These Batteries Can’t Power a Car — but They Can Power a City
One question: Who owns the reusable batteries, and who is responsible if something goes wrong? Manufacturers know they can be blamed if one of their old batteries is involved in a fire. GM recently remembered in every Chevrolet Bolt because defective batteries made by the Korean company LG Chem led to fires. “It’s legally a little gray area,” said Pesaran, the NREL engineer. “And to the lawyers – they can argue anything.”
There are also technical issues. Before you can reuse an EV battery, you need to know how much juice it stores and whether it is worth a second life. “Evaluating the health of batteries is very important to understand if they have value,” said Andy Latham, an electric vehicle salvage consultant at Salvage Wire.
That’s not as simple as it sounds. Battery manufacturers and automakers are constantly changing the cell chemistry and architecture of their batteries, making it difficult to create a standard process. In addition, batteries that are out of service today are likely to be damaged due to crashes, or have some manufacturing defects. Even finding old batteries to test can be a challenge. Chris Mi, an engineering professor who studies lithium-ion batteries at San Diego State University, spoke with salvage yard operators and automakers. Other teams started with Google.
ReJoule, a startup based in southern Los Angeles County amidst strip malls and rocking oil derricks, wants to speed up the process. Its prototype is a lightweight, desktop computer-sized device that can diagnose in less than five minutes, and as little as 30 seconds, whether the battery is worth a second life. Now, the process can be time consuming and requires machines to be heavier than the battery packs they tested. ReJoule is planning a second engine, the size of a dorm room refrigerator, to inspect a battery pack before removing it from the car. Its technology relies on electrochemical impedance spectroscopy, which uses an alternating current scanned at multiple frequencies to measure the health of materials inside a battery cell. Eventually, the company wants to see its software embedded in new batteries so they can be monitored through their heavy road life. It also seeks help from regulations, or at least industry standards to facilitate work.
For now, though, ReJoule’s engineers have to get into the batteries. Battery packages are sealed with industrial adhesives and are not designed to break. Years of hard service on deaf roads can ruin their screws and bolts. So it can take a lot of time for ReJoule’s engineers to open one. Once inside, a lot can go wrong. A graphic reminder: a switch called a contactor is firmly welded to a metal tool. Neither would. The contactor fell off the device while an engineer was setting up a test, and “there were, you know, some fireworks,” said Steven Chung, ReJoule’s CEO, who founded the company with his brother. of Zorah. ReJoule keeps the thing around to remind everyone to follow safety rules.
Another looming question is whether old EV batteries are a reliable way to store energy for the grid. That’s why old Nissan Leaf batteries aren’t in that Lancaster field. One fear is that those batteries — or certain types of batteries — will work for only a few years before rapidly deteriorating. Utilities don’t like batteries that they have to replace frequently. B2U president and cofounder Freeman Hall says his company wants to prove its long-term value to energy experts and investors. If B2U can show that old lithium-ion batteries can charge and discharge multiple times while sitting outside in the hot sun and strong winds for many years and still work well, ” it changes everything “in terms of the company’s ability to raise money, Hall said.