Second life for EV batteries


We’ve looked at recycling end-of-life batteries before, but what if they could be reused instead? A startup in Melbourne is making that happen for electric vehicle batteries.

In Australia, with just 4000 or so electric vehicles on the road, you’d be forgiven for thinking we can defer dealing with ‘end of life’ EV batteries for a good while yet. However, the global view is quite different.

Some two million EVs are on the road world-wide (up from around 400,000 in 2013) and, with warranted battery life ranging from five to eight years, a large number of batteries are approaching end of life. Whether that’s a problem or an opportunity depends on your perspective.

Getting value from a second-life battery
Relectrify, a Melbourne-based technology startup, is a company that sees the upside.

At the end of its usable life in an EV, says Relectrify’s Valentin Muenzel, a battery generally has around 2000 charge–discharge cycles left—or about half its life. It may not be suitable for continued use in a car, but there are other uses, in household systems, for example, where the lighter loads can mean it’s still got a useful future.

It’s not quite as simple as plugging a used EV battery in to your home energy system, of course.

One issue is that cells may have degraded differently across the battery pack. A standard battery management system (BMS) will prevent the entire battery from discharging below the fully discharged point of the weakest cell (a passive BMS) or take from those cells with more energy capacity to make up for those with less (an active BMS). The latter can improve the energy output, but the degree of improvement depends on the difference in capacity between the cells.

To maximise the energy output from the battery, the team of engineers at Relectrify has instead designed what they term a “BMS on steroids”.

This outputs full capacity for all cells that are functioning, rather than balancing the current between cells, in effect draining each cell completely to its safe end point voltage each cycle.
It’s a neat ‘plug and play’ system—a circuit board screwed atop the battery screw terminals (or welded if needed) that optimises at the cell level to use all the energy in the cell. It can work with lithium ion batteries as well as other types, including nickel-metal hydride—any that have a ‘contained’ battery chemistry, so not flow batteries, for example.

Firmware updates to the algorithm can be delivered via the cloud, so as they improve the technology, existing systems can benefit.

Read the full article in ReNew 141.