumsden. “Two other key considerations are battery characteristics; we need these to understand what the batteries are worth, so how we can use them and, secondly, battery availability. When batteries will become available influences how and when we can economically develop and sell our E-STOR systems.”

EU drives battery sustainability

The European Commission acknowledges that batteries will play a fundamental role in delivering the EU’s 2050 net-zero ambition, which will be delivered through the Green Deal policy. Driven by transport demand as well as by industrial uses, the EU is forecast to account for 17 percent of global lithium-ion battery demand by 2030, making it the second-biggest market globally.

However, to ensure a competitive and sustainable industry, the proposed Batteries Regulation will “close the loop” by encouraging reuse and improving batteries collection and recycling of materials. Its key objectives are to strengthen the functioning of the internal market, spanning battery products, processes, waste batteries and recyclates, by ensuring a level playing field through a common set of rules, promote a circular economy and reduce environmental and social impacts throughout all stages of the battery life cycle.

With this proposal, the Commission also aims to boost the circular economy of the battery value chains and promote more efficient use of resources with the aim of minimizing the environmental impact of batteries. From July 1, 2024, only rechargeable industrial and EV batteries for which a carbon footprint declaration has been established can be placed on the market.

These policy developments bode well for innovative business models, such as the one Connected Energy is pursuing. Lumsden says he thinks any developments that potentially result in the design of batteries with a second life in mind would be valuable. “It could reduce system costs and help increase uptake,” he says.

Funding boost

In January 2021, Paris-based Engie New Ventures and other investors increased their investment in Connected Energy. The funding will be used to develop two areas of focus.

The first is on using data to optimize how Connected Energy uses the batteries and also optimize how its technology controls many batteries. This amounts to several thousand batteries in an E-STOR system, with varied states of “health” as a single system. The second area will focus on forging international relationships and partnerships so that Connected Energy can supply second life batteries into projects close to source. “A key focus is further developing our current relationships in the US, with the view to introducing our business model into the North American market,” Lumsden says.

He believes the opportunities for second-life battery systems will be extremely diverse and many. “The energy storage market is growing dramatically. As we see storage becoming increasingly competitive and commonplace, its applications and business cases will diversify, and I think that bodes well for opportunities for second-life battery systems.”

The author is a U.K.-based freelance journalist specializing in renewable energy, grids and energy storage. She was commissioned by Connected Energy Ltd. to supply this story.