Objection #326 to EVs: Battery disposal

One of the 500 reasons people give for not buying an electric vehicle is that, after its useful safe life, the battery will have to go to some landfill somewhere and our planet is, therefore, doomed.

While there are numerous reasons why our planet is doomed, I don’t think that EV battery disposal is one of them.  By the way, I have noticed that the people who tend to lodge this particular objection never seem to have a problem with what happens to the tons of trash they set out at the curb each week that magically disappears while they’re at work; and they also tend not to be recyclers, but that’s probably beside the point.

The point is that it’s an objection with no legs.

First of all, as Brammo has stated on the Brammo Owners Forum:

Remember – when your Enertia batteries hit 2,000 full cycles they don’t just drop dead. They will have been sliding gracefully towards 80% of their original capacity over 2000 cycles. So here are your choices at that point:
•   Do nothing the bike works just fine and you are totally happy.
•   Replace with original specification Valence batteries.
•   Install a different “go farther” battery set supplied by Brammo.
•   Install a different “go farther” battery set supplied by a third party.
•   Sell your iconic Enertia  on e-Bay (did Brian name that too?) for $50k buy a brand new Brammo and put the rest in your 401K

But for the direct answer to the question: after that, what do I do with my old batteries?, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory will soon have some answers for you.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), industry and academia are teaming to give batteries from electric drive vehicles (EV) a “second life.” NREL’s partner is an industry-academia team led by the California Center for Sustainable Energy (CCSE).

Possible secondary uses for lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries include residential and commercial electric power management, power grid stabilization to help provide reliable electricity to users, and renewable energy system firming — which in this case involves using batteries to make power provided to the grid by variable resources such as wind and solar energy more useable. To date, no one has comprehensively studied the feasibility, durability, and value of Li-ion batteries for second-use applications.

The project will begin with a comprehensive technical and economic analysis addressing all aspects of a battery’s lifecycle in search of the best second-use strategies, followed by a comprehensive test program to verify findings, particularly battery lifetimes. For the field test, researchers will deploy aged EV batteries at the University of California (UC), San Diego’s campus-wide electric power grid. The results of the study will:

  • Provide validated tools and data on battery life to industry for battery reuse
  • Recommendations for EV battery design and manufacturing practices
  • Identify the necessary regulatory changes to encourage secondary battery use
  • Assess the economic benefit of second uses

Basically the study can be summarized in this statement:

It might be the case that while a battery no longer has sufficient power for an EV, it still has the capability to meet the needs of other less demanding applications.

What’s your next objection?

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  1. #1 by Jensen Beeler on April 6, 2011 - 5:21 pm

    So what happens to the battery after its useful life with the utility company (or any other possible reuse) is over?

    • #2 by brammofan on April 6, 2011 - 6:15 pm

      Good question. Maybe the NREL study will look into that as well.

      • #3 by Jensen Beeler on April 6, 2011 - 6:17 pm

        That sort of leaves the question open then, doesn’t it?

        • #4 by brammofan on April 6, 2011 - 6:55 pm

          I’m not saying that the issue of “what happens” goes away just because a secondary user can get another year or two or three out of the battery. That fact, however, should quell some of the anxiety held by the objector. The only way to completely close the question would be to find a way to recycle the polymer and the casings. Perhaps work on that is under way.

  2. #5 by Cameron Brown on April 6, 2011 - 7:08 pm

    If you look at current lead acid recycling techniques, you see that they have figured out how to recycle well over 95% of the materials. That includes the casing, plates, paste, and liquid. I’m not entirely sure what’s left after that. I’m pretty confident that they’ll figure out a safe methods of recycling lithium in a manner that is profitable. Also realizing that new technologies are on the horizon in nickle cadmium.

  3. #6 by Domenick on April 7, 2011 - 9:50 am

    I believe Toxco is the company Tesla has chosen to recycle their finished batteries. http://www.toxco.com/aboutrecycle.html

    • #7 by brammofan on April 7, 2011 - 10:10 am

      I thought you were joking when I read the name of the company. You weren’t. They should have consulted with someone prior to the naming decision. Of course, you could say that about a lot of companies.
      Aside from that, I though this claim was interesting: “We are the only company in the world that can recover lithium from any size or type of lithium battery.”

  4. #8 by EmpulseBuyer on April 7, 2011 - 12:59 pm

    The batteries will probably last longer than the rest of the motorcycle… at 80% my Empulse 8.0 would still get me 64 miles range. Who knows how many miles will be on it at that point, even at 500 cycles (worst case I imagine) I would be at 40k miles… One use would be a backup UPS (Uninterruptable Power Supply) for your house. I could go a full day on 6.4 kWh.

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